Setting the Stage for Success
Ask YTA Stage Manager Sadie Langenkamp about her job, and she could go into the technicalities of lighting and stage preparations.
But she tends to look at her role more in terms of its impact.
“I like to think of myself as a resource for the competitors, someone who makes sure they have everything they need and is available to them,” she said. “I also make sure that things stay consistent and fair for each contestant.”
Behind the Scenes
When Langenkamp isn’t working for YTA, she’s juggling the responsibilities of her three jobs in Austin. She is the master electrician for St. Edward’s University’s theatre arts department, an adjunct professor at The University of Texas at Austin and director of operations for Natalie George Productions, an event and production company.
But during the second week of March, YTA gets her full attention.
Langenkamp goes on duty the day before the competition’s preliminary rounds when she receives YTA’s rental pianos at Crighton Theatre, where auditions and finals take place.
During competition days, she sets up the theatre for the flood of auditioning musicians, judges and volunteers who will be arriving. This may include setting up the piano benches, stools, sound checks, and keeping everything in handy. From there, her focus is on setting up the stage lighting.
“I make sure we maintain the same lighting throughout the competition so it’s equal for everybody,” she said.
As stage manager, Langenkamp also is a primary point of contact for the judges. She makes sure they have everything they need before the first competitor steps on stage
“In order to maintain fairness, we only use competitor numbers. So I will announce the competitor number, make sure the judges have the musician’s repertoire in front of them and then escort the competitor onstage,” she said. “That continues throughout the day until the last competitor, and then I clear the hall so the judges can deliberate and then start preparing for the next day or next category of competition.”
The Big Night
Then there’s the evening of the Finalists’ Concert and Awards when two finalists in each of YTA’s four divisions (Voice; Piano; Strings; and Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar) appear before the judges one more time. This time, they’re also performing before a full house of audience members from the community.
Tensions tend to run high, but throughout the evening, Langenkamp is a source of consistency, moral support and calm for the competitors.
Of course, by this point, Langenkamp has already spent hours setting the stage for a successful evening. That work includes prepping Crighton Theatre, organizing the winners’ bouquets and medals and conducting a run-through with all of the award presenters.
“We’re very lucky to work with Dave Clements, who is our YTA photographer, so we also run a quick photoshoot with all of the finalists just prior to the concert,” Langenkamp said.
During the concert, Langenkamp keeps everything moving according to the schedule provided by Artistic Director Emelyne Bingham.
These days, Langenkamp has her stage management routine down to a science, but she was not quite so confident when she took the job in 2010, one year after earning her bachelor’s degree in theatre from Southwestern University.
“One of the challenges that I’ve faced over the last 10 years is not having as much of a music background. There’s a lot of terminology I’ve learned over the years and even practices. As stage manager, I try to keep things clean, but during my first year with YTA I found out from the piano tuner that you really shouldn’t mop the stage every day. It changes the humidity for the piano, and that needs to be maintained at a constant level.”
She also has gotten questions over the years on topics ranging from music copyright laws to the intricacies of tuning a piano.
“I’ve been trained that if you don’t know the answer, to say, ‘You know, let me check on that for you,’ and then sort of scurry away and figure out what you should be saying. Then you can come back and very calmly answer them. Luckily, every year it gets a little easier.”
Even during the most hectic moments, Langenkamp said, the work is fulfilling.
“I really enjoy running the audition process and trying to make people feel as comfortable as possible before they go out to perform,” she said. “And I also appreciate that the competition is geared toward helping young musicians on their way.”
Langenkamp added that she has great respect for YTA and its leadership, including Founder Jim Pokorski, President/CEO Susie Pokorski and Bingham.
“Their combined direction of the competition has been very successful,” she said. “I learn things from them every year.”
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