If you ask me who I will miss when I leave the Kennedy Center next month I can give a list of staff, musicians and board members who have been great colleagues and friends. But I know I will see most of them at performances and events in the years to come. I will miss collaborating with them but they will not evaporate from my life.
But there is one group of people who I won't see at performances because they will be entirely behind the scenes -- my stage crew.
The men and women who run the shows, move the sets, carry the props, light the lights, manage the sound, dress the performers and on and on are among my favorite colleagues in every arts job I have held and the Kennedy Center is no exception.
Just a few weeks ago, I was watching my crew tech the musical Side Show which we are now presenting at the Center; for days on end, with utmost patience and professionalism, they worked with the visiting director, stage manager and lighting, sound and costume designers to give them what they wanted. They were working 80 hour weeks but it did not show in their efficiency or their demeanor. They were unfailingly kind and courteous and supportive of the cast and design team.
What is astonishing about this crew is how interested they are in the quality of the work we do and in the end product. Whether they are working an orchestra concert in our Concert Hall, a children's play in our Family Theater, a chamber music recital in our Terrace Theater or Side Show in our Eisenhower Theater (or any other of our nine performing spaces) my crew members care deeply about the end product.
I learned this early in my tenure. We had just completed our monumental Sondheim Celebration -- mounting six new productions of musicals by Stephen Sondheim in rep and a host of auxiliary programs (including a Japanese production of Pacific Overtures). For four months my crew worked around the clock. It was the first time in fourteen years that the Kennedy Center had mounted its own theatrical productions apart from our numerous family and children's plays and musicals. I went through my mail and found an envelope from our local chapter of I.A.T.S.E. - our stagehand union. Inside was a check for $25,000! My stage hands wanted us to know they thought it was a great idea for us to produce our own theater pieces and wanted to help make that possible. I was astonished, pleased, moved.
Over the years I have received numerous other gifts from my crew -- props from special productions, I.A.T.S.E. hats and even a switchblade knife (a great letter opener).
I will miss these men and women of my stage crew. Not because of these special gifts or because they made a financial contribution to the Kennedy Center but because they made a far more important contribution with their intelligence, professionalism, passion and hard work.