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Lights, Camera, Action!

September 9, 2022

Lights, Camera, Action!  Or at least the staff at Mesa Arts Center make it look that easy. The process of putting on a show, special event or festival takes teamwork, knowledge, creativity and a ton of manpower. Everyone involved is a specialist in their field and the collaboration among staff is what makes everything run smoothly.

Robby Elliott, Director of Production and Joe Pruna, Operations Foreman work together (but in different ways) to make the magic happen. They along with their teams are the face the public doesn’t see but they are the true masters behind the scenes.

“My department is usually involved prior to the booking process until the event is complete. We are usually involved in any walkthroughs, and we assist clients in moving their events from ideas to reality. We help client’s develop the day of show schedule, crew and staffing needs, and facilitate the technical aspects of their events (audio, lighting, video, scenic, etc). On the day of the show, we are usually the first ones here and the last ones to leave. The short version is, we unload the trucks, set up the stage, put on the show, reload the trucks and restore the building back to square one to prepare for the next day,” said Robby Elliott, Director of Production, Mesa Arts Center.

“For my department, we begin by receiving the needs for the event during the weekly meeting which has representation from all departments involved. We then ensure we have the appropriate equipment to meet the client's needs. Staffing needs must be adjusted for the campus event and depending on the requirements, we reach out to staffing agencies to help with our labor needs. Operations will typically always be on campus before and after production,” said Joe Pruna, Operations Foreman, Mesa Arts Center.

When it is all hands-on deck, it takes a team of 100 people to make it all work.

“From an operations perspective, it’s about 4-15 staff on average. Many factors play a role when staffing an event for operations, the pre-event equipment needs, how many tickets have been sold, the condition of the Theater and seating area after the show, a drinking crowd vs. non-drinking crowd, when the client will leave the building, so we can clean the dressing dooms, green room, and back-of-house hallway. Things like that,” said Pruna.

“For most of our presented shows, we are usually between 10-20 local stagehands to facilitate a concert. For shows like Riverdance or Blue Man Group, we will have 80 local stagehands on top of the 10 or so touring production personnel,” said Elliot.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Mesa Arts Center, like the rest of the county, has struggled with being able to fulfill additional labor needs for shows and events. That places an extreme strain on every team member to cover the needs of an event.

“The biggest challenge is the logistics of busy weeks. There are times when we will have seven different shows in the Ikeda Theater over seven days while also facilitating events in the Piper, Nesbitt-Elliott and outside,” said Elliot.

“In 2018 when we switched from utilizing temporary staffing agencies to cover most of our labor needs to creating new City of Mesa staff positions. This ensured that operations could now operate as a synergistic team and was aligned with the City of Mesa’s employee values. This move provided more value to our internal and external customers,” said Pruna.

Since the opening of Mesa Arts Center in 2005, the biggest advancement has been technology.

“When we opened, the transition from 480i (tube TV resolution) to 720p was just coming to fruition. Most of our work lights were 1,000-watt incandescent fixtures and LED technology was “state of the art.” One of the major cool features of the Ikeda was the LED canyon walls. Since then, we have had to pretty much re-wire the Ikeda and Piper theaters, replacing analog copper wire with fiber optics and CAT6 cabling. We are at the beginning of transitioning our stage and audience chambers to LED lighting, which will result in huge energy savings. We are looking at upgrading our video systems to 8k technology,” said Elliot.

You may think the staff gets to see and experience each event but the teams are working nonstop during shows, events and festivals but they do have some pretty memorable experiences with artists that pass-through MAC.

“We get people who are very passionate about their music or craft and are very humble. I remember YoYo Ma introducing himself to me, coming up and offering his hand saying, “Hi, I’m YoYo.” I remember Vince Gill shaking all the local stagehands’ hands after one of his many shows here. I remember Mike Birbiglia, just hanging out on stage running through new/not ready for stage material with the show crew, asking our head electrician which was the better tag for a joke,” said Elliot.

“The event that I have enjoyed every year at the Mesa Arts Center has been Día De Los Muertos. You have non-stop entertainment for adults and children that can vary from bands to face painting, not to mention the exceptional food vendors. Something I will never forget was when (on a rare night off) I attended Paul Anka’s performance. He came down to the audience while signing and picked me, put his mic in my hand, and whispered the words for the song "Lonely Boy" to me as we sang a verse together,” said Pruna.

Mesa Arts Center’s back-of-the-house teams are a group of talented individuals that strive to provide outstanding service to all internal and external customers so that all who visit Mesa Arts Center have a world class experience and leave with a smile on their faces.

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