Behind the Scenes
Hartshorn '91 is everyone's mother.
she sits in the lobby of the Adams Mark Hotel in Columbus, Ohio,
where the Cincinnati Ballet is performing on a chilly February weekend,
dancers come and go, looking for the continental breakfast bar or
somnambulating to the local Starbucks. They have that wake-up call
look: scrubbed faces, wet hair, bags under the eyes.
can you let them know I'll be a few minutes late?" says a big,
beefy male dancer. "Thyra, I left it for you backstage,"
says a waiflike young woman. "Thyra, can you remember to...?"
"Thyra, I need...?"
organized so many things. I am opposite!" says Yuri Possokhov,
a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, for whom she was tour
manager four years ago when he took a group of dancers to his native
Russia. "She is so easy to communicate with people, even in
Russia. They don't speak English, but she found a common language."
number of years ago," says Moravian trustee Joanne Mazur O'Such
'60, a longtime resident of San Francisco and a balletomane, "we
met at Yerba Buena Center, where San Francisco Ballet was performing
while the opera house was undergoing an earthquake retrofit."
(In the mid-'90s, when the Bay Area still was recovering from the
1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco Ballet had a nomadic
couple of years performing in five different locations.) "Thyra
gave us a backstage tour, and since my husband and I are subscribers
to the ballet and have been for very many years, Thyra and I gossiped
about our favorite dancers and favorite choreographers and favorite
music. When the opera house reopened and my grandsons went to The
Nutcracker, Thyra invited us backstage after the performance.
She is actually younger than my children, but we seemed to get along
fine. You can't always find someone so involved with ballet with
whom to yak."
blame it all on Doc Ramsey," says Hartshorn, who came to Moravian
College to study management (the business kind) and ended up going
into another type of management (the stage kind).
daughter of Moravian alumnus Gary S. Hartshorn '65, she was born
in Seattle and raised in Costa Rica, where her father was doing
fieldwork as a tropical ecologist. A Comenius Alumni Award recipient
in 1993 for his work with the World Wildlife Fund, he is now on
the faculty of Duke University and president of Organization for
Tropical Studies, a non-profit research corporation.
mother, Lynne, a technical editor, was a frequent producer of amateur
theater in San José, Costa Rica, and her daughter began hanging
around backstage at an early age. "I never liked being onstage,"
she said. "I was so much happier backstage."
until she came to Moravian, theater had always been a hobby. Hartshorn
chose a double major that she thought would lead to a career in
publishing: management and journalism.
was one thing; business proved to be quite another. "Accounting
was not going so well," she remembers ruefully, "and I
never did get past the assumptions needed for economics." Midway
through her sophomore year, she dropped the business major. It was
at that moment that a friend suggested: "You know you could
always do a concentration in management." So she did.
her entire college career, there was rarely a show in which Hartshorn
did not build sets, hang lights, throw costumes onto actors during
30-second blackouts, call set changes, build loaves of bread out
of styrofoam or fill cut-glass decanters with "Scotch"
even figured out how to do my journalism internship in theater,"
she said. Jack Ramsey, Moravian's veteran theater director, sent
her to the public relations department of Pennsylvania Stage Company
in Allentown. When she was ready to graduate, her first thought
was to look for some kind of publishing job. "But Doc handed
me an URTA [University/Resident Theater Association] flier,"
which included information on graduate schools, summer jobs, and
internships. "I thought: ‘What if you really can't make
a living in theater?' And Doc said: ‘It's not like it's the
rest of your life.' "
she took the plunge and went to an URTA conference in Chicago to
interview with three graduate schools. She enrolled in the master's
program at the University of California at Irvine in production
and design with a concentration in stage management. "My thought
was: Ah, no more cold winters and hot summers—and I could
practice my Spanish!"
any theater professional knows, the world of drama is overstuffed
with actors, and neither directors nor designers are in short supply;
but every theatrical company in the world needs knowledgeable backstage
Hartshorn has been able to leapfrog from dance companies to theater
productions, picking up the vocabulary as she went. Backstage, there
are few differences between dance and theater, she has learned.
"Actors are a little more needy than dancers," she said.
"For dancers, if you provide a warm space, a resilient floor,
music, and water, they're fine."
also learned about the peculiarities of certain professions. Working
on the opera Die Fledermaus, she learned that "a conductor
gets his own dressing room, and it has to be the star dressing room
next to the stage." She was at American Ballet Theater when
it premiered Kevin MacKenzie's production of The Nutcracker
at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in California, which
eventually brought her to the largest backstage establishment in
the world, the Metropolitan Opera House. It also taught her about
working with union crews, an art in itself.
1994, she found herself courted by two Bay Area ballet troupes:
San Francisco Ballet and San Jose Cleveland Ballet (which was headquartered
in Cleveland but split its performance season between two cities).
But Cleveland wanted someone with more experience, so she went to
San Francisco Ballet, where she was assistant stage manager for
day at SFB she bumped into Ricardo Bustamante, a former ABT dancer
who was teaching at SFB's school. "He stopped me in the hall
and said, ‘I need some music!' " she remembers.
"I asked him what for, and he said he was planning a trip with
some dancers from SFB. I told him he should take a stage manager."
So she became tour manager of a small dance troupe he took to Bogotá,
five years and three different stage managers at SFB, Hartshorn
was starting to feel restless. One day she got a call from Victoria
Morgan, a former principal dancer with SFB who had become artistic
director of Cincinnati Ballet. "She asked me for names of potential
stage managers. I said, ‘What about me?' She hesitated and
asked if I would consider moving to Cincinnati. I figured again:
it's not like it's the rest of my life." She took the job.
does two jobs for us," said Cincinnati Ballet executive director
Alan Hills. "She is both the production manager and the stage
manager." The first pulls the elements of production together—sets,
costumes, lighting, music, dance rehearsal schedules—and makes
sure everything comes together by opening night. The other calls
the show from backstage, seeing that every dancer enters on to cue,
every light goes on (or off) according to the lighting designer's
plan, and every material element is where it should be at the time
it needs to be there.
world of professional ballet is a small one, and Hartshorn has maintained
her contacts in San Francisco. After the Russian tour, she and Possokhov
had built such a rapport together that he asked her to design the
production for his first major piece of choreography, Magrittomania.
The look of the ballet was not the problem—the paintings by
René Magritte that it used have practically become household
images. But it was up to Hartshorn to figure out how to make them
"dance"—using, for instance, a green weather balloon
for the green apple in The Great War. Her designs won an
Isadora Duncan Award from the Bay Area dance critics; and her energy
and inventiveness led Possokhov to choose her to design Damned,
a ballet version of the Medea story, which premiered in April in
a stage manager," she explained, "you have to work with
everybody else's ego. You're the peacemaker, the facilitator, the
organizer, the babysitter." ("Thyra, can you get me...?"
asks a passing dancer.)
being a stage manager has rewards that no one else knows about.
During the company's run of Peter Pan, "we had a kid
with Down's syndrome on a backstage tour," Hartshorn said.
"And he really thought Peter Pan could fly. So I checked with
the Foy rep [Flying by Foy has the monopoly on flying harnesses
for Peter Pan productions] and we were able to ‘show
him the ropes'—the mechanisms that made Peter and Michael
fly." Far from being disappointed, the boy was thrilled to
know how the magic was made.
of the greatest pleasures of being a stage manager in dance is getting
to work with gifted choreographers, designers and dancers,"
Hartshorn said. "And the travel is not bad!"