Through the generosity of one of the many people on the road with the 1st National Company of “Wicked”, I was able to go backstage at the first national tour of “Wicked” on Saturday evening (before the show and the blackout). It was an amazing experience which I will cherish for life, and I am thrilled to be able to share it with the readers as the editor-in-chief of this site.
I met with the cast member taking me back before the show at the stagedoor on Saturday evening – they were standing outside waiting when I arrived and so in we went. Two words describe backstage very well (and these are the performer’s words) – “organized chaos”. We went through security and passed the conductor and stage manager’s office, then arrived in a sort of management area. On the left was the call board, which had everything from a detailed rehearsal schedule to birthday schedule to a list of personal days, with forms for requesting the latter. On the right was a huge rolling cabinet (there were many of these backstage – they make touring much easier) divided into cubbyholes labeled “Clark – Elphaba”, “Stickler – Elphaba”, “Brown – Glinda”, “Lupp – Glinda” and so on with all of the names of the understudies – inside these holes were literally thousands of understudy slips bound by rubber bands, with several of them sitting on top of the cabinet that had been recently used. A few cast members were sitting in this area conversing.
Next, we moved into the area that one might actually consider backstage – the area where the show takes place. The first thing I noticed is how so much is crammed into such a small area and yet stays so organized. All over this area were several of the bigger props (the “Dancing Through Life” statue, the blackboard, etc.) with smaller props in a stage left and stage right cabinet (these contained everything from the rice paper Dr. Dillamond eats to the Wizomania tickets to the little green baby!). Also near one of these was Elphaba’s suitcase and broom.
To the back of this area was a quick change area – it was a bit like a locker room. Huge rolling closets contained ensemble costumes (carefully labeled with names and scenes) and were wrapped around a large open area. It was amazing to see the beautiful costumes up close and note the intricate details within. We then headed to the lead dressing rooms – in this theatre, they were fairly small, but there was room to work.
After this, we walked out on to the stage. The audience area is exceptionally bright when all of the lights are on! I can only imagine what it must be like with spotlights all over the place! In the rafters, I could see backdrops, Glinda’s bubble, and of course, the famous “Defying Gravity” lift. She also showed me the numbers on the stage – which is how blocking is taught. It is literally, “walk to eight, step back to the stove (the area with four dark circles in the middle of the stage), walk up to five.” Sounds difficult, but it is organized!
Finally, we walked up to the girl’s dressing room (well, the antechamber of it – obviously, my presence wouldn’t have been appreciated in the actual dressing room!) and saw all of the wigs and the ladies working on the wigs in the exterior room – it was interesting to note the differences in all of the different understudies’ wigs.
All in all, the evening was an absolutely amazing theatrical experience, and I am so very thankful to the wonderful person who took me back. I’m sure she will be looking at this article, so be sure to leave your thanks to her in the comments for the insider view into backstage!
This is just some various trivia about Glinda’s costumes that you may or may not know…
- There have been three different designs for the Bubble Dress: the original (such as what Kristin Chenoweth wore), which had a less sequined top and a flatter bottom; the second one (designed as a more flattering approach for Glindas who were not as small; the bottom puffed out more and the top was more curvy); and the latest one, which was very similar to number two, except the bottom puffed out even more and the bottom was made out of an even shinier material. The three designs are shown right here, in order:
- The actress playing Glinda wears her shoes for the Shiz scenes while in the opening of the show because she has to change clothes & wig in thirty seconds for the next scene.
- The other costumes have also had changes throughout the run, though none as significant as the bubble dress.
- The Glinda wig for shiz was originally straight, but then they changed it to curly, and now they have once again returned to straight, though it has a different twist to it now. Pictures are below:
- Glinda actually has two different wands: one for the bubble and one for the catfight.
It was brought to my attention a couple of days ago that a lot of people, particularly newcomers to the world of theatre may not understand some of the terms that we use on this site and in the “Wicked” world in general. So this morning, I have compiled a list of terms that might be helpful. If anyone has any other suggestions for terms to add, please feel free to comment or email me (address located in the right hand column).
standby - a person who sits backstage/stays very close to the theatre during the show and only performs if the lead who they cover is ill or away for some reason. In all productions of “Wicked”, Elphaba has a standby and in several of them, so does Glinda.
understudy/cover - a person who has a part in the show (usually the ensemble) but can step into a leading part if it is needed.
swing – a person who sits backstage unless a member of the ensemble is absent or stepping into a leading role; they usually cover six or seven ensemble roles. Sometimes, swings also cover a principal role.
super swing - a swing who floats between the four US productions of “Wicked”, filling in as needed. One current example would be Brenda Hamilton.
phoning in – when an actor/actress does not seem as if they are actually putting forth an effort when playing a part; commonly occurs when someone has been in a role for a very long time.
lift call – a call to practice the parts of the show where characters lift other characters while dancing (“Dancing Through Life” in “Wicked”). This is very important because if an understudy/swing is being lifted and has not practiced with the person who is lifting them, injury could easily occur.
places call – exactly what the name says; a call for actors, actresses, and crew to go to the position where they start an act.
sit-down – an open-ended production of the show in a city; examples have been Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco currently. New York’s production technically would be but is not usually referred to as such.
cherry picker – in the world of “Wicked”, this is the machine that takes Elphaba into the air in “Defying Gravity”.
stage door – to fans of “Wicked”, may be used as a noun or verb. As a noun, it is the place where actors and actresses enter and leave the building and greet fans after the show. As a verb, it is used to describe visiting the door.