Backstage Memories

Various Stories told by Larry Levchuk, Masha Birkby, and Delores Fung.

Larry Levchuk has been involved in the AUUC Vancouver for many years and continues to support dance, music and performance at the Hall - although now mainly from the audience, watching his granddaughter perform.  

The first thing I noticed after Debbie [Karras, Cultural Committee Chair and Director, Dovbush Dancers] asked me to recount my memories at “the Hall” over the past few decades, was that, to date, the Digital Updates section focuses on various groups within the AUUC such as the VFO, choir, etc.  So here I am, the first individual, rather than a group, recounting what my personal experiences were with the gang at 805 East Pender Street.

To the best of my recollection, I first became involved in September 1959 just as I entered my first year as a Science student at UBC.  At that time, I had been playing guitar, in a somewhat different style (I will explain that a bit later), and was encouraged by my Dad to check out the orchestra.  At the time, the director was Karl Kobylansky.  I played in the VFO until probably the mid-80s and during that time Karl, his wife Marlene and I formed a group singing folk songs which were popular during that era.  Along with playing in the full orchestra, I recall how a small group of us (about 8 or so) enjoyed playing music for the kids at their concerts at Christmas and on Mother’s Day.  We did this under Karl’s direction with musicians including folks like Harry Hoshowsky, Jim Thomas, John Bobb and others.  As for my guitar style, I learned that from an individual named Bohdan Pitchko who in turn was taught by Damian Vyhristow who was one of the first orchestra directors in either the 1920s or early 1930s.   I was privileged to have met Damian in the late 1950’s a number of times and he also taught me some interesting guitar pieces.  The style was different terms of the tuning of the guitar - not the normal, standard tuning. Karl facetiously referred to my guitar solos on stage as RGS (Russian Guitar Stylings). 

As with all things, interests in some areas of one’s life change as time progresses.  Such was the case for me with the guitar and by the mid 1980s, I ceased playing.

 

What occurred next was not what I would have ever predicted.  It appears that sometime before Sunday, April 16, 1989, I was asked to become a Stage Manager for an AUUC concert held at the North Vancouver Centennial Theatre on that date.  This was my first time handling this job.  The last concert in which I took on this role was a concert held on Sunday May 29, 2005 at the same venue.

 

I have kept programs from numerous concerts from the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s which have allowed me to recall some events of the past.  And the only reason for my retention of these programs is that they include copies of my technical programs for those concerts.  I still have past concert and technical programs not for any other reason except that, at the time, the technical programs were useful just in case I was called upon to do the job again and why reinvent the wheel every time.  And I was called upon to do the job over and over.  Technical programs can be usedas templates for every concert with obvious necessarymodifications.

                                                                                               

How I ever got into this role I really cannot recall.  I had no experience in the backstage aspects of concert performances.  Sure, I had plenty of performance exposure but nothing behind the scenes.  So maybe I just enjoyed the challenge.  And my background in Science gave me an advantage required for this position.  You gotta be organized or else!  So, what does a stage manager do?

 

My feeling was that my job in this role was to “make the performers look as good as possible”.  I always believed that each group or individual who was performing was up to speed on concert day from an artistic point of view.  So my job was to work with the light and sound technicians and my assistants, if it was a major concert in North Van, to make everyone appear as professional as possible.  Lighting effects, placement of microphones for audio pickup and entrances on and off stage by groups if the curtain is open needed to be done carefully.  The most stressful time was the technical rehearsal on the day of the concert.  I and my assistants arrived at the theatre at 8 AM to exchange information with the technicians at the theatre and start setting up the stage.  By 9, the first groups were arriving.  And many were somewhat nervous being in a strange facility.  These rehearsals had to be run on time allowing each group just sufficient time to become accustomed to the stage and their placements.  We had to be finished by 1 PM with a concert start time of 2 PM so the clock was the real person in charge of the technical rehearsal.

 

Once I opened the curtain at 2 PM, I actually felt relaxed and was not at all anxious.  I knew that I and my gang had done all we could do technically and that the performers were ready to perform as artists.  So at that point, my only job was to make sure that all the technical cues I had created were executed precisely.   Cooperation among the various groups was the key element in our success and I was so lucky in always having such amicable groups with which to work.

 

I guess I should mention that not all of my stage managing was done in North Van.  There were many, many concerts in that time period held at the Hall in which I was assigned the same role.  But boy were those a piece of cake compared with the shows on the other side of Burrard Inlet.  Always easier to work in a venue with which you are very familiar and over which you have total control.

 

So there you have it.  Some reflections from someone who went from performer to assistant to the performers over about 5 decades.  So which did I enjoy more, being in front of the curtain or behind it?  As long as the show is enjoyable to both the audience and the performers, who knows for sure.  And in the end, does it really matter?  You do what you enjoy and take on tasks you feel you can manage.

 

Written by:

Larry Levchuk

Masha Birkby is a Vancouver Stage Manager and has worked in many capacities at local and international theatres. Below is an excerpt from her reflections on what drew her from being a performer to working behind the scenes. It follows our Celebration 100 concert at the North Vancouver Centennial Theatre on June 8, 2018.

 

“This show was special to me. I have a memory that has come to mind often during my career, and it’s from being in a show at the Centennial about 20 years ago. 

 

It was being onstage during that show, singing in the choir and looking at the lights, it had dawned on me that I had exactly zero interest in performing, and really enjoyed being backstage. That was my last show onstage, and I have happily stuck around the darker worlds since then. And yes, I’ve told that story many times to many stagehands and actors and dancers over the years. 

 

So with all that in mind, it was extremely emotionally rewarding to be back at the Centennial, working this exact show so many years later, with so many familiar faces around …

 

Thank you all, from the bottom of my very full heart, for doing everything you do, for making this happen, and for giving the opportunities for everyone to be part of this incredible show. And thank you for the opportunity to go down memory lane! 

 

Here’s to many more in the future! Cheers!”

Delores Fung is a long-time member of the AUUC Vancouver, and her children have been dancers for about 20 years.  Delores wears many hats as a volunteer, from costuming to event coordinator to member of the Executive Committee. 

I’ve been working behind the scenes for as long as my kids have been in dance, from helping put on makeup and styling hair to sewing costumes and constructing props.  The job was to make sure all performers were dressed to perfection - Poyases tied properly, head pieces on right and ensuring all hem lines were even and boys sharovari were tucked into their boots.

Click photo carousel to view hand-painted stage banners and costume work

I never thought all this would come in handy when I volunteered to take on a bigger roll in Mosaic 2016 and Celebration 100 concerts by helping plan out how things would run backstage. Putting on a large-scale performance as a volunteer organization means attending extra meetings and organizing dress rehearsals as well as helping paint stage backdrops, hand-painting specialized costumes, constructing headpieces, and setting up garment racks.  I didn’t ’t realize how big the job would be as we also had to plan what rooms performers would be in and how to move everyone safely to the stage and on time.  Having Debbie on stage and me down in the dressing rooms meant clear communication was important.  She would call to me on the two-way radio when the next performers had to be in the wings.  We managed to get everyone there on time.

Having been in the audience for many performances, I’ve enjoyed seeing the performers present their beautiful art.  Seeing the show from backstage gives you a different perspective from what the audience sees.  When the dancers were waiting for the curtains to open on their first dance, My z Ukrainiy, I could see the energy building, their emotions, and their feelings of pride in sharing their dancing with the audience.  Watching the show start, from the wings, gave me such a proud feeling that I couldn’t contain my tears of happiness. 

Being in charge of all the performers I found you had to be well organized and have a strong crew behind you.  The skills I learned working on smaller performances at the Hall and helping organize Malanka and Perogy lunch events were amazingly helpful.  The many jobs and experiences you have when volunteering open you to taking on new challenges and give you the confidence to grow.  I enjoy working backstage, being one part of a dedicated team.  This organization and the dedicated volunteers are part of my ‘family’.  Many hands and minds go into making a successful concert and I’m proud of being part of the process.

 

 

Written by:

Delores Fung.

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