U.D. resident has stage presence

Behind the Scenes, 11-12, Features

May 06, 2012
The story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, is a familiar one to many. But seeing it on the stage in a full-length ballet will be a first for most Philadelphia audience members.
The Pennsylvania Ballet is presenting the Philadelphia premiere of Trey McIntyre’s “Peter Pan.” It opened May 3 and continues through May 13 at the Academy of Music.
During the performances, all eyes will be on the dancers onstage and on the spectacular flying sequences. But behind the scenes Tony Costandino of Upper Darby also has a key role.
As stage manager for the company, he’ll stand backstage at each performance, wearing headphones, reading the score, looking intently at the stage or at a monitor, which shows everything happening onstage.
He calls the lighting cues, gives cues to the stage crew and oversees numerous other backstage details.
“My job is to run the show from the minute the house lights go down until the very end when they go up,” said Costandino. “It’s my responsibility to know the entire show.”
A full-length ballet like “Peter Pan” has special challenges for the stage manager, especially because its the first time with this ballet. It was originated by the Houston Ballet, and the Pennsylvania Ballet is the first company outside of Houston to do it.
“It’s totally new to us,” said Costandino.
One challenge was all the activity packed into the first act.
“It’s fast-paced from the moment the curtain goes up,” said Costandino. “It starts with the fairies, then the parents, the children, and finally the arrival of Peter Pan.”
Then, too, there’s an extended flying sequence in Act I. At his first entrance, Peter is not flying.
But in the next one, “he’s flying from the moment he comes on until he exits,” said Costandino. “It’s a lengthy sequence of flying. And what’s so impressive is that he flips and spins and does all sorts of things.”
There’s still another flying sequence in Act III, when Peter flies back to Neverland. For both scenes, wires are used for the flying, and they are connected to other apparatus, and to computers.
The basics are provided by a company called “Flying by Foy.”
“It designs flying rigs and apparatus that are used all over the world,” said Costandino. One of their technicians was assigned to work full time with the company on this show.
To practice the flying scenes, the Pennsylvania Ballet first rented Haverford School’s theater.
“We rigged up all the equipment and practiced for an entire week, and it went great,” said Costandino.
Although all the flying sequences are automated and controlled by computer, Costandino handles everything else that surrounds the flying, for instance, the lighting.
“We don’t want the wires to be visible while Peter Pan is flying, so the lighting has to be very limited,” he said.
That’s why the flying sequences take place at night. Costandino especially likes the visual effects at the end of Act I, when Peter and Wendy fly off.
“It’s nighttime, the stars are out, and they’re flying above London,” he said. “It’s very impressive.”
Act II keeps him especially busy. This is when Captain Hook arrives on his ship, and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys come on another ship.
“A lot of set pieces are moved on and off the stage,” said Costandino, whose role is to call the cues for when to move particular pieces of the set. Then the stage crew does the actual moving.
Act III opens on the deck of Captain Hook’s ship. His pirates have captured the Lost Boys.
“There’s a big fight scene between the pirates and the boys, and between Hook and Peter,” Costandino said.
Behind the scenes, he supervises the cues, including sound effects. During the battle, there are explosive sounds.
“I call the cue, someone presses a button, and there’s a ‘boom,’” he said. In all, the boom is heard four times.
Lighting cues, sound cues, spotlight cues and more, Costandino oversees it all. In all, he estimates there are about 250 different cues in the three-act ballet.
Whatever the challenge, this veteran stage manager can handle it. He’s been with the Pennsylvania Ballet for 30 years, and has worked on hundreds of ballets during his tenure.
Each ballet is like an individual show. Besides full-length ballets, other programs present several ballets in one performance.
“So I can do upward of 16 different ballets in one season,” Costandino said. “The work is changing all the time.”
Along with familiar ballets like the popular “Nutcracker,” there are new works, and “Peter Pan” is one of them. It’s a first for the company and the stage manager. He predicts audiences will enjoy this premiere.
“It follows closely the original story, but this is the chance to see it live,” he said. “Also, it’s one of the most family-oriented ballets we’ve ever done. It has appeal for everyone, regardless of age.”
IF YOU GO: Performances of the Pennsylvania Ballet premiere of “Peter Pan” at the Academy of Music run through May 13. Tickets are available online at www.paballet.org, by phone at 215-893-1999 or at the Kimmel Center box office.
By Ruth Rovner
 Special to the Times
Read at delcotimes.com.