Stretch like a Stage Op

Posted May 23, 2023

Stretch like a stage op

Flexibility is crucial when working in theater, especially if you are responsible for transforming the stage in between performances. So what better way to prepare for the season ahead than working on, well, your flexibility? Last Friday, we joined the wonderful team of production assistants as they bonded over their stretches for the upcoming season.

There’s a lot going on at APT right now.

There are parking lots being paved and sets being constructed. There are costumes being assembled and measurements (so many measurements) being taken. Actors are blocking scenes and playbills are being printed. It’s easy with all this momentum, this brisk if not a tad frenzied energy, to feel a tiny bit overwhelmed while trying to put the puzzle pieces of APT’s 44th season together.

That’s why it’s important to take a moment and breathe – literally. Last Friday, the production assistants, or PAs, of APT had the chance to return to a favorite tradition for the first time since 2019. Personal Trainer and owner operator of Personal Best Fitness Studio, LLC, Eugene Schulz joined PAs Savana Andershock, Erin Dillon, Bri Jolley, Laura Kloser, Kendra Luedke and James A. Viall III to give a brief demonstration on stretches they can return to throughout the season.

Eugene Schultz has looked forward to coming back and working with the crew. “I love coming out here and I love the people. I would say I’ve come out at least a dozen, if not 15 or more times. We haven’t done it since 2019 because COVID kind of shut us down.”

Stage Operations Supervisor, Maxwell Alexander shared the importance of having Eugene come in and establish a routine with the production assistant team. “This is our way of taking care of ourselves. The job can be rough on our bodies. This is a very good thing to ensure that halfway through the season we’re not dropping like flies. Eugene is super nice and really teaches us how to take care of our bodies. We do our stretches before every changeover.”

Maxwell is not exaggerating. The physical demands of performing a changeover take preparation. Up in the Hill Theatre, the average time it takes to transform one production’s set to the next production’s set clocks in around 45 minutes to an hour, and that includes deconstructing the current set, storing it away, bringing out the new pieces, assembling them together and performing general clean up during the process.

If you’ve never seen it, it resembles a choreographed routine, and extremely impressive to watch come together before your eyes. You can find a time lapse of changeovers from our 2022 season in both the Hill and Touchstone Theatres on the APT YouTube channel, or come out and witness it in person Sunday, September 17th as part of our summer Backstage Series.

Before every changeover, the team takes a moment to apply some of Eugene’s stretches and find a moment of community. “I think it’s just something that brings us all together. We have the time just to catch our breath before the changeover starts and talk through the plans for the day,” Maxwell explains.

Eugene sees the importance, too. “I think it has always been beneficial. In today’s age, we’re becoming more aware of our limitations and things that we can do around it. In the old days, we just kind of worked through it, which isn’t the healthiest thing. Awareness is good.”

So, what exactly do they cover as a group? “They learn how to lift without injuring themselves. They learn how to do things more efficiently. And they learn how to recover if they do happen to get a little bit locked up during certain movements,” according to Eugene.

Stretches focus on the calf muscles, general arm strength and mobility, hand flexing and hip flexors. The overwhelming favorite of all the PAs, however, is the hamstring stretch.

So much of the magic of APT comes from folks who often do not get all the recognition they deserve. The production assistant crew is responsible for a lot of what makes APT’s signature repertory style possible, as well as helping on several other projects during rehearsals and performances. It’s a team mindset that makes every season possible. We literally could not do it if not for the efforts of everyone involved in every step of a production’s journey.

And if you’re at all interested in creating your own stretching routine for your hike up the Hill this summer, Eugene has a few tips.

“A good warm up would be what I like to call marches. They’ll start in a standing position and bring your knees up to your chest in a marching position. That works out and hits any possible fractures on the front side of the legs. The funny thing about my warmup is that I’ve been doing the same warm ups with all skill levels since 1997. The knee raises, heel curl, legs out to get side and arms across the body… once we get it started, we can have a conversation because we know it’s kind of like walking, you know what the next step is going to be.”

You’ve got three weeks to build your own stretch routine before our first preview performance. A word of advice from the PA team: start with the hamstrings.