Q-and-A: PPAC’s Technical Director Shares What It’s Like to Prepare for Pretty Woman in COVID
Amanda Motta managed set preparations for Pretty Woman, while making sure the theater is COVID-compliant for PPAC's first performance since pre-COVID, opening this weekend.
The set for Pretty Woman is loaded into Providence Performing Arts Center, and the show is ready to go live on Saturday, October 9 through Saturday, October 16. We had the chance to interview PPAC’s technical director and COVID-19 compliance officer Amanda Motta about what it took to get ready for the theater’s first show back since the pandemic first began about nineteen months ago.
Jamie: How long did it take to load in the set for Pretty Woman?
Amanda: We started the actual load in about two weeks ago on the technical side, and we’re at the end of week three of loading in and setting everything up. Right now we’re working out the kinks with the set and production while the cast has been rehearsing every night for the past week.
J: So you’re setting up set pieces and props. What can we expect to see?
A: It’s actually a much smaller set than we typically see. It’s really beautiful with a lot fewer pieces. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of scenery and props, but what we have looks amazing. We fly scenes in and out at sixty feet into the stage, and the smaller elements, set pieces and props, are pushed in and out throughout the show.
J: How many people are involved behind the scenes?
A: There is mostly a core group of 150 people that we call on to help run the show. The stage management on the tour calls all the cues, but we help secure and supply labor, including local electricians, a wardrobe crew, and hair and makeup artists. We get all the locals together to help make it happen. It takes a lot of bodies and labor to get the show in and out of the theater. It took three weeks to load it in, and we load it out in one day only on that final Saturday after the last show. Everything that took three weeks to set up, we take down and load up in one day. The logistical challenge is trying to figure out how to fit everything in the truck.
J: What exactly does your role involve?
A: I wear a lot of different hats. As the technical director, I am responsible for everything on stage, making sure there are enough people here to help and in the right departments. I manage everything from forklift rentals, coordinating logistics with our neighbor Johnson and Wales, CO2 prep work, and many other things. We schedule Zoom calls with the tour and designers before the production. I’m also the COVID-compliance officer. I manage everything that comes with having 100 people on tour and managing local staff. I am making sure everyone is compliant with the theater’s COVID regulations, including wearing masks, and that there is orchestrated regular testing for everyone involved in the show. I would also handle the situation if someone were to have been exposed or test positive. At the same time, I’m also trying to prepare for all of the other shows, because we have seven one-night events scheduled at the theater directly after Pretty Woman.
J: What other shows are coming up?
A: We have The Ultimate Queen Celebration with Marc Martel, Foreigner, Alton Brown Live, Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello, among others, so I’ll be managing the load in of sets for all of those shows, including for the live kitchen demonstration that is part of Alton’s Brown’s performance.
J: Who would have thought that an entirely new position would be created out of this, the COVID-compliance officer.
Cooperation has been really key and it’s been great knowing that everyone has the same goal, which is to keep the theater industry open. I’m happy to have the crew back, and they want to stay working. The touring crew is coming from all over, and they also have their own COVID compliance officer who travels with them. We make sure that the actors and crew wear masks while waiting on the wings. Backstage culture is a lot of “hurry up and wait,” but everyone is understanding if we have to reset things. Everyone is patient and cooperative about wearing masks and testing. Recently we saw what happened with Aladdin on Broadway. They opened on night one, and then had to shut down because there were breakthrough positive cases. So everyone is being really diligent about staying compliant.
J: And also audience members are going to have to take extra precautions, as well, and wear masks during the performance?
Yes, the PPAC policy is that audience members will have to show their vaccination card or if they are not vaccinated, they must show a negative COVID-19 test with results from less than seventy-two hours. Audience members also must wear masks during the performance, except when eating or drinking. It’s a nice agreement between the audience and actors that we are all going to keep each other safe.
Pretty Woman runs at the Providence Performing Arts Center from October 9-16. Tickets are $20-$94.