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Gene O’Donovan joins Theatre Projects’ Guest Speaker Series

Gene O’Donovan joins Theatre Projects’ Guest Speaker Series

USATony Award-winning production manager and founder of Aurora Productions, Gene O’Donovan, joined Theatre Projects’ staff recently for the latest installment in its guest speaker series.

Gene shared with Theatre Projects’ staff some of the many lessons learned from his decades-long career in scene shops and theatres across the globe, where he worked his way up through the ranks from driver and carpenter to technical director on his way to becoming production manager for countless hit Broadway shows, including A Few Good Men, The Book of Mormon, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Gene’s first experience with theatre was being offered $3 an hour to load trucks for a scene shop in the Bronx—gruelling work that his friends hated—but for Gene, it was love at first sight. “It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

Working his way through local scene shops, Gene stopped for a short while to take what he called: “An all-expenses-paid tour of South-East Asia.” It was while serving with the Army in Vietnam, stationed in a remote outpost and tasked with supplying thousands of men with food and equipment, that Gene learned perseverance and how to “create something out of nothing”—crucial assets for anyone working in the theatre. “I knew I had the conscience and the wherewithal to figure it out,” he said. “It gave me the confidence to start from scratch, and it gave me the tools I needed to succeed.”

Once he returned home, Gene went back to work in New York scene shops, where he took on any task that was needed, working as a jack-of-all-trades, even turning down a “real job” to follow his passion for theatre. Eventually he started his own business, Hudson Scenic, in 1980 and partnered with the likes of IBM on large industrial shows. A turning point came with the stage production of A Few Good Men in 1989. “I realised that that was where I wanted to be,” he said. “I never did another industrial show again.”

In 1994, with the help of a friend, Gene started Aurora Productions. With just two people, the company operated an exhaustive schedule of 14 shows a year, growing in staff and reputation with each successful show. To date, Aurora Productions has supervised more than 190 shows.

It was the values of perseverance, patience, and hard work, Gene said, that helped him guide the creation of hundreds of shows and would eventually earn him a Tony Award for his lifetime of work. Gene said that winning the 2015 Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre was both an honour and a total surprise to him. “When you’re the nuts-and-bolts guys, you don’t expect anyone to recognise what you do,” he said.

The back-and-forth discussion between Gene and Theatre Projects’ staff explored exactly what it takes to transform a modern Broadway production from conception to opening night and the myriad obstacles between those two points. Together, they discussed in depth how the thoughtful and informed programming of a theatre can help a production circumvent those obstacles and get a show off the ground smoothly, allowing it to run efficiently after opening night.

“Our design philosophy at Theatre Projects is based on our experiences working and living in theatre spaces—it’s been that way for nearly 60 years,” Chad Morrison, Theatre Projects’ general manager, said. “The dialogue we have with people like Gene O'Donovan keeps us focused on what's important in these spaces and how our design decisions impact shows every night around the world.”

Theatre Projects’ speaker series invites accomplished performing arts professionals to share their insights, history, and philosophy, and engage in a back-and-forth conversation with staff in order to better understand the challenges they’ve faced, the facilities they operate in, and the trajectory of the performing arts.

photo: Theatre Projects

29th April 2016

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