VISTA — Ten months and hundreds of thousands of dollars ago, the Moonlight Amphitheater shut its doors for a complete makeover. Now that its doors have reopened, other than a huge new lighting canopy, there is not much external evidence of its transformation … at first glance.
Behind the scenes, however, is an entirely different story. What was once basically a simple concert shell around an outdoor stage is now a full-fledged theater with air conditioning, bathrooms, dressing rooms and rehearsal rooms.
That new canopy has made it possible to rehearse outside, too, even in the heat of the summer. Practicing, not to mention show setup and take down, is a much more pleasant experience now that the stage is not exposed to relentless sunlight and frigid night breezes.
That same canopy allows productions to be lit at a flattering 45-degree angle instead of flat on. Lighting is also physically easier to set up. The new stage has electric motors making light hanging a push-button affair. It used to take a week to install the lights for a show; now it takes just two days. The lighting staff uses that extra time to better focus their equipment.
“We have a lot of new shiny toys,” Master Electrician Ashley Jenks said. “A lot of things are much easier now. I feel like my entire crew is having more fun … getting to really do their electrician job.”
Set installation has also been made much easier. Set pieces used to be tracked on and off sideways, often in rolling wagons. Now, electrical lifts whisk components in all directions, cutting labor time dramatically. A set piece which once took three hours to hang now takes just 20 minutes, according to Assistant Technical Director Keith Gemmell. This gives actors far more time on the actual stage to practice.
“Our primary focus is making sure these shows are set up and ready to go as soon as the actors come in from the rehearsal halls,” Gemmell said.
These enhancements are good for the audience, too. Before this year, the Moonlight staff was forced to make compromises to squeeze Broadway-sized sets onto a smaller, more difficult stage. Whole settings were left in storage and productions had fewer scene changes, sometimes even using a simple black curtain instead of the unusable backgrounds.
No longer. The new stage allows this season’s opener, “42nd Street,” to use the sets made for the original 1980 Broadway production. In past Moonlight productions of the play, they were only able to hang two illuminated marquees for the climactic Broadway scene. This time, they were able to use all eight.
“We can now layer in the signs the way it was designed,” Managing Director Daniel Kays said. “You’re going to see the show the way it was designed.”
The sum of all of these improvements is a radically different Moonlight, one which has already wowed audiences and entertainers alike.
“For those performers that have grown up with us, even those who have most recently joined us … it’s emotional, “ Kays said. “Tears of just joy, tears of shock. It’s overwhelming knowing what we did.”
More information on this summer’s lineup on the new Moonlight stage can be found at www.moonlightstage.com. Tickets are available at (760) 724-2110.