There’s much more to live theater than performers delivering lines on a stage. A fully captivating experience requires scenery and props, lighting and sound, costumes and makeup and more. Someone has to pull all of these details together in the months before opening night.
Enter Hillary Blanken Gallo ’88.
Though she majored in math at Amherst, Gallo spent a lot of time with the theater and dance department, serving as stage manager for numerous shows. She also took a semester offff to work as a production assistant on a tour of Les Misérables, which led, after her graduation, to a career behind the scenes on Broadway.
“I decided that what I really loved about theater was setting everything up, which was production management,” she says. So, in 1998, she founded Juniper Street Productions to coordinate and supervise the technical aspects of plays and musicals. “I get to work with the smartest and most creative people in the world, and what I do for them is to help get their vision onstage.”
The six-person company has now worked on more than 100 shows, on Broadway, across North America and in London, including these recent and upcoming productions.
Fun Home; 2015, Broadway
“It’s in a little theater that’s in the basement of an offff ice building. It’s also a theater in the round—the only one on Broadway. Because it’s in the round, you can’t really have traditional backgrounds. We basically took out the entire stage floor and put in six lifts to bring the scenery up and down.”
The Color Purple; 2015, London
“We do a lot of big musicals, but The Color Purple was challenging, because basically it was a musical done as a play. It was a one-set show, very simple. And because the house is small, costs were tight.”
Fully Committed; 2016, Broadway
“It’s set in the basement of a fancy restaurant, and the back wall is a wall of wine racks. We spent a lot of time talking about: How are we going to make sure the wine bottles don’t fall? How are we going to get them onto the wall? How much is it going to weigh? There’s also a ‘tornado of chairs’: all the restaurant chairs are hung in a swirl over the stage. So that was challenging—to figure out how to connect the chairs and not see the connections.”
The SpongeBob Musical; 2016, Chicago
“No, they’re not putting actors in big, puffy costumes. (That was my first show, Rugrats— they all had big heads.) They’re trying to bring the audience underwater, into the world of Bikini Bottom. The design is fun and crazy, with real objects: hula hoops, beach balls, swimming pool toys. There’s a piece of scenery that’s made out of sponges. In the front of the house, there are two Rube Goldberg machines.”
Tuck Everlasting; 2016, Broadway
“That show is about a family that lives forever, and they live in the woods, so the designer made this huge tree to go up on stage that’s whimsical and sculptural. The actors climb the tree and go all the way across the stage. A branch lowers down so that you feel like you are up in the trees with them.”