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BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!

We sat down with the team at The Muny to check in ahead of their 103rd season.

Ahead of their upcoming 103rd season in Forest Park, BroadwayWorld checked in with the leadership team at The Muny to get the inside scoop (and a first look) on their renovations project, their pandemic response, and more!

The 2021 season includes three Muny premieres, family favorites and the return of beloved classics. The seven shows are: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (July 5 - 11), Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins (July 14 - 22), Smokey Joe's Cafe (July 25 - 31), The Sound of Music (August 3 - 9), Sweeney Todd (August 12 - 18), On Your Feet! (August 21 - 27) and Chicago (August 30 - September 5).

For tickets visit Muny.org.

Below, we chat with Muny Director of Operations Sean Smith, Production Manager Tracy Utzmyers, and Artistic Director/Executive Producer Mike Isaacson.

Check out the interview and photo gallery below!

Can you describe the scope of the renovations done to The Muny?

Smith: This year, we are in the process of completing updates to all of our backstage support spaces-basically, everything that the audience does not see, but is vital for each of our productions. Renovated spaces include dressing rooms, costume shop, general offices, production offices, crew break areas and our backstage concession area. The primary goal of this work is to create a more comfortable space, with updated infrastructure and technologies, which will allow our teams to produce shows in a more efficient manner.

We are also putting the final touches on our stage replacement project that was started back in 2018. For the 2019 summer season, our audiences were treated to a new performance stage and light bridge, complete with automation features such as the turntable, track system, trap lifts and an orchestra pit platform lift system. Since then, we've been completing the architectural features on the exterior of the stage tower buildings, as well as replanting the trees that form the backdrop and canopy to our stage.

In the end, this work this will result in a better product and a better experience for future generations of Muny-goers.

What are some of the additions to the stage you guys are more excited about?

Utzmyers: We are as equally thrilled about the updated and integrated automation capabilities that allow the tracks, turntable, lifts and booms to work in tandem with our lighting, video and sound systems as we are with our new rehearsal turntable which allows us to plug and play from rehearsal room to stage.

The new LED lighting package and remote control spotlights have made a big impact on our shows. Everything is brighter and more colorful. I would be doing a disservice if I didn't mention the carefully planned and integrated sound positions in the new stage that enhance the clear and crisp sound throughout the entire audience.

And probably my favorite is providing an indoor/outdoor space for the orchestra that is climate controlled and protects our musicians and their instruments from pop up weather events.

Was construction significantly delayed due to COVID19?

Smith: Certainly COVID-19 has had an impact on construction, but not from a schedule standpoint. Most notably, we've had to make adjustments in meeting structure by shifting to virtual meetings, as well as expand our safety protocols and check-in procedures for COVID to keep our teams safe. We're currently on track for substantial completion in early May which is just in time for our 2021 summer season preparation.

What has The Muny staff been up to this past year?

Isaacson: As for everyone everywhere, this last year has been like no other before it. Our particular context is that because the campus is under construction, being together (even socially distanced, masked and safe) in our offices was not an option, so we have redefined ourselves in the new email, text, Zoom world. To meet the moment for our audience and our community, required we find new ways to communicate as we also managed the incredible number of new duties that everyone took on. In many ways it's been remarkable. Along with maintaining "regular" operations, we needed to constantly re-plan the second draft of the plan that had just been drafted. We had to find new and innovative ways to keep connected with our subscribers, our donors, our artists and everyone in the vast Muny community. Because we're still in it, it's hard to have complete perspective on the experience, but the commitment, energy, patience and countless numbers of little "leaps of faith" have been remarkable.

Each year, The Muny gives nearly 10,000 free tickets to local social service agencies so their clients can attend shows all season long. Since we couldn't bring them to Forest Park in 2020, our staff has been extending The Muny's mission beyond the footlights with more than 50 Muny volunteers giving their time, treasure and talent to 20 area organizations.

When was the decision made to stage last year's cancelled season this year?

Isaacson: The decision was made as late as possible in order to not give up until we absolutely had to. We wanted to be there for our community and our audience. That was balanced with those dates that if we had started production spending, we would have been risking creating a record deficit that would have set the institution back. That was a risk we couldn't afford.

Have any changes been made to the venue (seating, fans, etc) because of the pandemic?

Smith: At this time, we have not made any changes to our venue. The fact that we are an outdoor amphitheater, with a recently updated air circulation system, certainly gives us an advantage as we discuss plans for this summer with our local health officials.

What is the team at The Muny most looking forward to this summer?

Isaacson: Being back together, doing what we do so magnificently, and doing with an unbridled gratitude and passion because we've missed it so.

Have any facilities beyond the stage been renovated?

Smith: We have also recently completed improvements to one of our outdoor rehearsal pavilions. In addition to the architectural and lighting updates to this space, we've added a new rehearsal deck component, complete with automated turntable. This new rehearsal feature will allow us to incorporate more advanced choreography into all of our productions.

Photo credit: Julie A. Merkle

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Mainstage turntable being installed at The Muny

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Pieces of the mainstage being installed at the Muny

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Stage right decorative shell being installed at The Muny

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Construction at The Muny's administrative building

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Stage right decorative shells being installed

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Stage right decorative shells being installed at The Muny

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Construction at The Muny's administrative building

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Construction at The Muny's administrative building

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
West rehearsal platform being installed at The Muny

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
West rehearsal platform being installed at The Muny

BWW Interview: The Muny Leadership On Renovations, Pandemic, 2021 Season & More!
Construction at The Muny's administrative building


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