Making Magic: The Anatomy of a Concert at Door Community Auditorium

The tour buses for John Hiatt and Steve Earle park outside Door Community Auditorium.

It is a magical experience for me to observe how the performing arts bring neighbors and strangers together, encourage us to be present in the moment, and inspire us in countless ways. And I believe that it is the right of “John Q. Patron” to buy a ticket and feel that this magic happened especially for him. You know…like magic! Yet despite my philosophy on a “patron’s right to expect magic,” I frequently receive questions about what goes in to choosing and presenting performances.

Setting the stage for magic to happen is a well-orchestrated labor of love. Dozens of volunteers and employees oversee the logistics involved with each event. Let’s pull back the curtain and peek at what took place in the months, weeks, and hours leading up to one of our performances. I just hope it doesn’t ruin the magic.

On August 2, Door Community Auditorium (DCA) presented Steve Earle and John Hiatt to a sell-out crowd of 740. The concert lasted about 2 ½ hours. The planning, however, began eight months earlier.

Mid-January: DCA Programming Committee began discussing the season. Our “artist wish list” was updated with community suggestions and grew to 667 names.

January – March: We communicated with agents and presenters, researched artists touring the Midwest, negotiated deals, and began entering contracts.

March 13: I spoke with an agent about a John Hiatt/Steve Earle package. Committee and board members expressed support.

March 14: An offer was submitted to the agent.

March 21: Agent asked us to waive our cut on merchandise. We declined. Deal confirmed via email.

April – May: Season brochure sent to printer. Sales began. Sponsorship drive concluded. Advertising schedules confirmed. Playbill to printer.

June – July: Print and social media advertising designed. Artist deposits paid. Technical & Hospitality contract riders reviewed. Sound and lighting needs coordinated. Sound check times confirmed. Catering and dressing room requests coordinated.

July 15: Performance reached “sell-out” status. A waiting list was compiled.

July 31 – August 1: Deli trays purchased. Dressing rooms stocked with items specified in the contract: towels, steamer, local periodicals, and flowers (flowers weren’t specified in this particular contract but we have a staffer who doubles as a flower fairy/donor). Sponsors notified of meet and greet details.

August 2: Showday arrives.

We never know what a showday will hold. Sometimes everything goes smoothly. Other times, the tour bus breaks down, an artist shows up with laryngitis, or the tour manager is having a bad day. This show went smoothly thanks to a strong team effort. Here’s how the day looked to two staffers and one volunteer:

Bob Hawley, Retired Prosecutor/Judge/DCA’s “Volunteer Runner”

Bob Hawley visits with musician Steve Earle.

12 pm: Arrived and met Earle’s manager. (I hadn’t stopped to think about what my duties would encompass…Perhaps fetching guitar strings, giving county tours, and introducing the band on-stage. Getting four bags of ice as my first assignment, however, was not part of my fantasy.)

12:30 pm: Shuttled Earle’s bus driver to hotel for shut-eye.

Mid-afternoon: Took band members to get coffee. (We shared stories of life on the road. I felt transcended from a no-name gopher to a member of the band for a day. Especially when a mere mortal asked us what time we were playing and I barked back, “8 o’clock and we’re sold out!”)

7 pm: Dashed home to gussy up for the concert.

9:30 pm: Fetched pizzas. Bought a 6-pack of Red Bull after getting an emergency text during the first set.

11 pm: Brought the bus driver back to DCA.

Reflection: The coup de grâce was bidding farewell. As the busses pulled away, leaving me – their trusted and newest band member behind – Earle’s manager yelled, “Rob, stay in touch! You were great!” I pondered whether to correct him that my name was actually Bob. Instead, with a satisfied smirk, I shouted back, “Will do!” and bid them safe travels.

Deborah E. Smrz, Lighting Technician/Crew

12:30 – 7:30 pm: Patched and programmed light board. Focused lights. Tested mix.

7:30 pm: Checked aisle lights and communication system.

7:55 pm: Received a “stand-by to curtain” order.

8:05 – 10:40 pm: Mixed lighting.

11 pm: Assisted in striking performers’ equipment, rental equipment, and house equipment. Set up for next show.

12 am: Clocked out.

Reflection: Having performers like Earle and Hiatt is always a high point for me. I get to do a job I love while experiencing a great show. The auditorium is a second home to me. Having graduated from Gibraltar, I spent a lot of time there. It was a no-brainer to join the staff when I went to college and chose Lighting Design as a career.

Jennifer DuPont, Production Coordinator & House Manager

11 am – 1 pm: Welcomed both crews. Gave tours of backstage and confirmed schedules.

Cari Lewis (left) and Jennifer DuPont visit with Steve Earle.

2 – 4 pm: Set up lobby with merchandise tables. Covered box office phones.

7 – 7:30 pm: Briefed Usher Captains on show details. Opened house for seating.

7:45 pm: Flashed lobby lights.

8 pm: Alerted crew that we’d be holding the show to allow for latecomers. Flashed lobby lights again.

8:10 pm: Show began. Checked bathrooms to ensure there was enough tissue for intermission.

10 pm: Set up lobby for fan signing.

12:15 am: Reconciled merchandise and issued payment.

12:30 am: Said goodbye to the bands. Set up backstage for the Eilen Jewell concert.

1 am: Headed home.

Reflection: Whew! No wonder I’m tired!

August 3: Wash, rinse, repeat, and set the stage for the next dose of magic.

For more information about Door Community Auditorium or to view a schedule of upcoming events, visit

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.