As audiences flood into the streets of downtown hoping to catch a Hamilton actor outside the stage door, and the lights begin to dim inside the State Theatre, the work begins for a new batch of people. Production supervisor Tony Hanf has been part of the Playhouse Square family for 12 years, a decade of which he spent in the education department. Now he's the man who organizes, arranges and helps bring to life the many productions that entertain the masses of Cleveland before a performer ever sets foot on the stage.
Hanf is responsible for guiding each show from loading truck to stage. He helps determine what each production will require, what Playhouse Square already has on site that can be of assistance, and what needs to be obtained to make sure the show can be as successful as possible.
"A few years back we were doing Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and suddenly everyone's tickets had to be moved from the Palace Theatre to the State Theatre. The reason? Because the costumes couldn't fit through the door in the Palace," says Hanf. "It's my job to make sure these iconic staples, like those costumes or like Pride Rock in The Lion King, can be successfully mounted at Playhouse Square."
With matinee performances and evening call times, sometimes the most opportune moments to begin putting these technical elements together are late at night and into the early morning. Hanf was fresh off of Jazz Fest when we spoke to him. "I didn't see my girlfriend for four days," he says. By now she's used to his frequent late nights and unpredictable schedule.
"I tried the internet dating thing for a while and people were always so excited when they heard what my job is, until they tried to schedule the date and realize I am never available when they are," he says.
For events like Jazz Fest that take up an entire weekend's worth of productions, Hanf will sleep in his office when a late night and early call are back to back, and proudly boasts about surviving 16- or 18-hour shifts. "Luckily for me, we have some of the best union workers in the country here at Playhouse Square," he says. "Some of these guys have been working here longer than I've been alive, so I don't have to stand over their shoulders and tell them how to do their jobs, otherwise I'd be here even later."
Fostering relationships is also an important part of the job and helps with the efficiency of loading in and out. "The Dancing with the Stars crew is really cool. It's a different tour each year, but it's the same crew each time," says Hanf. When audiences ooh and ahh over the massive spectacles on stage, Hanf just shrugs, "This is my job. This is what I do every day."
After so many years and so many late nights setting up productions, one would think that Hanf would be disillusioned by the magic of the theater. He admits that he doesn't actually get to see many of the productions fully realized because, after working odd hours in the theater all day, staying even longer to watch the show can be overkill.
"When you're immersed in the behind-the-scenes world for so long, it can start to feel like just a job. But then something like Hamilton will come through, and it'll reinvigorate me and remind me why I love what I do."