Backstage Life: Cameron Arens
Cameron Arens - Senior Director of Production
What is your role here at Lyric, and how long have you held the position?
I came to Lyric in 2014, and am now Senior Director of Production. I oversee the rehearsal and production departments, who are together responsible for a smooth on and off-stage experience for all of our performing artists. Rehearsal organizes the daily schedules and obtains work visas, flights, apartments, doctor appointments, etc. The production department— which is home to Lyric’s top-notch stage managers, assistant directors, and assistant stage managers— ensures that rehearsals and performances are run efficiently, safely, and on time!
What led you to work at Lyric?
I was bitten by the opera bug when I was a child, so it has always been a goal to work in the field professionally. I started off at a Baroque opera festival in Austria and then worked for six years at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where I planned pre-concert talks, symposia, and the production of specialty series, most notably their wonderful “Beyond the Score” program, which toured all over the place. Plenty of the logistical challenges inherent to that job were transferrable back to the operatic line of work. Having admired Lyric for so many years from Michigan Avenue, I didn’t hesitate to put myself forward when this position opened up.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Urgencies are always crawling out of the woodwork, so we all learn to juggle and prioritize. I might be checking in on a visa application for an artist arriving next month, analyzing a request a director has made for a rehearsal day next week or next year, doing payroll, or interviewing people who may be a good fit for backstage life at Lyric when the next opportunity arises. I also oversee rental and co-production agreements, which govern how we collaborate with other opera companies on shared work. This lets me spend some time each day researching and communicating about plans that are further down the line.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
No amount of planning will ever prevent the flu from finding its way to a singer, or thunderstorms from cancelling incoming flights, or any number of other emergencies that could affect a rehearsal or even a performance. My rehearsal department colleagues and I are usually the first to hear of such things, and, with so many stakeholders both backstage and in the audience, it’s essential but not always intuitive to keep absolutely calm in the face of the unexpected. By bringing the right artistic and administrative colleagues together at the right times, we can find a solution for anything.
What keeps you committed to the work you do?
Being reminded with every performance that when we’ve done our jobs right, there’s no better place for artists to express themselves, and no better place for audiences to fall in love with opera for the first or umpteenth time, than at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago.
What’s something about your job that people might not know?
I write contracts for animals that appear on stage. That includes the golden retrievers from last season’s production of The Magic Flute and the shih tzus from Der Rosenkavalier. If a director decides he or she wants an animal in a show, I come up with a strategy to find it, pay it, and then identify who will walk it, feed it, clean up after it…
Favorite Lyric moment?
I cherish the sounds of school-aged attendees at our student matinees. When the curtain rises, when Tosca stabs Scarpia, or (grab your earplugs) when two performers kiss onstage, there comes a howl from the audience that you could hear from the moon. It’s a group who is paying as close attention as is humanly possible to the stage and the music, and who will pave the future for all of us in this business.
Beyond opera, what are your other passions?
Getting outdoors. The opera house is bursting with people, drama, and artifice— all wonderful things—but for contrast I like to seek out places, preferably in hiking boots, with population: zero.
What have you been doing lately when you've need a distraction?
What are you most looking forward to in the 2020/21 season?
I am very excited for a Katie Mitchell staging (of Lessons in Love and Violence) to come to our stage. This co-production with so many other wonderful opera houses around the world is another project we've been planning for many years.