Interview with April Busch March 23, 2020
April Busch - Technical Operations Director
What is your role here at Lyric, and how long have you held the position?
I've now been at Lyric almost eight years (the time has flown by!). I was previously Production Manager, but my title has changed to Technical Operations Director. I negotiate contracts for the designers of our productions and help plan their schedules. I also handle communication within the company if there are any special events occurring in the building, like board meetings or photo shoots. Anytime someone needs to have the crew (stage crew, wigs, makeup, wardrobe, props, carpenters, sound, and electricians) involved in something that isn’t onstage, I help facilitate that as well.
I've added logistics to the long list of things that I do. That means I'm responsible for getting productions here — shows we've rented or co-produced, or scenery and costumes that have been built elsewhere, and for getting scenery and costumes that we're renting to other companies out to them. It's a lot of communication with the shipper or the receiver regarding when/where the show can be picked up received, and communication with our shipping partners, and coordinating with our crew to make sure there are people available to load, unload, or cross-load. I've learned a lot about OTR (over-the-road) shipping by truck in semi's and containers, rail shipping and ocean freight. I've also learned a fair amount about geography. Logistics takes up a lot more time than I thought it would, but it's fine because I find it endlessly fascinating.
What led you to work at Lyric?
I worked for San Francisco Opera for 14 years, and I was interested in getting back to my Midwestern roots. I’m originally from southern Indiana.
When I was five years old, I came to Chicago during a family Christmas trip and I told myself I would live in Chicago one day. I love opera so much that in grad school at the Yale School of Drama, I wrote my thesis on how to plan and produce an opera season. And now I’m here!
What’s a typical day like for you?
Every day is unique. I come in with a planned to-do list, and my day often takes me in completely different directions. I’m usually fielding requests, answering calls, or trying to find the answers to questions. I’m an information hub. My day can also include scheduling, budgeting, writing contracts, and coordinating where the crews need to go.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Making sure communication between different groups and departments is accurate and up to date. From the technical department to the stage crew to the designers, I ensure that we all start and end on the same page. It’s challenging, but we make it work! Communicating with designers that are based in different time zones (like Australia) is tough, too.
What keeps you committed to the work you do?
I love it because my job is hectic, and because it’s never the same. I believe in the product, in opera, as an escape and as a therapy. It allows you to forget about your mortgage or world problems for a few hours and just listen to beautiful music.
What’s something about your job that people might not know?
I handle all the scheduling of the safety trainings for the stage crew. It’s my job to make sure they have appropriate safety licenses for any given production, such as CPR and fire-extinguisher training. I also deal with the fire marshall more than most people might expect. I have to obtain permits any time we use live flame onstage (at least four productions from the 2016/17 season used fire, for example), even if it’s just for a candle.
A favorite Lyric moment?
The opening night of Rusalka during our 2013/14 season. It was such a beautiful, special show. I had never seen it before and it was magical. The music was gorgeous, and it made me proud to work here.
Beyond opera, what are your other passions?
I love to travel. It’s great seeing yourself through other people’s eyes and seeing how people in different places live. It really reaffirms your identity. Egypt was fascinating. Cambodia is on my travel bucket list.
What are you feeling with the cancellation of the Ring?
Honestly, even though I suspected that it would be a possibility, I'm still reeling from it. To have it all end so suddenly, and to not have been there when the announcement was made (I was in the car driving to a funeral in southern Indiana), I feel bereft. And after I dealt with all the immediate needs (from afar) of getting the design team back home — and there was a lot of drama surrounding canceled flights — now I'm at loose ends. I feel badly for the creative team, who put years of their lives into creating it, and for the artists who worked so hard in rehearsals these last few weeks. Mostly though, I'm sad for my colleagues who put so much work into not only the actual physical production, but for those who worked so hard and for so long on planning the ancillary activities. For those who are (or will be) what I call “career opera,” doing a Ring cycle is a badge of honor that not many people experience, and to have that stripped away so suddenly is . . . well, I don't have words for it. I was really looking forward to helping out the marketing department by giving backstage tours, and working on the collaboration with The Second City on Longer! Louder! Wagner!, and just the excitement of the house being filled with so many die-hard opera fans.
What are you doing when you need a distraction?
My husband and I have been going for a walk every afternoon. Just some urban hiking on the streets of our near-West Loop neighborhood. A change of scenery, no matter how slight, is good for clearing your mind.
What are you most looking forward to in the 2020/21 season?
I'm going to have to go with The Rake's Progress for slightly sentimental reasons. I mean, it's a great production and the design is very clever. And I love that it's “old-school scenery,” meaning that it's almost entirely painted drops (designed by David Hockney) and soft covered flats. But I did this production at San Francisco Opera in 2000 when I was just a pup, so I feel like I grew up with it. We tech’d it last fall, and I came upon pieces of the set unexpectedly onstage — it was like I had gone back in time. So many memories of the show and life as it was then just came flooding back. The scenery still smells the same as it did then.