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    When you say "Branson" most people thinks of shows. Music shows, Legends performers, and plays of all kinds come to mind. The average playgoer in Branson, Missouri doesn't think about all the behind the scenes activity it takes to bring an epic like Jonah or Moses to the stage.  Massive sets must be built; lighting and equipment are related to a specific play and must be created for that play. Since Sight and Sound uses animal actors, habitats for the animal actors must be created.

    The current production

    On a recent visit to Branson, I visited and went behind the scenes with some of the Sight and Sound staff. Cynthia Carson, VP of Operations, gave me some background about the theater. She spoke of its beginnings in Pennsylvania 41 yrs ago and then opening here in Branson in May, 2008. Sight and Sound is Branson's largest theater with seating for about 2100 spectators in its 339,000 sq feet building.

    Branson's Sight and Sound is considered a "operational theater" writers, designers artist and musicians and production staff prepare the play in Pennsylvania. Most sets are built there and sent here on semi trucks. 

    Cynthia pointed to the marquee advertizing Moses, the current production and told us Samson is coming in 2018. "All the plays are biblically based. We like to bring the Bible to life. Our guest will experience it as if they have gone back in time. Sometimes we do fictionalize by adding a few characters to make it more historically correct."

    One of our group asked about the practice of having "Jesus" show up in the Old Testament stories. I had also witnessed this in the play Jonah. Cynthia justified this as a "Foretelling."

    Cynthia spoke of one big responsibility, care of the animals, "Just as in life, animals are part of any life. Like the camels that walk across the stage, we know they were part of the caravans."

    She and Mike Porter, guest services manager, led us backstage to see the stages being set up and meet the animals "We have a special team of animal trainers and handlers. The animals get rehearsal time just like the two legged actors. Trainers work with the animals so they know what is going to happen during the next show."

    Tom, the trainer, seems to communicate well with Andre, the horse.

    Since animals don't always follow directions, I had to ask. "What was the craziest thing ever happened with an animal actor?"

    Cynthia laughed as she recalled, "Once we had to go get a turkey out of a guest's lap. We wanted them to really experience the action."

    In case you have never seen a play at Sight and Sound, both human and animal actors come right down the aisles. Cynthia said that is "Because we want the audience to feel that they are experiencing life in the story. We have aisle activities from animal actor as well as humans."

    Morgan and Shelby

    We met Tom, the supervisor in the animal department, and Morgan, a trainer. Tom led out Andre, a stately looking horse, and Shelby, a macaw perched comfortably on Morgan's wrist. The animals live downstairs. One thing that is good to know is that the animals are treated well.  Tom told us "There are currently 47 animals in Moses. Other animal that may be used in future shows or preformed in past shows still live here and we have them as back-ups. Lucky, an Arabian horse, is the longest serving cast member who serving for 25 years. They have an outdoor pasture and indoor space with a large arena to train no matter the weather."

    Trainers lead two horses across the stage before a preformance

    When they become too old to act on stage, some retire to the founder's farm and some have been re-homed in suitable homes. These homes are fully vetted to be sure it is suitable.

    Temperament is a big factor in choosing animal actors just as with people. I asked if they had any cats. Morgan told us, "We have four, two Siamese the other two just domestic cats."

    Tom interjected. "I can tell you what they are not; they are not calicos."

    Anyone having a calico cat can relate to that. Calicos can be the most independent cats ever. They have succeeded in training the cats to follow and sit on command so far. There is a big sandbox for the cats and other animals to play in. They don't use lions or tigers due to the liability insurance required.

    Set being positioned on the stage

    By now the huge sets were being wheeled into place in preparation for the next performance. Chris Melton is in charge of deckhands. He said that all are wheeled and some have a V Tech technology. He explained how the V Tech worked. "This is a remote controlled procedure that will turn up to a 360 degree turn. We always have someone walking alongside of the V Tech technology to be sure no one is in the way. Safety is optimal importance."

    While most sets are built in Pennsylvania they are often broken apart and reassembled here in the shop. The sets are built in modular sections so they can be disassembled. Cynthia said, "The curtain rarely comes down so sets are moved right before you, you are right in it. You think about choreography with the cast members but it's just as choreographed back here to make sure it's safe. Safety is foremost so if a set piece appears precarious we make changes and analyze it to correct it."

    The old set warehouse

    Chris's deck hands are the ones who stand by with mops and squeegees in case an animal has an accident. We left Chris to get the sets in place and arm his guys with mops just in case and went to visit the warehouse. This is a sort of graveyard for old sets. Some will be reused as is; others will be reworked for other productions.

    Workers preparing to rework a set piece.

    Next stop is the shop where the reworking of sets is being done. Although most sets are built in Pennsylvania some are created here in Branson. We needed to wear safety glasses as this is where metalwork, welding and paining are done.  They work on production about a year and a half ahead here. Seth, one of the shop workers explained how they use an app on their I-phones to design set pieces. Blocks of Styrofoam are placed on the set piece frame and then carved away to create the exact look they need.

    The actor's dressing room

    As you might have surmised, a big part of Sight and Sound production is teamwork. Every department has tight connections with others. Even among cast members, both people and animals, each have three other cast members who are trained to do the part if they should be sick or unable to perform that show.

    It's fun to see the finished show but behind the scenes at Sight and Sound is a show in itself.


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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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