A DAY IN THE LIFE: Operations Manager, Janet Hillson

What does it take to put on an event like Festival Mozaic’s summer series?  Most people can guess, but only a few really know.  So we asked the Festival’s Operations Manager, Janet Hillson, to give us a “day in the life” scenario from last summer.  Thanks to Janet for opening her diary with us.

Janet Hillson

I want to express how much I enjoy my job as Operation Manager for Festival Mozaic and how incredibly lucky I feel to have this coveted position.  In my life prior to the one I now have, I was a museum registrar whose main responsibility was to move art objects around the world – now I move musicians and equipment around the Central Coast.  I thought I would share with you a fairly typical day during our intense 10-day summer festival.

 

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Fringe Concert, See Canyon 3:00pm

Notable Encounter Dinner, Varian Ranch, 6:00pm

Got home from the amazing Chapel Hill concert around midnight and of course was so wound up thinking about all that can (and will) go awry in preparation for the two big events the Festival is presenting on Sunday (isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?!) that I couldn’t sleep.

Realize that I have a text on my cell from 11:30pm which I just now see because at 11:30 I was driving a rented minivan filled with bags of stinky trash and recycling from Chapel Hill to my home in Morro Bay.  The text is about one of the musicians who left their car lights on and needless-to-say now has a dead battery.  For those of you who’ve had the opportunity to experience a Festival Mozaic concert at Chapel Hill, you know how beautiful, and remote, that location is.  But, thank goodness for AAA who eventually got the musician out of Shandon.

See Canyon Fruit Ranch

After a fitful night, I’m out the door before 8 am so that I can be in Avila Beach to meet with the technicians by 9:00am at See Canyon.  Since I haven’t had time to eat much food in the past few days (the best diet ever!) I decide that the four technicians and I, who also have early mornings after a late night working, need sustenance. I make a pit-stop in SLO to buy bagels and cream cheese which garnered some job security for me when the Executive Director, Bettina, arrives also starving and was thrilled to find something to eat on site.

Modern Mandolin Quartet

Now the real fun begins as the technicians must hand-carry each section of the rented stage gently across the impeccable grass area at See Canyon.  There are many things that need to take place behind-the-scenes for a successful performance to take place. The best events are the ones where the musicians arrive and don’t even notice all the details. After all, their job is to play their best – we’re here to help them. So naturally, we discover that the stage has numerous issues making it unusable and unsafe for our event, which begins in five short hours!  The Festival’s technician team rallied and went out into the world scrambling to secure the right pieces to make a stage for the Modern Mandolin Quartet.

Janet on the job

To add to the excitement, there is virtually no cell phone service at See Canyon except under one particular apple tree in the parking lot.  This makes my job especially difficult as I have no contact with the technicians who are working on piecing together a stage, nor with the technicians who I need to meet in a few hours to set up for our evening event.  How did my predecessors do this job prior to cell phones I wonder?!  As I’m walking through the apple trees in search of the spot which receives cell service I see that we have patrons beginning to arrive three hours prior to the start of the concert! I gently tell them to return in a few hours when the venue doors are actually open.

Road to See Canyon

As if this isn’t enough drama for one event, I learn that there’s a major traffic snarl (a rare occasion on the Central Coast).  Just next to the exit off Highway 101 which leads to See Canyon, there’s a car on fire and traffic has been stopped on the freeway in both directions!  I learn this at exactly the moment when I need to leave this venue and go to the venue where the Festival is having a sit-down dinner for 92 people in a private home, which I do, leaving Bettina in charge. I am sorry to miss the performance, but I know the 300 people in the audience will enjoy.

Varian Ranch

At 2 pm I arrive at Varian Ranch to work with the two technicians on moving furniture in order to set up tables, chairs and outdoor heaters for 92 patrons.  This event calls for me to rent a trolley which transports our guests from the parking lot up to this beautiful house which I worry won’t arrive when scheduled (but it does!).  In an awkward moment, I mistakenly bark at one of the San Luis Obispo County Supervisors thinking he was one of the catering staff parking where they shouldn’t be parking.  Also, this is the first time the Festival has moved away from a dinner buffet to a full-service plated dinner, so I can’t even anticipate all that could go wrong (a blessing in disguise).  Thankfully Maegan Loring and the Neon Carrot have a fabulous staff in addition to preparing the food. The dinner came off flawlessly, and the audiences thrilled to a performance of the Debussy Sonata for Violin and Piano by Scott Yoo and Anna Polonsky. Phew!!

The technicians and I called it a day around 10:30 pm knowing that we made around 300 music lovers on the Central Coast a bit happier on a Sunday in July.

I just want to add that if you thought I had a busy day, Scott Yoo, the Festival’s Music Director, began his day at rehearsals in the morning, performed for an hour and a half and ended his day with a rehearsal at 11:30pm.  Kudos to Scott!

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