Sean McCourt: A Peek Behind Wicked’s Emerald Curtain
by Sean McCourt
Sean McCourt
About the author:
Before he added “Broadway tour guide extraordinaire” to his resume, Sean McCourt had enjoyed a varied career as a stage actor in such shows as Titanic, It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, Bat Boy, A Man of No Importance, The Castle and Woody Guthrie's American Song. As a composer, he wrote the original musicals Last Romeo and Ten Years Apart. But an entrepreneurial streak came into play after McCourt joined the cast of the Broadway mega-hit Wicked. Realizing that the show's enthusiastic fans would be interested in a behind-the-scenes look at their favorite musical, McCourt dreamed up a special Saturday morning event, Behind the Emerald Curtain. Presented by actors who have appeared in the show, the tour provides a unique perspective on Broadway, with a close-up look at design elements and answers to questions about how the magic happens eight times a week. We asked McCourt, now a cast member at Mary Poppins, to explain how the tour took shape.

“How do you keep a Broadway performance fresh eight times a week?” That's probably the most common question asked during Wicked's weekly Behind the Emerald Curtain tours. Lately, my answer is, “Meeting you at Behind the Emerald Curtain!”

Every Saturday at 10AM, Anthony Galde and I lead a few hundred people on a 90-minute Wicked tour that includes a museum of costumes and props, informational films shown on a 10-foot screen in the Gershwin Theatre auditorium and a discussion of how a Broadway show gets up and running. The last 20 minutes are always reserved for questions. Whenever I'm stumped by one, I make it a point to find the answer by the following week. I've been doing this for almost two years now, and I've learned an incredible amount about Broadway, the people who make it and the people who come to see it.

The idea for Behind the Emerald Curtain was hatched in our dressing room at the Gershwin Theatre. Anthony and I were playing small parts in Wicked, understudying the Wizard and giving lots of private tours to our mothers' friends. Often, people would tell us that the opportunity to see Broadway sets and costumes up close was a highlight of their visit to New York. We were also being asked to speak to student groups about Wicked. So we pitched the idea of a Wicked museum to one of our producers, Marc Platt. Marc asked one question: “Does any other Broadway show do this?” We said “No,” and Marc replied, “Then let's do it.”

Tony and I teamed up with Wicked's Company Manager, Susan Sampliner, and the three of us created Behind the Emerald Curtain. We collected old costumes, props and set models and edited a Wicked promotional video created with the help of Universal Pictures featuring interviews with the creative team about the evolution of the show. We built the museum, which is set up on Saturday mornings in the Gershwin's Rotunda especially for the tour, in my driveway no joke and loaded it into the theater in September 2005.

Looking back, our first few tours were less than inspiring. Tony and I would just walk around the museum and ask people if they had any questions. Soon, we realized we had better have something to say! So we took the answers to the most commonly asked questions and put together a presentation. Like the museum itself, that presentation has evolved enormously in two years.

Sean McCourt leads the tour of Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain
Sean McCourt leads the tour of
Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain
Chris Jamros, Wicked's current Production Stage Manager, took backstage photographs for us during the show and designed beautiful montage boards for each of the technical departments. Eddie Pierce, the show's Associate Set Designer, gave us a fascinating stop-motion video of the Wicked set being loaded in. We collected more masks, props and costumes from the show, and built similar museums in Chicago and Los Angeles. We now have three companies of Behind the Emerald Curtain, and more to come. Each tour is led by local cast members who bring their own personal experiences to the tour. Don Richard and Jill Hayman lead the tours in Chicago, and Matthew Stocke and Laura Dysarczyk are the L.A. hosts. Watching them give the tours has been uniquely inspiring to me.

When I left Wicked to join the cast of Mary Poppins, the tour took on broader themes. Although we, of course, focus on Wicked, Behind the Emerald Curtain also looks at Broadway in more general terms. We discuss the role of the director in providing the guiding vision for a new show, and the contribution of the designers in turning that vision into a physical production. We show how wigs are made one hair at a time! and explain the importance of the oft-forgotten soundboard operator. Inside the auditorium, we look at the show from the perspective of the stage manager and describe the responsibilities of each technical department. It takes more than 125 people to make Wicked happen, and that's just backstage!

More and more, we welcome groups who aren't even seeing Wicked. Maybe they saw it last year, or maybe they still can't get tickets. What we offer is a fun and informative seminar on how Broadway shows are created, produced and operated. Every week, people leave with a little extra “insider” knowledge to make their next Broadway experience even more exciting. And every week, I leave with a new question to investigate and a renewed passion for my job. Let's be honest: Being a Broadway actor is a good gig. How many people get to have 1,800 strangers stand up and cheer them at the end of every workday?

How do I keep it fresh eight times a week? I spend a few hours with the audience. I meet the die-hard fans and the neophytes. I speak with the families and the tour groups, seniors and students. It always reminds me of the old actors' saying: “Every time you step on that stage, it is somebody's first Broadway show, and somebody's last Broadway show. Make it count.”
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Website Design by Mark Ledbetter Designs © 2014
Original artwork for Behind the Emerald Curtain © Chris Jamros and J Media Designs, LLC