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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Versatile Karen Federing on her Role as Director of Production

For all its right brain glory, theatre still takes some math. A simple ratio goes something like this  a dozen behind-the-scene workers for every star shining onstage. Designers create the world of the play while the director provides the vision. Wardrobe crews help with quick changes while the stage manager calls the cues. And while all these independent elements begin to intertwine as show time approaches, Director of Production Karen Federing assures that each piece fits together financially, professionally, and artistically. Simply put, Ms. Federing is the cranium to Central City Opera.

Director of Production Karen Federing sits on the porch
of her colorful home in Central City, The Pink House.
“It’s a multifaceted job,” Federing explained before unleashing her daily helter-skelter schedule of events only she and the Energizer Bunny could oversee with such zest.

July may conjure images of balmy beaches and idle evenings, but Central City is abuzz with performances, rehearsals, and photo shoots during its most dramatic month. Before the working day begins, Federing likes to check in with Festival Services Manager Allison Taylor on van runs for errands, scheduling details, and the day’s happenings. Next, she makes her rounds. Federing dutifully checks in with each department, valuing personal presence, one-on-one time, and eye contact. “It can take a while to physically get to my desk,” she said.

Whatever follows varies from day to day. Federing may be handing out waitlist tickets before a matinee or initialing tomorrow’s schedule as approval. She might check in backstage to see that a show is running on time or hold meetings with interns. And then at some point, like all mortals, she stops to eat. “Sometimes lunch is thankfully catered during recitals, which forces me to not go anywhere,” Federing laughed.

Evenings bring more excitement. By sunset Federing has visited Festival Hall, the company’s nucleus, for a third time. “Sometimes being a personal presence as opposed to an email is more helpful to people,” she said. Then the curtain rises at 8:00, but not before Federing can relish a favorite part of her job.

Just before the Opera House opens its birch beer-colored doors, thirty minutes before curtain, Federing stops traffic and leads her seven uniformed interns across Eureka Street as proudly as a mother goose chaperones her chicks through a busy stream. "Hit it," Federing beckons once her interns are on safe ground. The interns then chirp their witty Usher Song as Federing jovially bops along to the music, mouthing along to its tune. Later at 11:00, as the cast takes their bow, Federing rises from her desk and returns home.
Federing smiles with some of her 2014 Interns before
leading them across Eureka Street to sing their Usher Song.
From all of these interactions – with problem solving aplenty along the way – it is clear why Federing talks fast, thinks fast, and acts fast. She has perhaps the most interactive job at Central City Opera, a fact she initially did not connect to her degree in anthropology from George Washington University. Federing first wanted to be a primatologist, but she has recently discovered how her current job is indeed sociological in nature. “The truth is, in whatever environment you work there’s a culture associated with it,” she said. “We all have this one agenda, so you have to bring everyone together to move forward. You have to be curious about people and enjoy working with people.” Her college classes may not cross her mind much nowadays, but Federing, as personal in tête-à-têtes as she is gregarious at parties, still benefits from her anthropological core.

Federing is charismatically kinetic, even in the off-season. She spends the remaining eight months at her home in Yonkers, which she lovingly calls her “satellite office.” Now in her thirteenth summer with Central City Opera, Federing has been a year-round employee for about four years.
Federing poses with Festival Services Manager Allison Taylor
on June 28, the Opening Night for the 2014 Festival.
In October she’s organizing the coming season’s budget. By November she’s checking in with staff to see who will return. After the holidays she’s Skyping hopeful interns, and come springtime she’s answering umpteen emails asking, “What will my housing be like?” She chuckles at this one, knowing its answer takes at least a phone call to justly explain Central City’s quirk and charm. And finally in May, Federing’s the first non-local employee* to arrive in Colorado  but not before making the three-day, cross-country drive from waterside Yonkers to alpine Central City with clothing and shoes galore. “I pack less and less every year,” she assured. “I used to bring out bags of hangers until I thought, ‘Good lord, Federing, buy some hangers! You’re schlepping them across the country like a crazy woman.’”

The off-season may be slightly more languid, but Federing still prefers summertime's buzz. It all starts on one of Federing’s favorite days: when the young interns arrive. “It’s just the excitement of the season beginning,” she shared. “Everyone’s well-rested and enthusiastic. They may be huffing and puffing from the altitude, but they’re ready to roll.”

Indeed, Federing may be more than just the ever-pulsing cranium to Central City Opera. “Another ideal day is when [company members] start coming in telling me the work they’re going to do next,” she reflected before taking an unconventional pause. “I’ve watched people’s posture change with confidence; you can see that over two-and-a-half months. You watch somebody bloom,” she said, her eyes glistening. “You do the math – that’s fourteen interns over thirteen summers. To me that’s a lot of lives to touch.”

*During the off-season, the Central City Opera reduces to approximately a dozen staff members in the Denver administrative office, keeping the company running all year long and offering year-round programming throughout Colorado and Wyoming.

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