If you’ve ever been to a Rockettes performance at Radio City Music Hall, you’ve seen the orchestra magically rise up to stage level and then disappear back below the Great Stage. The trick?! The orchestra is sitting on a platform we call the band car.
“The band car is what the orchestra sits on,” says Stage Manager Joseph A. Onorato. “We call it a ‘car’ because it actually does drive in from a garage underneath the stage onto the orchestra pit, and then rises and goes down again.”
The band car allows the orchestra to appear in different positions throughout a production: “It can go onto the orchestra pit and then can continue on and go into the first elevator and come up in front of the audience in a different position,” says Onorato. “We do that all underneath the stage.”
The positioning of the band car onto the elevator is one of the trickiest elements to master. A stage hand is in charge of driving the band car to each mark before it rises and stops on a very specific point on stage.
“There’s an area in the back of the car where he lays down and literally drives it forwards and backwards. He has a point on the stage where he has to stop it exactly or it’s going to go up and something’s going to crash.”
From carpenters to prop handles to sound engineers, several different people are involved in ensuring the band car works correctly before and during each performance. “The carpenters have to make sure there are steps put in place and removed for the orchestra members. There are prop men who make sure the music stands are in place and the band car has been cleaned. And, the sound department. You can’t hear anything without the sound department!”