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A backstage view of Hollywood’s ‘moving puzzle’: the Academy Awards

Alumna can’t talk specifics about the film industry’s biggest night — but she does recall the events that weren’t planned (think group selfie)

Dolby Theatre in Hollywood
The Academy Awards will be handed out at the Dolby Theatre. (Photo/Constanza Gajardo Leon)

Counting down to the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, anticipation is building for the words “… and the Oscar goes to.” But before the red carpet is unrolled and acclaimed artists gather for their big moment, months go into the planning of the show.

Vanessa Noon ’96 has worked on 16 Academy Awards shows, serving as an AFTRA coordinator, engineering department coordinator, production coordinator and production manager. Although she has managed so many shows, the thrill of live theater keeps her coming back.

“It’s essentially the same thing [as live theater], but it’s broadcast to millions of people instead of one audience, which makes it more exciting,” she said. And being one of the production managers means she has to be on her toes the entire show.

alumna Vanessa Noon

Vanessa Noon BFA ’96 has worked on 16 Academy Awards shows. (Photo/Courtesy of Vanessa Noon)

“I love that it’s a live show; you have no idea what’s going to happen. We have one of the largest worldwide audiences. As soon as we go live, anything can happen — and a lot of fun things have happened that were completely unscripted, like the selfie from a couple years ago. That wasn’t planned!”

Selfie-involvement

Just like the unplanned selfie, so was her initial involvement with the Oscars. Noon was at USC around the time of the Emmys and saw an advertisement in the school paper to be a seat filler at the show. Instead of calling for that assignment, she asked for a job as a production assistant. Although they weren’t hiring, she got a number to call for the next year and was hired on as a production assistant for the Oscars, which was produced through the same company.

While she can’t disclose details about the show, she said the most challenging aspect of putting it all together is getting all of the pieces to move seamlessly.

There are a lot of people, and a lot of moving parts on the show.

Vanessa Noon

“There are a lot of people, and a lot of moving parts on the show,” she said. “And managing all of the aspects of it and keeping track of all of it — it’s essentially a moving puzzle.”

Her passion for stage management began in high school, after seeing a production of Les Misérables and seeing the technical challenges of live theater. She started stage managing as an extracurricular activity, but after learning that the USC School of Dramatic Arts offered a major in stage management, she realized it would be the best place to pursue her career. The training she received at SDA was what truly prepared her for doing the job after graduation.

“When I stage managed in high school, it wasn’t nearly what we know stage managing to be,” she said. “And when I came to USC, right away, they put me on shows. I did A Raisin in the Sun on the Bing Theatre stage my freshman year. And I did shows every single semester. Having that real-world, practical experience was everything.”

‘Never burn a bridge’

These professional experiences helped her land jobs with the L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Awards, Disney Parks, Universal Studios and the 2012 London Olympics.

After graduation, Noon shifted her focus away from the theater and towards live television shows and specials. With the introduction of theater specials, like The Sound of Music and The Wiz Live! on NBC, there’s a good mix of both live theater and television that will get the next group of stage managers something to anticipate. And for that next group of stage managers, she said the most important thing is to stay connected.

“I would definitely say: Never burn a bridge and never turn down an opportunity. No matter how much people may frustrate you, you have no idea what jobs they could lead you to. Some of the jobs I’ve gotten are directly related to people I met in college or internships. It’s all about word of mouth in this business.”

For Noon, it’s about keeping those relationships and continuing them for Academy Awards to come. But for now, for this weekend’s Oscars, it’s back to preparing for the Feb. 28 show at the Dolby Theatre.

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A backstage view of Hollywood’s ‘moving puzzle’: the Academy Awards

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