A conversation with Ellen Lipkos: Will the show go on?

Saenger Theater photo by Sue Reynolds

Monday, January 13, 2020. Assistant technical director Ellen Lipkos gets to the Saenger Theater in New Orleans at nine in the morning. Lipkos spends her day answering emails, advancing shows, working on projects given to her by her boss, and organizing files. There is a show on Friday, and Lipkos has to be ready for when it and all of its issues arrive. At five o’clock in the afternoon, Lipkos makes her way home.  

Friday, January 17, 2020. Show day. Ellen Lipkos arrives at the theater at 8AM. Lipkos begins opening the building to let in caterers and start prepping. The show arrives and Lipkos has to start by introducing herself, making sure runners are on time, getting contact information from the tour manager, answering questions, and solving any problems which rear their ugly head in an attempt to keep the show from going on. Broken elevator? Call Ellen. Prop too big? Call Ellen. Ellen Lipkos is at the theater until the show is over, and sometimes does not make it home until three in the morning. 

Lipkos’s career is a tough and underappreciated one, but it brings her joy and fufillment. “I’m there to make an experience happen the way that the artist and the talent have envisioned it happening. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge,” Lipkos says. 

Monday, June 8, 2020. Ellen Lipkos wakes up on her own time, she has nowhere to be. There are no shows to prepare for or issues to fix at the theater. Lipkos works in her garden, cleans her home, takes care of her new foster animals, and still has plenty of time left over to exercise, things that her job did not allow her time to do before. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Saenger Theater in March 2020 and Ellen Lipkos’s life is completely different. 

Selfie taken by Ellen Lipkos

After her new daily tasks, Lipkos must contemplate other interests and talents she has. Jobs in the creative industry has always been uncertain, but the pandemic has rendered them completely “non-essential.” Lipkos has accepted she might have to find a new job. The extra federal unemployment money she has been living on since March 2020 will be ending on July 31st, and Lipkos is not sure the Saenger will even be open by then. Ellen Lipkos and her colleagues know their industry may not be opening anytime soon, leaving them “Waiting, and watching, and wondering,” as Lipkos says.  


This piece is part of the on-going series “Creative Labor Through the Crisis,” which is part of a Creative Labor course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Vicki Mayer and Kelley Crawford. Quotes and information are taken from interviews completed by Dr. Vicki Mayer and Kelley Crawford. 


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