All Hands on Deck

While giants trudge along the foggy banks of the Rhine and Valhalla explodes into flames, the stage crew for Wagner's Ring cycle are betting on poker and cracking wise in the Opera House basement. Documentary filmmaker Jon Else gives us a glimpse of the opera's unsung heroes -- stagehands -- with his fascinating and often comic hourlong film Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle. Airing on opening night of the San Francisco Opera's production of Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Sing Faster finds crew members manipulating a huge hydraulic dragon and hauling 1,000-pound sets through thunder and lightning effects, dry ice, and pitch darkness. Between set changes, the stagehands watch the NBA playoffs, knit, play cards, gossip about who's dating ballerinas, and debate the finer points of Wagnerian drama in modern terms. Principal stagehand Ken "Spike" Kirkland, suited up in a B-52's T-shirt and tool belt, offers a pithy summation of the story, aided by a time-lapse sequence that condenses the 17-hour drama into a few brief moments. A must for anyone who ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of lavish productions. This Sundance Filmmaker's Trophy Award winner airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KQED Channel 9. (H.W.)

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