“We have certain plans,” Ashford says, “but the nominations themselves weigh in at some point.” So too do the other performers and the host.
Though the creative process is backloaded, it starts early. Ashford was invited to return for his third year by the producers shortly after the 2014 show. Design and planning were well under way by November. “Then at the first of the year, we hit the ground running,” he says.
“We’re led very strongly by (producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron) but it’s a team effort,” Ashford notes. Director Hamish Hamilton, co-producer Lee Lodge and production designer Derek McLane work with Ashford to create something that feels “like a show, not a set of moments of a show,” he says, adding that the goal is “to keep it unfolding through the night, keep things surprising, and to make it all translate to the camera.”
There’s a core group of 24 dancers, most based in New York and Los Angeles. “We try to be loyal, and they’re loyal to us,” Ashford says.
Rehearsals — which include choreographing camera operators along with the performers — are held at dance studios around L.A. The company moves to the Dolby only during show week.
“We have very little time on the stage,” Ashford says, “because time is at a premium once we get in there, and there’s so much to be done.” Wednesday through Friday of show week are the big days onstage for the dancers, but even then, he says, “We have been known to put it onstage and then go out to the lobby and change something.”
During the show, Ashford is in the truck, taking in the operations behind the telecast. “I enjoy the energy that’s in there,” he says.