June 3, 2007

Yay Dimmers!

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:46 pm

I had heard through the grapevine that we were renting enough dimmers for this show that there wouldn’t need to be any patches during the performance. At the production meeting yesterday we actually got approval to buy the dimmers, and a multicable to the catwalk that will apparently alleviate some kind of lack-of-circuits problem that’s always an issue up there. That’s exciting — any decent design at this theatre has required a dimmer rental, so it’s a great investment in something that always winds up being rented anyway. Even with renting more dimmers, we usually wind up with a few patches during the show, which is never fun, and I’m never 100% sure I trust that it’s been done.

For those who don’t know, briefly, patching is done when you have more lighting instruments than dimmers, like you have two lights that you want to do different things (say one’s red and one’s blue), but you only have one dimmer available to control them. If you use the red light in scene 1 and the blue light in scene 3, then during scene 2 you can unplug the red one and plug the blue one into its dimmer. At the light board it looks like it’s bringing up the same light, but a different one is physically plugged in (or in many cases a switch box is used for the same effect — sending the current out to a different light depending on which way the switch is thrown).

    Favorite patching story: Two years ago we were doing Sound of Music. In the scene at the end where the von Trapp Family is performing for the Nazis, there were these ominous swastika gobos that appeared over the family’s house at the end of the scene where the Nazi officer demands that they perform at the event, and as the family steps downstage and the red velvet curtain falls behind them, the gobos came into focus and created the effect of Nazi flags at the concert hall. It was quite effective. So while we’re teching, the lighting designer says something to our deck electrician about making sure he’s done the patch for the swastikas. Now, having had a less than perfect rate of success with patches being done properly before, I asked, somewhat hesitantly,

    “So the swastikas are part of a patch?”
    “And what’s the other side of the patch? When should I be expecting to see swastikas if the patch isn’t done correctly?”
    “Oh, it’s not used much. It’s the stained-glass windows in the church.”
    “So you’re telling me if the patch isn’t done, I’m going to see swastikas in the church!?
    “Well theoretically, but the church scenes are first, so if the patch wasn’t done you would see the church windows in the Nazi scene — you would only see the swastikas in the church if they forgot to reset before the next performance, which is much less likely.”
    “Okay… You’re right. I just wanted to be warned.”

    Cut to a few hours later. We finish teching Act II, and quickly reset for a run of Act I. The show starts — the nuns are holding candles, singing a hymn behind a black scrim. It’s all very dark and mysterious. Next cue, the stage brightens up and we’re in the…. SWASTIKAS! The nuns can see this because there’s a scrim in front of them catching the light. Several scream. I turn to the lighting designer and say, “That’s why I wanted to know!” Of course she was right about how unlikely it was, it only happened because we did the rather unusual process of starting the day with Act II and going back to Act I.

That’s one of the reasons I worry about patches. During some patch-heavy shows at Reagle, I started referring to the process as “patchy-patchy.” I think it was because I had trouble remembering to confirm that a patch had been done at intermission of a certain show, and kept writing the reminder bigger and bigger at the top of the first page of Act II, and eventually wrote “PATCHY PATCHY!!” across the entire top margin. The head electrician saw my note, and it became a verbal term as well. By the end of last season, it was a well-understood technical term. When a patch came up, I would say, “Patchy-patchy?” and if it was complete the deck electrician would reply, “Patchy-patchy.” Since that came into use we’ve had a lot more success — I think because it’s so much fun to say that you don’t forget. I’ll kind of miss it if we don’t need to do any this year.

End of Week 1

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:51 pm

Well we’ve survived the first week of rehearsal. It actually went much smoother than I thought. I always relax more the closer I get to tech, which may seem backwards, but I take comfort from knowing what’s going on, even if what’s going on is huge and insane and may or may not work and it’s all my responsibility. At least I’m in control of it, and when the job starts to become more “stage” than “management,” that’s the part that’s fun. Nobody in their right mind would be a stage manager just because they need a job. There are plenty of other careers you could go into if you don’t care about doing something you love. So I always like to get to the part that makes me look forward to going to work.

A big hurdle for me yesterday was our production meeting. Our first week had been rather hairy schedule-wise, and I was becoming very unsettled about how late into the process we were getting without a full meeting, even if most people involved had done the show before. It was looking like we wouldn’t be able to have one until this coming Tuesday, but when I started to type the e-mail I just couldn’t bear to do it — that’s five days before tech. So with a little bit of begging and pleading, I managed to get everyone to clear their schedules so we could do it at 6PM last night, immediately following rehearsal. We had a lovely meeting, of an hour-and-a-half duration, at a rather relaxed pace. Nothing huge came up, but it was just nice to all sit down and say stuff out loud and face-to-face and make sure everybody was in agreement. We hammered out a slightly different schedule for tech, due to the need to record the orchestra and vocals for one of the movies-within-a-show. We got approval to buy additional dimmers, which is cool. Basically I just felt good that we all sat together and no major crises came up.

I was also feeling rather behind, as I’ve said before, because almost everyone has done the show, and I didn’t get much time to prepare before coming up. I was kind of dreading the production meeting because I was afraid I’d have stupid questions. So to prevent my displaying my ignorance at a meeting I’m supposed to be running, I had my “Meeting with Lori” a little early. I haven’t come up with a better name for this kind of meeting, but I’ve been doing it on a number of shows now, and it works wonders. This is when I find a couple hours to sit down with our very busy TD and she hands me a stack of paperwork if I don’t already have it (fly plot, scene shift plot, etc.) and I break out my script and we just talk through the show. It can take a while, because it starts out slow, going step-by-step. What drops are in, what pipes are they on? (I try to memorize the fly plot early because it gives me a good sense of proportion — how much room various scenes take up and where they play in reference to one another.) The real point of the meeting is to have it before tech so that we can be sure there’s no miscommunication or a change that didn’t get noted — she reads her paperwork and I read mine, and we state how we think the show goes and make sure we both think the same thing. This way when we get to tech nothing I call should surprise the crew, and nothing they do should surprise me.

We discuss absolutely everything that moves, and she will point out potential trouble spots from past experience — this unit is huge and barely fits through where it has to go; this move requires tons of crew; you can’t bring in this drop until the set is pulled upstage; this is a scene change that needs to be run in the light before trying it in a blackout. In places where I don’t quite grasp the enormity of it on paper, we walk out to the stage and I look at the set piece, look at the width of the wing, look at where the drop is hung, then we walk it, we stand where the pieces will go, we walk off like we’re carrying a huge table, the table goes off and turns this way, the doors go off and turn that way, meanwhile the stairs are coming in here. So when the stairs come on the big unit is clear to move to its storage space. It all starts to make sense, in a good way and a bad way — good because I now understand exactly what has to happen, and bad because I understand why it’s going to be so difficult. But as I said earlier, I don’t care if it’s difficult as long as I know what’s going on.

All these things are very helpful, but the best result of the meeting is that I start writing tentative cues in my book. Even if they’re not in exact places, it helps me the next time we do the scene in rehearsal to see the cues there and start thinking about where they might go. Do I need to learn an actor’s mannerisms to catch a visual cue, is it a piece of scene change music I need to concentrate on? Do I need to wait for an actor to cross downstage of a drop before bringing it in? When is he crossing? Then rehearsals stop becoming about the actors’ process with me just being an administrator. It starts to become my process, too, and I can visualize what I’ll be doing during these scenes we’re working on.

We didn’t quite get to do a run of the show as was optimistically put on our schedule for today, but we’re very close. I thought today was a great day. We did only the big group scenes, in order, including one big one we had not yet staged, and we took the time to make sure everything was running smoothly, not just that it was blocked. It was also the day the ensemble and the principals finally got to spend some time together. I always think that day is one of the more magical moments of the creative process.

With many shows, rehearsals are broken up and the dancers are rehearsing in one room with the singers in another, and the principals off doing their scenes somewhere else. There may be a principal leading a dance number, or a singer playing a speaking role in a book scene, but by and large the groups don’t get to spend much time seeing what others are working on, while all working towards the common goal of putting on this show.

Then comes a day when the show starts to be put together in large enough chunks that your rehearsal schedule for the day looks something like:

Review scenes and songs    All   

Then everyone gathers in one room, and sits around and watches everything. The ensemble finally gets to hear the leading lady sing her big song, the principals get to watch the dancers do the big tap number, and everybody laughs and cries at scenes they haven’t seen. Today one of the most minor of things we hadn’t staged was the few background crossovers that happen during the rain scene at the end of Act I. Just a couple people running by with umbrellas and stuff, as the two leads walk through the scene. But I would say it was one of the highlights of the day. There were very few props — Don had his umbrella and hat, one passerby had a page of a newspaper to hold over his head. Just a rehearsal studio, no set, no lighting, no rain. He didn’t even sing the song, just a few bars at the beginning and a few at the end, but I think we all saw the show come to life there. I’ve seen him do the whole number a few times, but there was something about doing the scene with the whole company sitting on the sides, and adding the people walking by that made it suddenly look like a show, and it was easy to imagine how magical the scene will be. Even skipping the song itself, the room broke out in sustained applause when we reached the end of the act. I definitely feel like today was the day the company became a unified entity, and I’m looking forward to the next week as we put larger pieces together — Act I on Tuesday, Act II on Wednesday, and then a run in the studio Thursday, a run onstage Friday, and finally starting tech Saturday.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow’s schedule involves doing laundry, going to the Burlington Mall (for needed clothes, The Body Shop, GNC, and a trip to the Apple Store), and spending too much time on the internet. Tuesday, if you believe the rumors, may see the release of the long-awaited Macbook Pro that I will finally purchase.

Singin’ in the Rain, Remastered by George Lucas

I call this: summer stock — Posted by KP @ 6:44 pm

One of my actors just sent this to me. As a fan of the un-altered Star Wars movies, and as PSM of Singin’ in the Rain, I find this hysterical in so many ways.