August 29, 2009

Tales from the Left-Hand Page: Phantom Edition

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:25 pm

UPDATED! Now featuring images of the cartoons and photos mentioned, by reader request!

Most stage managers like to jot down funny things that happen in their calling scripts — usually funny quotes or a particularly hysterical mis-reading of a line. I realized that some of these are worth sharing.
I can’t decide if this deserves to be its own page on the website or just a blog post. Maybe when I collect some more it will be upgraded.

Names changed or omitted where necessary to protect the guilty.

First, let’s start with a complete set, from my Phantom calling script:


On the title page of the script (which is I think the only script I’ve ever used where I bothered to keep the title page), I have written some wise words of wisdom, from one of Phantom’s long-time stage managers:

“‘Oh shit!’ means it’s going to cost money.”

This arose out of a discussion we were having about stage managers who have a habit of making exclamations on headset for simple things like missed light cues that tended to freak out the crew unnecessarily. I thought this was a very succinct way of summing up at what level of mistake it’s appropriate to say, “Oh shit!”


The script begins with a cartoon.  Phantom has a long history of displaying a cartoon (almost always from The New Yorker) on the In/Out sheet for every performance, in the hopes that it will attract more people to actually read the callboard, and the In/Out sheet in particular.  It seems to work, because the cartoon is kind of a big deal.  It’s the first thing most people see when they show up at the theatre, and the relative funniness or not-funniness of the cartoon will be debated and commented on for the rest of the performance. Being the stage manager who gets to choose the cartoon for the day is an honor and a responsibility that I always take very seriously.   The first cartoon in my book is on the page facing the first page of the actual script, next to all the check-in lists.   It depicts a rather serious-looking gentleman sitting behind a window labled “Complaints,” holding a violin and bow, obviously ready to play for anyone who should come to him with a complaint.  This cartoon holds a place of honor on the main page because I chose it for In/Out sheet sometime back in early 2004, and when the show was over, presented it to Barbara-Mae Phillips, who was at the time the ASM, and had a dry sense of humor that seemed perfect for that cartoon.  When Barbara-Mae passed away later that year, I found the cartoon as we were clearing off her bulletin board in the office, and decided it deserved to be kept alive in my script, on the first page where everyone could see it.  To this day it still gets a chuckle or a comment from actors waiting next to me at places.

The next entry in the book is also a cartoon.  This one is located in the “Hannibal” section.  It shows a fearsome army of elephant-mounted soldiers facing a decidedly less-fearsome army who appear to be riding ostriches.  In between the armies, their leaders are obviously having a conference.  One of the ostrich-riders in the foreground says to the other, “I sure hope the negotiations go well.”  I was pleased to discover this one one day while picking out the cartoon of the day, as it’s always nice to find one that in some way references the show.

OK, now we have a show quote.  Later in the Hannibal scene, Madame Giry is talking about the Phantom’s demands for a salary, and is supposed to say, “Monsieur le Vicomte paid him twenty thousand francs a month.”

Well one night, a certain Madame Giry said:
“Monsieur le Vicomte… gave to him… twenty..five…..  thousand…. dollars..a year.”

It was one of those things where every single person onstage had to turn upstage to hide their reaction.  I was very fortunate to have been out in the house with a notepad, and started writing before she was even done, so I got it down word-for-word.


Later on the same page I have a stage management quote.  This comes from a performance that was given during the Republican National Convention in August 2004.  The RNC bought out a performance of Phantom, and throughout the week we had other delegates coming to the show.  The whole thing was surrounded by increased security and other preparations that just made it a big stressful event everyone wanted to be over.  Early in the big RNC performance, the calling stage manager said,

“Warning Electrics 28 through Thursday”

It’s supposed to be 28 through 30, but clearly everybody subconsciously wanted to get to Thursday, when everything would be over!  So there was a great laugh about that on headset.


At the end of the Journey (the title song), I have a quote from the PSM, Craig Jacobs:

“You call a great show.  You call lousy fog.”

I don’t remember the particulars, but I think Craig was returning backstage after watching the Journey from the house, and we must have had an especially noticeable lack of dry ice coverage that night. The joke, of course, is that although there are techniques, in 22 years nobody has been able to come up with a reliable way to make the fog look good every night, so it’s the one aspect of the show nobody can really control.


On the next page, in the middle of “Music of the Night,” I have pasted a picture that used to be in the Playbill, of Howard McGillin and Rebecca Pitcher, in the traditional “Music of the Night” pose, except that Howard’s hand is a little lower than usual, over Rebecca’s nether regions.  When someone of great authority came to the show and noticed it, it was promptly pulled from the Playbill.  Naturally I grabbed one of the last Playbills and pasted it in my book with the word “HOO-HA!!!” written over it in bubble letters, as that was the technical term that was used when the problem was described to me.
Incidentally, this shot takes a really, really long time to take at a photo call. I suppose partially it’s due to the fact that it’s one of the more iconic images and probably most likely to be published, so extra care is given to it, but also the quality of the fog in the background is very hard to get just right, the height of the candelabras in the back can be adjusted in small increments depending on the height and exact pose of the actors, etc. I once worked a photo call where this shot alone took 2 hours and the theatre had to have all the exit doors and emergency vents in the roof opened to clear all the smoke before the show that night. In fact, it’s entirely possible it was the very photo above, as I do recall it being Howard and Rebecca. After the ordeal we went through to get the atmosphere just right, I’m not really surprised no one noticed his hand was over her hoo-ha.


Now we have a couple Manager quotes:

“A disaster beyond your exaggeration will recur.”
(instead of “a disaster beyond your imagination will occur.”)

“Miss Daae will be playing the playboy!”
(instead of pageboy)


In the section known as “Il Muto Panic” which leads from the Il Muto ballet into the rooftop scene, I have this quote, from one of our stage managers:

“The absence of disaster is a success.”

It’s dated from early on in my time calling the show, and at first I assumed I must have made a slight delay in Il Muto panic, as I struggled a bit with the timing the first couple times I called the show.  Then I pulled out my handy printout from the database of all the performances I’ve called (which is really handy to have around when someone says, “I saw the show on _____” or some video turns up on YouTube with the date it was recorded).  The date of that quote was my fourth performance, which is one in which we had a big automation problem earlier in the show, which looked less pretty than usual, but avoided crashing any scenery into anything or anyone.   I can only imagine that quote came from a later discussion about what had happened earlier, but I have no idea why I would have written it on a page where I would normally be so busy.


This one is from just the other night, from the mausoleum scene:

“You can’t make her love by winning her your prisoner!”
(the line is, “You can’t win her love by making her your prisoner.”)


This one is written during “Point of No Return,” but is labled thusly:

Me: “Are the [reverse] tabs working?”
Bethe: “…Yes. Good luck!”

I’m sure they worked fine, as I’ve only done that sequence without them once, and we knew in advance they were broken. But clearly something was up that night that led to the less-than-certainty of an uneventful Don Juan Panic.


August 23, 2009

The Tale of the Thirsty Flyman

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:53 am

Last night our flyman was enjoying a bottle of Gatorade during a scene. As he was drinking it, he looked for a place to set it down between sips, and settled on the only flat surface in his vicinity, on top of the counterweight bricks on the line he would next be flying. The thing is, he never went back for another sip until after the scene change, when he looks for his bottle, and realizes it’s now somewhere up in the vicinity of the grid and will be staying there for about ten minutes. Thankfully it didn’t spill on the way up or on the way down.

I think this has to be the theatrical equivalent of driving away with your coffee on the roof of your car.

August 17, 2009

Nike+iPod Review

I call this: mac,phones — Posted by KP @ 12:55 pm

IMG_0855This summer I have been trying to get myself in shape after six months of touring and a diet that consisted primarily of soda and bacon. I had done a decent job, in part by stopping eating soda and bacon, among other things, and also by taking long walks around the grounds of the apartments we’re staying at. Generally I would put on a playlist or a podcast, and powerwalk as fast as I could for a set period of time (usually around an hour, maybe more if it was a long podcast).

A few weeks ago I decided I needed a little more motivation to keep up with it, and I finally broke down and bought the Nike Plus. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a little chip you put in your shoe. It’s about the size of a quarter, and maybe a quarter-inch thick. The idea is that you buy this thing, and then you buy some $100 shoes from Nike, and the shoe has a hole under your foot where you put the sensor, and you go and work out, and it keeps track of each step you take and then you can do lots of interesting things with that data.

I don’t have a problem in principle with buying a pair of shoes for this reason. However, I do have a problem in that for most of my life I have worn Nikes and loved them, but in recent years they don’t fit me at all. I have no explanation for it. They feel like they are designed for a different species, they bear no resemblance to the shape of my foot and ankle. So though I have tried many times, for the moment it seems owning a pair of Nikes is out. Thankfully, there are ways to use the Nike+ sensor with other shoes. Some companies sell a little pouch you put it in that ties to your shoelaces. I decided to start out small and use a Post-It.

I literally folded a Post-It into a little pouch and taped it shut so it has an opening at the top with a little extra length to form a flap. I was planning to try this method for about a day, but after two weeks my Post-It is getting a little roughed up but still working well. Once I have turned on the sensor and established a link with my iPhone 3GS (which thankfully contains the transmitter inside so an external one is not necessary), I put the sensor into the Post-It and insert it under the laces towards the front of my shoe.

I don’t have a really accurate way to measure distances here — ironically I live on an athletic complex and there’s no track — so I can’t say if it’s exactly calibrated, but it seems to work well enough. If anything it’s underestimating distances, which means I’m getting a better workout than I realize.

When you start a workout you can choose a number of different goals — either a set length of time (useful when I want to go out before work and know I only have 45 minutes or whatever), a set number of calories to burn, or a certain distance to cover. You can also do an open-ended workout, but I think I would be too lazy if I didn’t have a goal to complete. You can also keep going after you reach your goal, and it will periodically remind you by how much you’ve passed your goal, making you even more awesome in the eyes of your iPhone or iPod.

When you start your workout it lets you pick a playlist (you can also buy premade ones from the iTunes store, but I haven’t tried that yet), and when you reach certain milestones related to your goal it will duck out the music for a couple seconds to tell you (i.e. if you’re running for 5 miles, after every mile it will tell you how many you’ve completed, and once you reach the halfway point, begins counting down to completion, in smaller increments as you get closer). At any time you can tap the home button on your phone and it will read off your current distance, calories, time elapsed, and pace.

Once you complete your workout, you can sync your phone (I have noticed you have to hit “done” on the workout and have exited the Nike+ app before plugging your phone in or it won’t sync). iTunes will then ask if you’d like to upload your workout data and visit the nikeplus website.

The site can be a little weird at times (there’s also a beta version that looks cooler but is a bit buggy), but it allows you to see your workouts at a glance as well as examine them in more detail individually, and write a little summary of how you felt, the weather, what kind of terrain it was, and any other comments.

You can set long-term goals for yourself and it will track your progress, and you can join “challenges” which other people create to compete for specific stats. I am a member of one that is just for powerwalkers, and tracks who has walked the most miles over a period of a month. I’m currently hovering somewhere around 7th place, and I intend to walk a little bit longer today just to beat out my competition and move up a few places. The first goal I had was suggested by the web site, to burn 4000 calories in the first month. I did it in like a week and a half, partially because it was so satisfying to see the bar fill up so far past my goal (it also shows you how far into your goal you should be to complete it on time).
Picture 2

I highly recommend it if you need a little extra motivation to work out, especially if you have an iPhone 3GS or newer iPod Touch, as you don’t need the external transmitter, so all you need is the sensor in your shoe. Also, the sensor can be purchased alone for $20, or with the transmitter for $30, so it’s a much better value.

It will be much harder for me to keep up with this kind of activity in the city, but I plan to stay as active as possible, and will look for opportunities when I’m on the road as well. I’m not sure I can become one of those crazy people in Minneapolis I saw running in the middle of winter — not because of the cold, but because the sidewalks turn into a solid sheet of ice for months on end. Even tiptoeing around them I wasn’t able to stay upright. But thankfully the Guthrie housing does have a treadmill, and I’m sure the college campuses we frequent will have lots of nice areas to explore.

Fun with the ETC Ion

I call this: mac,summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:12 am

Reagle’s regular light board is the ETC Microvision FX, an example of which is shown here.
It’s ancient. It usually works OK, when it doesn’t double-go, but for anything complicated, like color scrollers or moving lights, a newer console needs to be rented. La Cage is just that kind of show.

This time around we got the ETC Ion, shown here (except we don’t have the one with the row of faders on top):

It’s very cool. It saves the show onto a thumb drive instead of floppy disk, and so forth. I haven’t had much time to learn how to use it (I can barely bring a cue up), but while we were in tech our lighting designer invited me to play with the scrollers. It was definitely the highlight of tech. There are a couple different ways the board can help you choose color. There is sort of a color swatch screen that shows you the gel numbers and you click on the one you want. The dials at the top can also be spun to change color, saturation, etc. But the one I got to play with was the color wheel.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of web design and graphics lately, I have been kind of obsessed with color. So when I saw that the board had a color wheel, the same as you’d find in Photoshop or wherever, and you can click anywhere on it and it will put that color onstage, I thought that was incredibly cool. Of course the specificity of the color it can produce is limited by the variety of gels you have in your scroller, but even in my random clicking I was able to get it to look pretty much like I wanted.

I made a short video to demonstrate this feature. Unfortunately the color wheel got pretty much washed out on the video, so I didn’t spend any time looking at the intricate differences in color since you can’t see exactly what the mouse is pointing at, but you get the idea.

Also, as a side note, I shot this video with the iPhone 3GS, and edited it with iMovie ’09, which is the first time I’ve successfully created a movie with the new iMovie format without having to stop before I smashed my computer. Even with something so simple I was frustrated by stuff that I apparently couldn’t do, but it at least gives me hope that I don’t have to hang on to iMovie ’06 forever just to get anything done. Just the ability to upload to Youtube without worrying about formats was worth it.

August 11, 2009

15″ Macbook Pro Now Available with Matte Screen Again!

I call this: computers,gaming,mac — Posted by KP @ 12:43 pm

A followup to this post, in which I debate whether I can handle buying a 17″ Macbook Pro, partially as a result of the fact that it was (until today) the only Mac laptop still offered with a matte screen.

Well today I read on TUAW that the 15″ is now being sold with a matte option again.

This is good, since if I decide the 17″ is just too big, I have options. On the other hand, if you look at the other post you will see that although the screen was the dealbreaker, there were other reasons I was still considering the 17″, mostly related to the idea of having a more desktop-like experience while living on the road.

That being said, I have lived my entire professional life with a 15″ Mac laptop, and have rarely used a larger computer or external monitor for work purposes, even when living at home. Of course a larger screen would be nice, but it has never been necessary, and the balance of the 15’s size being large enough to work on for long periods, but small enough to walk around with makes it possibly the ideal form factor.

I could use a larger screen and higher resolution for seeing more of a spreadsheet on one page, coding my website with code on one side and a larger preview on the other, those are legitimate purposes, but the main reason I felt I needed a larger screen was for gaming on the road. I was starting to get a bit of cabin fever gaming in 15 inches for a year on end, and getting ready to go back for at least six months more of that.

Gaming isn’t necessary, but it also is part of my life that I enjoy and I think it is a professional concern, as there have been times when circumstances have prevented me from enjoying certain activities that are normally part of my lifestyle, such as listening to music on my commute, having alone time in the car at Reagle, and when these things are taken away they start to affect the delicate balance that keeps me sane and calm. Somehow I have found a way to enjoy doing a job that most people refuse to do because it’s too stressful, and my continued ability to do my job well requires that I take care of my mental health and give myself opportunities to unwind so that I can go to work happy and with a positive attitude that will filter down to the rest of the people on the production.

I don’t know if an inch-and-a-half of additional screen real estate will make the difference, but if so, the ultimate benefit is that I would not resent my job for taking me away from things that I enjoy, and on a day-to-day basis, I think that’s a huge deal.

On the other hand, I have to consider how much the size of the laptop will negatively affect my work and free time. On the road I find myself actually using it on my lap — or balanced precariously on something else — a lot more often, since I’m often in improvised situations where I have to make a desk out of what’s available, and I will probably be writing the show report from a couch, either at the venue or on the bus.

I looked into how much Tekserve charges for Macbook Pro rentals, and it’s $100 per day, or $200 per week (and upwards from there). As much as I’d love to have an opportunity to run around with a 17″ for a while before dropping $2,500 on it, I don’t think it’s worth nearly 10% of the total cost to have just a week to decide if I like it.

Anyway, the decision is still far away (I hope), but I need to keep paying attention to all the ways I use my computer during the day, and how many of them would be impractical with a larger machine.

August 9, 2009

La Cage Tech

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:49 am

We are in our second day of tech for La Cage. Since Twitter has been suffering from a DoS attack, there is no techtweet this time.

We teched the first act during the first 10-out-of-12 hour day. This is a new show for Reagle, so we’re feeling our way a little more than usual but overall it’s not going that much more slowly than a more familiar show.

The cast is completely comfortable with the show, which eases a lot of our stress about the final outcome. The show is quite busy technically — there are some numbers where finding a place to give warnings was tricky. It’s become something of a joke in certain parts of the show, for the TD to say, “Karen can you find a place to give us a warning…” and I immediately say, “No.”

We’re using color scrollers for this show, so our little Microvision from 1987 B.C. needs to be replaced whenever that happens. We’ve got a rented Ion, which I’ve never used before. It’s basically the very modern version of the size of the Microvision. During a break yesterday I was invited to play with the scrollers. I was handed a mouse and pointed at a color wheel on one of the screens, like you would find in Photoshop or whatever. I was told to click anywhere on the color wheel. Instantly the entire stage changed to that color. I played with it for a good five minutes just watching how many different shades I could make. It may be the coolest thing ever.

August 7, 2009

The Sorry Jar

I call this: computers,gaming,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:04 am

In our rehearsal room for La Cage, we have some very apologetic people. So much so, in fact, that our director decided early on that every time someone says “I’m sorry,” they owe him five cents. Naturally, being stage managers, Paul and I were put in charge of keeping track of the debt.

I have been working more with Google Spreadsheets lately, which I have grown to love as a result of my involvement with the game Battleground Europe. As a member of the Axis high command, I was first introduced to Google Docs because all the data that keeps the officers organized is contained in some very complex and fascinating spreadsheets. Whenever I meet somebody who has better paperwork than I do, my first instinct is to steal all their tricks, so I had great admiration for the Italian gentleman who created them, who goes by the name of Lince. When Lince retired from the high command, I offered to take on the management of the spreadsheets if for no other reason than to get a chance to play with them and learn from them. Lince and I are still in the process of training (the time difference from here to Italy being a bit of an obstacle at times), but I have learned so much already.

So back to my story.
We began on the first day keeping track of the Sorry fines on a couple of post-its, but of course this wouldn’t work. I also wanted a solution that would be able to be edited in real time by Paul and I, even simultaneously. Google Docs is the simplest way I know of to do this.

So I created a little spreadsheet that has all the actors’ names (and mine, and our director’s), and a column for each day of rehearsal. It totals how much each person owes, and at the bottom displays the total money raised.

You can take a look at it here to see how we’re doing.

August 2, 2009

La Cage Week 1

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:40 am

For a complete change of pace, our final show of the season is La Cage aux Folles. It’s a small, fast-paced show, where the men are women, the women are women, and I can actually do a head-count in rehearsal without losing track (we have 33).

There are no super-celebrities in this one, just a bunch of guys who know absolutely everything about this show. Our director, David Scala, and our Albin, David Engel, were both original cast members who did the whole 4-year Broadway run. Our Georges, Jamie Ross (who was also an amazing Vandergelder in Dolly earlier in the season) did the role on Broadway at some point. The rehearsal room is filled with 25-year-old backstage gossip, tales of things that were cut in Boston, anecdotes and history, and offhand statements like, “Whenever I would do this scene with George [Hearn]…” that bring a wealth of experience and depth to our little production, and are just plain fun to hear about.

Most Reagle productions are staged by or star people who have done their roles on Broadway or in high-profile productions, but the ones I love best are those that are really intimately connected to the original productions. It’s not just about setting the show with the original choreography and design, but getting a living theatrical history lesson in the process of creating the show. It’s like reading one of those books about the making of a show, except it’s more like having the commentary running on a DVD, and you can ask questions back!

We’re almost done with our first week, and although David is both directing and choreographing, we’re making great progress. Act I, which is far more complicated, will be completed today. Our principals are all wonderfully cast, the Cagelles are amazing dancers (and actors), and our singers are top-notch as always. It’s going to be a lot of fun going through this process.