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.


1 Comment »

  1. […] a few more tales of the Joke of the Day, see this post about the decorations in my Phantom calling script. Comments […]

    Pingback by Joke of the Day « HeadsetChatter Blog — November 15, 2009 @ 5:20 am

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