December 2, 2009

(Waves to Guthrie Fans)

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:48 pm

i_heart_mnGreetings to new readers from the Guthrie website!

As you probably know because you’re here, I’m the Production Stage Manager for the Acting Company / Guthrie production of Romeo and Juliet, opening in January.

First I’ve got a little backstory for you: I’ve been writing a blog/website about stage management, and the application of technology to enhance theatre management for about two-and-a-half years.

So last year, making my debut with The Acting Company as PSM of Henry V, I hired this guy Nick to be my assistant. Nick decided to create a blog about his experiences on tour, too. And one morning we came to rehearsal and discovered that Nick’s blog was all over the front page of the Guthrie website, and suddenly everybody was reading it! Our actors’ parents would come to the show and be more excited to meet Nick than to see their kids perform! Well Nick thought this was awesome, and indeed it was.

So the other day as we were waiting at JFK for our flight to Minneapolis, we somehow got on the subject of our blogging rivalry. Nick declared that once again he was sure to be the darling of the Guthrie homepage. Having significantly expanded my blog and website since last year, I retorted that I was just as likely, if not more so, to attract their attention. So we began googling terms like, “Romeo and Juliet Guthrie” to see what came up. Unfortunately we got through about 100 results and neither of us was listed. That put a temporary stop to the discussion.

Today as we were locking up our rehearsal room, we heard someone at the other end of the hall exclaim, “It’s Karen and Nick!” We didn’t recognize these people, so we were a little surprised. As they came closer, I think the first thing the young lady said was, to Nick, “I read your blog!” Which sent Nick up and down the halls doing a happy dance, of course! Once Nick had contained himself and returned, they introduced themselves as James Scott, the General Manager, and his assistant Lauren. After much continued discussion about how popular Nick’s blog is with the Guthrie staff, I asked what the hell a webmaster has to do to get some love around here. Nick will characterize this as begging. Perhaps it was. But you must understand, I’m desperate at this point. Lauren took down the name of my website, and then we talked a bit about some work stuff she needed to tell me.

Nick and I were on our way upstairs to see Faith Healer, and by intermission I had an email from Lauren saying that both our blogs were now linked on the website, under the title “Blogging Stage Managers Return to Minneapolis!” which I think is an awesome title. I also submit Blogging Stage Managers for your consideration should you be looking for a band name.

So welcome, and now you know how much it means to me to be acknowledged as the other half of the Blogging Stage Managers! Look for us to continue our tales of Romeo and Juliet as we create it here in Minneapolis and tour it around the country.

And if you’re interested in stage management or technical theatre, or computers, I especially encourage you to take a look at the rest of the site as well!

Day 1 of Preproduction at the “G”

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:18 pm

Checking In

First day of work at the Guthrie (yesterday). We arrived a little before our announced arrival time of 11am, to get our security badges, and hopefully have our pictures retaken, because we arrived last year unaware that there would be pictures, and coming off our travel, looked a little rough. Well of course in typical Guthrie efficiency, they just typed in our names and reprinted our badges from last year. So so much for that. I didn’t really mind. I’ve taken worse pictures, it might not have been worth the gamble. Nick also discovered when they couldn’t find him in the computer, that his name was misspelled on his badge all last year. That was pretty funny.

The important thing about the badge is that there are electronic sensors all over the building, and without one you won’t get very far before a door or an elevator blocks your passage to the non-public parts of the building. So with our access granted, we then proceeded upstairs to the 2nd floor production office.

In the Office

We were there to see Russell, who is the Guthrie’s PSM, and our direct liaison to our host theatre. Russell had stepped out, but in poking our heads into his office, we were noticed by Trevor, the Assistant Production Director, who was also very helpful to us going into our tech last year.

We learned a lot last year about the challenges of creating a show with creative and production people sprawled out between New York and Minneapolis. The collaboration begun last year between The Acting Company and the Guthrie was very successful, but behind the scenes there is also a lot of planning that goes into figuring out how the two sets of personnel work together and where the handoff of responsibility occurs for each of the countless tasks that have to be accomplished to put on a show. This year my goal, and I assume everyone’s, is to use what we learned last year to build a tighter, more efficient collaboration between the two companies. I, for one, feel so much more prepared, knowing how things work here, and how to integrate our process into it smoothly.

So with that in mind, we immediately went into Trevor’s office and began looking over calendars, schedules, and ground plans, and shared as much information as we had, until Russell arrived. Then we hopped over to his office, and met our new intern (absolute best thing about working here — a 3-person stage management team is actually not 1.5 times better than a 2-person team, it’s like a billion times better, believe me, I’ve done the math!). We were very glad to learn we would have the help of this year’s stage management intern, after our fantastic experience with Meghan last year. This year we have Ashley, who is also fantastic! And the only thing better than an extra person on your team is an extra highly qualified person on your team! While waiting for our flight the day before, we had been exchanging emails with Russell and Ashley, so we had made our introductions, and had asked for her help to set up the rehearsal room on our first day.

But before that, we sat in Russell’s office for a while having some really productive discussions. I can’t even remember all that was said, but we covered a variety of topics, from our plans for rehearsal hours, to the availability of other studios, to how the new production of A Christmas Carol was doing. We also made plans to see Faith Healer together, which inhabits our future theatre until the end of this week, so that we could get a feel for the space as an audience member, and to see Artistic Director Joe Dowling live on stage! Having just returned from that outing, it was a very helpful experience, and a great show to boot!

The Theatre

Anyway, after our meeting I was most of all anxious to get an opportunity to tour our theatre. I knew a little bit about the backstage layout of the main stages, but had never been in either theatre, mostly because last year was so jam-packed with shows, there was always a show performing or in tech. So Russell, Trevor and Ashley took us to the theatre, where we walked around the cavernous wingspace, and spent a long time on stage. We had some discussions about the orchestra pit, whether it would be raised or lowered, or used as a playing space or not. This brought up some lingering questions, and by morning things had been bounced around between all the parties and a new drawing was waiting for us when we got in today. So that alone was a productive visit.

I asked if there was a possibility of calling from backstage. I’m not convinced I want to, just because once we get on the road it will be my responsibility to make sure the show looks the same in each venue as it does here. Staring at the show every night for a month will lock that in. If I call from backstage, I will be working only from dim memories of the tech process, and whatever it looks like on a video monitor. Later in the tour it would be fun to call from backstage (which I did get to do last year in New York), but our goal as a touring company, from a technical perspective, is that every audience should see the show exactly as it will be set by our designers here, to the best of our ability given the time, equipment, and facilities available at each venue. And although I won’t have to hang a light, lay down the show deck, or play a sound cue, I’m the one who’s supposed to know when it’s right, and I’d like to be as familiar with it as possible.

Continuing on, we left the stage and got another tour through the backstage hallways. We saw most of this on the grand tour of the building on the day we arrived last year, but back then it was more in the context of, “And over here are the dressing rooms where the grown-ups put on plays.” This year we’re all grown up and now we’re being asked to think about how we want to assign those dressing rooms.

My favorite part of this tour was visiting the third floor star dressing rooms. As we walked, Russell told us that they only hold four, but if we really needed the extra space we might be able to use them. So he opens one of them, and we step into the largest four-person dressing room I’ve ever seen. I said, “Yeah, see we would call this a 10.” Seriously. If that’s their four, I can only imagine that the six-person room we didn’t get to see probably would hold all 10 of our guys! I don’t think we’ll have any problems!

On our travels we passed the wardrobe and hair area, which has giant windows overlooking the main entrance. We ran into our old friend Susan, who’s the wardrobe supervisor for the theatre, and was instrumental in making sense of the wardrobe tracks as they wrangled the amazing zipping, transforming costumes we had last year in Henry V. Susan explained that this is the area where everybody hangs out at half hour. I said, “I know, I used to see them when I’d pass by here before a show or at intermission, on my way to slink back to the 9th floor. They always had candy.” That area in a theatre, wherever it may be, where everybody hangs out is always a magical place. I must admit I was a little jealous of not being a part of that camaraderie last year. It will be very nice to be in the middle of the action this time!

Anyway, our tour was pretty much at an end, so we returned to the production office to pick up the dilapidated box of our supplies that had made its way from New York (and from the looks of it, might have traveled around the world a few times underneath a FedEx truck!). We carted the box down to our rehearsal room, where we were happy to discover that nothing was broken, not even our printer/scanner.

Setting up the Room

We set about getting some tables up, approximating where the director and staff director would sit, with the director’s chair on the centerline, and then made a very long table for us. My spot, across the aisle from the director, followed by Nick, and then closest to the door, Ashley will have the second table, which holds the printer and I anticipate will be used for displaying things for the actors to pick up (new paperwork, for instance) or to put a plate of cookies somebody’s grandmother sent. We distributed basic supplies across the tables — pencils, staplers, tissues and sanitizer.

Then we really got down to business and flattened out our groundplan on one of the tables. I took the measurements on it before we left New York, so I had a basic idea of how we would tape the floor. We took our time choosing where we would mark the edge of the stage, because the last thing I wanted was to decide after we were done that it should have moved a little bit. So we made some careful measurements and considerations of how we might use the space, and then placed our downstage center mark. It didn’t take all that long to tape out the set, at least not considering that there are quite a few stairs. Stairs are the worst!

Here’s a picture of our room with the floor taped out. It’s a panorama, so the perspective is a little weird. I assure you the walls are flat!


We spent the remaining time making a list of supplies we still needed, which Ashley was able to procure from the Guthrie’s supply, and then Ashley took my reformatted script file and went to make 25 copies for our first rehearsal scripts. By default they bind them with these nice simple black covers, which we liked a lot, and once they were done, proceeded to decorate them as we did last year. This was Nick’s idea, and very successful, I think — we took our postcard and with black gaff tape, affixed one to the cover of each script, and then wrote the actors’ name on it with silver pen. We actually packed a handful of postcards in our hapless box before we left the office just for that purpose.

We selected a wall of the studio to use to display design images. We put up the ground plan and another drawing showing the main wall of the set. I printed the photograph of the set model, and hung that up as well. Before the first rehearsal we’ll also be getting costume sketches to go up there.

While we were doing that, Scott Edwards, our sound designer, came in to set up some instruments that will be used by our composer, Victor Zupanc, to explore what kind of music will go into the show. Last year I had a great time seeing how Victor works — I had never been part of a process where the composer was truly a member of the everyday rehearsal team. He was there all the time, playing with various instruments and improvised items, accompanying each time we worked a scene, and I think it was evident in the final product how closely tied he was to the rehearsal process. I got a lot of questions from people who saw the show wanting to know how the sound was developed, because it really stood out for feeling like an integral part of the show. From my perspective, it was also really fun to call the show, because Victor had such a crystal-clear idea of how each sound reflected the action of the play, so the bar was set very high for me, to translate that into telling a guy to push the spacebar on a laptop, and to hopefully get exactly the artistic impact that the composer and designer intended. I’ve met lots of great collaborators here, so I’m very excited to get to continue working with them.

That pretty much concluded our first day. We accomplished basically everything we needed to do in the studio before the first rehearsal. We will need to set up the tables for the first read-through, but I want to talk to Penny about how she would prefer them to be arranged.


Besides the on-site stuff, the number of emails and phone calls has been increasing this week. I’m working with our costume designer, Matt Lefebvre, to find time in the schedule for actors’ measurements to be taken and for a flurry of costume fittings for our ladies. The costumes are being built by a shop in Pittsburg this year, not at the Guthrie, so the scheduling will need to be a bit tighter to accommodate people coming in from out of town.

I am still very much at work on our new stage management database, which should make our lives much easier, after it’s done keeping me up all night! Nick and I are planning to have a working dinner and/or drinks tonight with our prop master, Scotty, who has just arrived in town. It will be great to see him again, too!