January 31, 2010

Goodbye to the Guthrie

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:27 pm

The day has come — after spending our entire process here, since Dec. 1, it’s time for us to leave the Guthrie and go out into the wide world.

It’s been even more fun for me to be here for the second time. I didn’t have to spend as much time figuring out what I need to do, and who I need to talk to in all the many departments that keep this place running. Also, being on one of the mainstages was a change, and brought a lot of new experiences we didn’t have last year.

I’ve seen many cool pictures of the Guthrie, as there are many cool things to take pictures of, but this is my absolute favorite, that I found on Flickr (click to visit the photographer’s page).

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis Minnesota

There’s so much I could say about this place, I wouldn’t really know where to start or end. If you’ve been reading through my “On the Road Again” posts from this year or last year, I’ve said a lot of it along the way. What stick with me most of all are three things:

1. The kind, talented, and fun people who work here and care deeply about the work that is put on here

2. The blessing of having a facility like this to work in, that’s thoughtfully designed to assist in production, but also inspires the creative process with its beautiful architecture and sunlit spaces.

3. The intelligence, sophistication and generosity of Minneapolis audiences. The pride that the people here take in their many theatres is really amazing, and it has always been a pleasure to give performances and talkbacks here.

I’m very grateful to have been able to work here twice, and I hope to be back again soon!

And now, placing tongue in cheek a bit, I have devised a graphic that captures what the experience of working here has been like for Nick and I, who spend most of our time in the ragtag world of New York Off-Off- and lesser Off-Broadway theatre, where if you have internet and enough room to tape out your set in the rehearsal room, you’re living like a king.

Working in a regional theatre that operates year-round with the same staff has been a bit of a culture shock, because everything is so specifically organized and every little thing happens exactly the same way on every show, so everyone knows what to expect. We’ve come in like a very small bull in a very large China shop, and especially this year with our previous experience, we’ve been working hard to knock over as little as possible while fitting our process into the way things are done here.

Whenever I talk about the Guthrie, being a geek, it tends to come out in Star Trek metaphors. Last year I was fond of saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the Guthrie lifted off from the bank of the Mississippi into space, as a fully self-sufficient traveling intergalactic theatre platform.

The more specific Star Trek metaphor that I often find myself using is the Borg — in the most loving possible way something can resemble the Borg — mostly because of the system of paperwork that has to be done with certain forms, and only on Guthrie-supplied computers. If you are to do a show here, you will be assimilated. Nick and I didn’t have to get any implants, thankfully we had a Guthrie Intern Interface which handled most of the translation for us. But I think especially this year we’ve learned to become one mind with the Guthrie Collective, and I hope our hosts have not found us to be too disruptive to the normal routine here.

And so, I have created this image in honor of our assimilation:

For anyone who has worked here it will be self-explanatory, but the flashing thing is the ubiquitous door lock that prevents access from pretty much everywhere to anywhere else, unless you have your magical Guthrie badge on you.

January 30, 2010

Eating and Calling

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:57 pm

Attention stage managers:

I have decided this weekend it’s not advisable to eat Animal Crackers while calling a show. They seem to have some kind of throat-coating qualities that make me have to clear my throat a lot. So beware.

My favorite thing to snack on while calling a show is Smarties candies — because if you want to savor them, you can suck on them, but if you suddenly have a cue coming up you can easily chew them and have them gone quickly. It’s also interesting to eat them if your light is very dim or gelled blue, because it can be hard to see what color you’re putting in your mouth, so it’s always a surprise.

January 29, 2010

The One-Hour R&J

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:35 pm

This is my post where I talk about the one-hour condensed version of Romeo and Juliet that we’ve been rehearsing in between performances of the full R&J, which is designed for younger student audiences (roughly 5th and 6th grade), schools that for some reason can’t come to see the Big Show, or to be performed in places where the Big Show can’t go.

The beauty of the show is that it can scale down to the tiniest venue imaginable. The only requirements are some floorspace (even a regular classroom would work) and 16 chairs (3 of which have no arms and can be stood on), which are provided by the venue.

The actors wear street clothes, and the only props are carried around in a small trunk under the actors’ bus.

The reason the trunk is on the actors’ bus, as opposed to say, on the truck, is that one of the tricks the 1-hour does is to be able to perform in a city the day after the Big Show performs. When the Big Show comes down, the set is immediately struck, and within a few hours of the end of the show, everything is packed up and the truck and the crew drive through the night to the next venue, where the load-in starts at 8AM, for another show that night.

Meanwhile, the cast wakes up the next morning in the same place they went to bed, and boards their bus to head to a school, or sometimes the same venue from the night before, only now on a bare stage. The 1-hour can be performed without any support from the Big Show — all the props are different or duplicates of the show props, and in our case this year, the only sound support will come from a boom box with a CD in it.

There’s only one tricky fact, which leads to the part of the 1-hour that most affects me: if the crew already has the set halfway up, hundreds of miles away, by the time the 1-hour starts, how to stage manage it?

The solution The Acting Company uses in these cases is that the ASM stays behind in a hotel and travels with the cast to the 1-hour performance, and then rides on the cast bus to the next venue, while the PSM loads out with the crew as normal, and advances the Big Show. This is necessary because sometimes immediate decisions need to be made based on the situation found at the venue, which might impact everything from where the set is placed to what spaces should be set up as dressing rooms. The PSM is the person who has to be available when the call comes over the radio, “I need you to come look at something…”

When I took over as PSM last season, I was given very little instruction on how the 1-hour worked. The above situation was explained to me, in the sense that the ASM needs to be able to do the 1-hour self-sufficiently. Now my personal philosophy of management is that if you’re going to make someone responsible for something, you have to also give them authority over that thing (i.e. if the ASM is dealing with props, they are in charge of props, and I won’t do a thing that involves props without clearing it with them.)

So in the spirit of The Acting Company, and its mission to bring professional theatre to new audiences, while also giving young theatre professionals a chance to work on their skills, I took the approach that the ASM should essentially be the PSM of the 1-hour show. I don’t know if this is exactly how it was done before, but in my mind it makes a lot of sense.

Contractually I’m the PSM of all 3 shows we’re touring with, and I’m responsible for the operation of the tour in general, so I can’t entirely check out when it comes to the 1-hour. I could step in if something truly ill-advised was happening, but I’ve never had to do so, and I doubt I ever will.

When we started 1-hour Henry last year, I told Nick he was in charge and could organize things as he saw fit, and in cases where I was around, he could use me as his assistant. It’s nice for me, because I get to switch gears once in a while, and it’s good for Nick because he gets to do the tasks and making the decisions that a PSM gets to make. Some may be big or small, but I think the concept is pretty brilliant. What ASM doesn’t hate something about their PSM’s show report or other paperwork? — or maybe while assisting, thinks of something new and has to wait for their next job as a PSM to get to try it out. So the 1-hour is like a sandbox for the ASM to do things their way.

It’s also good for me, because I don’t assist that much, and when I do it can take time for me to start seeing things the right way. Until I get my head around which job I’m doing, my brain doesn’t naturally react to situations in the way most helpful for an ASM or PA. When a director asks for a prop to be used in a scene, for instance, my instinct is to take a note first, rather than to hop up and get the prop. To have to switch between the two from day-to-day or hour-to-hour within the same job is an interesting exercise.

It’s also been funny these past couple weeks because we’ve been rehearsing every day around our performances, but alternating from day-to-day between Alice and 1-hr R&J. We’re in the same room, we don’t even bother to switch seats because Nick, Ashley and I have had “our” spots at the desk for months now, and there really aren’t many clues as to who’s supposed to be in charge each day.

The other day in 1-hour rehearsal, we were sitting at our desk on a break, and Nick said, “We’re back,” and while finishing up what I was doing, I said, “Thank you.” Then I got up out of my chair, and while crossing to close the door, said, “I mean, yes sir!”

Nick gave me “the look,” and I explained that whether he heard the difference or not, my “thank you” was the PSM thanking the ASM for pointing out the time, not the ASM responding to the PSM’s declaration that the break was over, and I was trying to get myself out of that frame of mind.

I think I was successful because the following day at Alice rehearsal, I was repeatedly disappointed to realize that I was in charge!

Required Reading

For the opposite perspective on the 1-hour, you must read


No, seriously, you must. Click on it now. If your browser isn’t total crap, ctl-click on that link (on a PC) or cmd-click (on a Mac) to open it in a new tab, and as soon as you’re done with this, read it. It’s a really good post.

So good, in fact, it got a special entry in the Guthrie’s Big Blue Blog. I might have felt a little left out, were it not for the fact that Nick and I had already had a conversation in which I said it was such a great post that I was just going to add a little bit and then put a giant link saying, “Read this!” Well as it turns out, I had a little more to say about it than I thought. But still, read Nick’s post. He covers some other stuff, as well as the whole PSM/ASM dynamic from the other perspective.

Okay, go now.

Final Guthrie Week

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:57 am

This week I transitioned to calling the show off my new script, with the cues color-coded and typed into the script. I had the script done since previews, but mostly due to running out of paper, and our hole punch getting temporarily lost, I hadn’t had a chance to finish it until this week. It’s always scary to call from a different script, but it’s actually very easy to read. Right away it actually felt more comfortable than the script I’ve been calling from for weeks, which is pretty amazing.

At the same time, I called my first performance with the video monitor turned off. Since tech I’ve used the infrared view for five cues that occur in blackouts or near-blackouts. Knowing that I won’t have that luxury on the road, I have spent the whole run here studying what happens in the dark, looking for ways to call the cues that are reliable and can be done without seeing in the dark. As the cast is now comfortable with their blocking, they are reaching their positions in plenty of time, and it has been very consistent for weeks.

All last week, I had the monitor on, and would close my eyes until right before I called the cue, at which point I would glance at the monitor to check that it was OK. Now I have completely weaned myself off of it. At the end of the first act I will have our prop supervisor giving me a “clear” stage right to make sure that Tybalt has made it offstage before the lights come up. Today for the first time, our local crew member Craig gave me the clear so we could get used to it, though it has been very easy for me to do without it here. However, at other venues where the distance to get offstage may be longer, or the actor may not be as sure of where he’s going, it will be a good idea to get a clear.

Today was our last student matinee — here, at least. We have many more on the road, some of which are our one-hour version of the show.

Today before the show Nick and I were hanging out by the production link, which is the giant hall/bridge area that connects the scene shop across the street with the two mainstage theatres here. The Scottish Play is in the middle of their tech, and we were getting an update on their progress from Trevor. As usual the subject turned to how awesome their set is, and I was saying that I had seen it on their model, and on the video monitors in the green room. Trevor asked if I had time for a tour, and he showed me all of the cool stuff they have, while the crew did their morning notes. Amazingly, in four months working here, I had never actually had the opportunity to set foot in the thrust theatre, though I’ve seen many pictures of it. It was really cool to finally get to see it. From the stage it feels incredibly intimate, although it’s actually much bigger than our theatre. I wish I could see a production in it, but I can see already why its design is so much talked about.

Tonight was our last day of rehearsal for our Alice in Wonderland reading tomorrow morning, and we ran through the show and finished early. Our Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director, Margot and Ian, just arrived in town for the reading, and treated the cast to drinks to celebrate the end of our long rehearsal weeks.

Between all of these events, I think we all feel the pull of the road growing stronger than the inertia of our long stay here. Every day there are more signs that our time is coming soon. Our crew is here and trailing their local counterparts, tomorrow we get our company manager, we’re almost done with rehearsals (for now), our touring light board and sound package have been delivered. Everyone is packing, sending boxes home, and cleaning their apartments. Very soon our truck and buses will be here.

January 26, 2010

Happy 22nd Anniversary, Phantom!

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:13 pm

Tonight is the 22nd anniversary of the Broadway opening of Phantom. And for the second year in a row, I’m stuck in Minneapolis while it’s being celebrated. Until last year I had been to every anniversary party since the 8th year.

There are lots of exciting things going on in my life and career right now, but Phantom has been the greatest constant in my life — I have worked there longer than I’ve known any of my friends, longer than I have lived in any home. So while I’m having a great time here, this one particular day of the year is the day when I feel like I should be at the Majestic to connect with something that has been so much a part of my life, and to share in celebrating its success with the people past and present who I have experienced it with.

I have a couple friends texting me from the party at the “Travelator Bar and Grill,” which is the traditional name for a party on stage, with the travelator bridge brought down to waist height, with the railings folded down, which makes for a handy automated buffet table. I had made a habit of taking blurry camera-phone pictures of the cake every year for the last few years, and I was just sent a picture of tonight’s (albeit half-eaten) cake:

Also, in my reflections on this historic event while I was in the shower this morning (where all great reflections come from), I did some math and realized that this coming June will mark my 15th year with the show, and surely that deserves some kind of huge retrospective on this site. As many of the photos of my early years are in non-digital format, this will require digging around for pictures and memorabilia during the relatively narrow windows when I’m at home. Preparations must begin soon. The real celebration I’ve been aware of for probably more than a decade will be the following year, when I will have worked on the show for half my life. I remember doing the math on that many years ago, and wondering if it was possible that the show could run that long. I’m not in the slightest bit concerned now. Who would have ever thought?

Anyway, a very happy anniversary to all my friends, and all members of the Phantom Phamily, past and present, and those who are no longer with us, who have been such a source of support and inspiration to me throughout my life.

R&J Cast Interviews

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:34 am

The Guthrie recently posted this video blog of our cast being interviewed by Matt Amendt, who was our Henry last year, about their expectations of life on the road. It was filmed about three weeks ago, when we were in tech, and Matt was in town and came to hang out with us at the tech dinner.

January 25, 2010


I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:39 am

Last night was road box spring cleaning day for Nick and I. We load out in exactly a week. We had put off doing an inventory of our first aid kits for almost two months, and finally on the last day it was practical to do so, we brought all the first aid boxes to the green room between shows and made a shopping list.

After that we threw out all the paperwork from last year that’s no longer useful (well I saved the calling script for the original, never-performed version of The Spy for my personal collection).

At some point before our time, there were two inflatable mattresses and pumps in the box. Last year one of them was no good, and didn’t have a working pump anyway, so we decided it was time to let it go. It had been kept rolled up in our valuables cabinet, which is a little cube-shaped cubby that can be separately padlocked to secure the actors’ valuables.

When the time came, we inspected the mattress to make sure it was the bad one, Nick encouraged me to get it the hell out of our lives, and I bent down and began trying to yank it out, while Nick went back to his ASM station to work on something else. The mattress was caught on something, and after much pulling and tugging, it began to unroll. What happened next was amazing.

The mattress unrolled and wrapped up in it, perfectly preserved like a long-forgotten buried treasure, was a giant unopened bottle of Ketel One vodka! I called out, “Nick! Nick! It’s treasure! Treasure!!”

I held up the bottle and he picked it up and cradled it in his arms and we both ran out to the upstage hallway to share our discovery with our deck crew, and to tell the rich history of this bottle of vodka.

The Leektini

Any understanding of this bottle’s origins begins with the leektini. When we were touring Henry V last year, we had a fresh leek in every performance, that had to be beaten over an actor’s head and then eaten. The leeks were purchased by our prop supervisor at any supermarket we could find in our travels, and lived in the fridge in the crew bus. Some people were particularly offended by the smell of the leek in our fridge. Having leeks in our lives every day for six months made them so pervasive in our consciousness that we began thinking strange things about leeks.

One of my favorite drinks is the appletini, and I’m not ashamed of it. The frequent sight of an appletini in my hand led the crew to speculate if one could make a leektini. We decided it would probably be absolutely disgusting, but it should be tried. There was also simultaneously a plan we had been discussing for a while to play a practical joke on the cast towards the end of the tour. We called it the “leeky bunk” — to leave one of the discarded leeks in somebody’s bunk so it would stink.

Eventually the two ideas combined, and instead of stinking up someone’s bunk, we decided that at one of the last venues, during the show some of the crew would sneak onto the cast bus, and make leektinis, which would be waiting for the actors when the show was over.

In order to accomplish this we needed copious amounts of vodka, among other things. When we were in Philly on a day off, we visited a liquor store, almost exclusively for the purpose of gathering supplies for the leektinis. One of the things we bought was the giant bottle of Ketel One. We then put it in the stage management road box until the appropriate time could be found to pull off our plan.

In the last week of the tour, one of the venues we visited was a high school. Realizing we had a giant bottle of vodka in our road box, in a high school, we wrapped it up in the inflatable mattress and put it in the valuables box where it would be cushioned and hidden until we found an appropriate place to use it. Things got complicated in the last couple cities, and the situation wasn’t conducive to pulling off the caper, and somehow we forgot about the bottle.

Until today, of course. Here Nick shows off our prize. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, exactly, but I’m sure it will be mixed with something more appetizing than a leek!

Minneapolis Winds Down

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:39 am

Tomorrow is our last day off in Minneapolis. It’s the last “normal” day off we’re going to have for a long time, as in a day off in a city you know something about, where you have an apartment and something resembling a normal existence.

Nick and I are going in the grocery run, but we don’t need groceries. We need some personal items, and a long list of supplies for the road box. Tonight between shows we did inventory of our first aid kits. We have five of them (stage left, stage right, miscellaneous, “lady products”, and a basic kit that stays on the crew bus). So a lot of our shopping is for restocking the medical supplies.

I have some other loose ends to tie up myself. I’m shipping some stuff home that I don’t need anymore, as well as more Caribou Coffee that my parents and my aunt really liked when I sent them some for Christmas.

I also plan to do as much laundry as possible to take advantage of the free and accessible laundry here. A few nights ago I cleaned up the apartment a little to make it easier to pack, and moved my suitcase from the bottom of the bedroom closet to the couch in the living room, ready to receive items. I now have some clean clothes I know I won’t wear again that are piled next to it.

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe our time here is coming to an end. I remember very well when Nick and I arrived, before there was any snow on the ground, and our show was just a script, a model and some renderings. Now it’s on stage eight shows a week, and has already been seen by 10,669 people as of today. We’ve achieved the main task we had here — to go from nothing to a finished show, and now it’s time for us to move on and take it to other audiences.

It’s impossible to say what the next year will bring, but at this point it seems probable to me that I’ll be back in about 10 months, so while I’ll miss everybody here, I’m not leaving with the feeling that I’ll never be back again. There are people here who are some of my favorite collaborators in my career, and who I consider friends. But it’s also the nature of the business anywhere that we work usually with strangers, and form very strong bonds over a short period of time, and then we move on, and may or may not have the opportunity to cross paths again. It was great to return here this year to a number of people I already knew, and I hope this won’t be the last time.

Looking forward

Nick and I have been talking on Facebook with Bart. He’s on his way here, and will arrive on the 31st, which is the day we leave. I can’t wait to move into our rolling home. This tour has a lot of 1-nighters, so the bus will be even more of a home than it was last year.

Most of our crew (who we haven’t met) arrive on Tuesday and will be at work on Wednesday, learning the show for the first time. By Friday everyone will be in town, and we’ll have dinner as a group (probably Saturday) to get to know each other and discuss how we’re going to run things on the road.

I’ve been talking over email with our TD, Bobby (who I haven’t met yet), and our lighting supervisor, Devon (who was here for tech), forming a plan of attack for an upcoming venue with tricky dimensions. Discussing what pipe the first electric will be on in some theatre four cities from now has brought the reality that the tour is starting to my attention. It’s a really exciting time. Every time I walk past the theatre where I can see the parking lot by the loading dock, I look for our truck and buses, even though I know they won’t be showing up for close to a week. It doesn’t matter, every time I turn the corner I wish they were sitting there. It’s the beginning of the feeling I find so fascinating about touring — at once being sad to leave a place that’s been great, but burning with a desire to keep moving and seeing what’s next.

January 23, 2010

Best Prop Note Ever – With Video

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:04 pm

Tonight Nick was checking the prop preset and found something amazing: a wonderfully humorous way to remind actors not to take props back to their dressing rooms instead of returning them to the prop table.

Nick and I report from the scene:


The object in question was a kazoo, which an actor had taken to his dressing room in his costume pocket. Around the kazoo was attached a note: “Return to prop table! Or face the wrath of the fearsome Kazoo Beast!”

Artist’s rendering of Kazoo Beast:


In the background at the end of the video you can hear some offscreen noise. This could have been edited out, but was left in, because Nick and I find it as funny as the Kazoo Monster. So here’s the story:

Last year we did this play called The Spy, which contained a scene in which the American revolutionary Captain Lawson confronts the British officer Colonel Welmere. He says, “Why is it, Colonel, that I don’t trust you at this moment?” right before getting stabbed by the Skinner who was supposed to be helping him, as seen here in this production photo:

Of course this scene was run at fight call every night before the show, starting from the line before the violence. Since Wellmere was not actually involved in the violence, he didn’t need to be there, and Andy, who played Captain Lawson, would have no one to talk to. So somehow it came about that I would stand in for Wellmere so Andy didn’t have to talk to the air. Thus at fight call, the line became, “Why is it, Karen, that I don’t trust you at this moment?” before Chris Thorn, who played the Skinner, would stab him.

At one of our last performances of The Spy, our wardrobe supervisor hatched a plot to dress me up in Colonel Wellmere’s costume as a surprise for Andy at fight call. Here’s a photo of that incident:

So anyway, back to the present. In our show there’s a moment where Tybalt leaps off the stairs from the balcony, does some fancy cane-twirling and says “Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.” After fight call is over, just before we open the house, Isaac practices the jump and the cane-spinning. Since I’m milling about the stage trying to open the house, I’m usually in his way, so I’ve taken to placing myself where Benvolio stands, so I’m doing something useful rather than just being in his way. Chris Thorn is in the company again this year, and after witnessing this one night, said “Why is it, Karen–” and we all had a good laugh remembering the fun we had with that last year.

So tonight while we were filming this little video, Chris wandered out onto the empty stage and exclaimed to no one in particular, “Karen–? Why is it, Karen…?” and it happened to get captured on the video, which Nick and I thought was hysterical. So we left it in.

Our Scottish Neighbors

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:38 pm

Today is an exciting day for us here in the McGuire Proscenium. Over on the Thrust stage, our new neighbors have finally moved in. They’re doing two days of spacing onstage prior to tech for The Scottish Play (I will not blog the title during intermission of a performance!).

Our stage management counterparts are running around (all of us equally clueless as to where tissues come from, without our trusty intern around!) I was starving at intermission, so I went to the greenroom for some M&Ms, where I found the kids from the show being entertained by their child supervisors (which is a fancy name for “wrangler”), including Ashley, who was engaging some youngsters in a game of Monopoly, while all watched the progress of the rehearsal on one of the monitors. The set looks really cool, and apparently there’s a great battle scene at the top of the show. I wanted to stay and watch, but there were 400-something people across the hall who might have been disappointed if I had not returned.

I have never seen a production of The Scottish Play, and I’m rather disappointed to be here in such a respected theatre, with one occurring just a few dozen feet away, and to be unable to see it.

Anyway, it’s nice to have more people among us here. One of the things I was looking forward to when returning this year was to be part of the hustle and bustle I saw from afar, when we were up in the studio theatre and there were two shows running on the main stages. As it turned out, there are fewer shows in production right now, so we’ve been alone most of the time, both in the rehearsal area, and backstage. It’s been kind of fun that we’ve had the run of the place most of the time, but it will also be fun to have company.

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