January 4, 2010

From the Archive: How I Got Home from Houston

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:26 pm

I was telling this story recently, and as the word “blog” hadn’t been invented when it happened, you haven’t heard it, and it must be told.

Some years back, when I was but a wee professional PSM, I was on tour in Houston. Houston was our last stop before returning to New York for two weeks layoff for Christmas, and then our New York run. As the tour had been a less-than-perfect experience, we were all very much looking forward to the end of the week in Houston, to return home for the holidays and generally escape from work for a while.

We somehow survived the week in Houston without anyone quitting, committing suicide, or murdering anyone (which was an especially precarious feat because due to the two weeks off, we could have quit at the end of the Houston stop without breaching our contracts).

This backstory informs the desperate events that followed.

Our flight out of Houston was from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, around 8AM. We had four actors, myself, my assistant, and the production manager. We arrived at the airport and lined up to check our bags, thrilled that we would be home in just a few hours. When we checked in we were told it was snowing in New York and our connecting flight had been canceled. We decided to take the first leg of the flight to Atlanta and see if we could get on another flight if the weather cleared up. I should also mention, we were flying AirTran, which if you didn’t know, is the name that Valujet changed themselves to after they killed all those people due to their negligence. I also should mention that our producer and some other folks I can’t remember were also flying out that day, but had a direct flight on Continental.

We checked in, went through security, and arrived at our gate. Our flight to Atlanta was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. The other flight on Continental was boarding nearby, and we said goodbye to our colleagues, and waited more hours.

Sometime during this waiting period, we started to go a little crazy (this is where you have to bear in mind all the things leading up to this day, and why just getting home was of such great importance). We had a fake cake in the show, that our set designer had lovingly built. It really did look like a realistic ice cream cake. Due to its delicacy, whenever we flew it traveled with someone as a carry-on. This day was my turn to guard the cake. It was in a cardboard box, which if I’m remembering correctly, was tied up with string so it could be carried.

I’m sure so many years later I can’t adequately explain how it started, but we began creating an entire scenario about the importance of protecting this cake. Everywhere we went, we would say, “Do you have the cake? Is the cake OK? The flight’s cancelled, but the cake is still safe!”

Sometime around 3:00 (so 7 hours after we were supposed to leave Houston), our flight to Atlanta finally made it into the air. We landed in Atlanta in the early evening.

We went to the AirTran desk, where they were totally unhelpful, and because they’re a terrible airline, they had no relationships with other airlines and couldn’t help us transfer to another flight to New York, Philly, or anywhere nearby. By this point, the people who were on the Continental flight are home in their apartments.

The best we were offered was a flight to Baltimore. We figured if we could get that far we could take Amtrak or drive the rest of the way. While my assistant finished up the arrangements to get us on that flight, I was on the phone to Amtrak making reservations for the last train of the night from Baltimore to Penn Station, and the production manager was on the phone with Hertz renting us a car at the Baltimore airport.

With these options laid out, my assistant made her escape and decided to stay with friends rather than attempt our foolhardy mission to make it home to New York that night. And then we were six.

So we made our way to the new gate, guarding the cake all the way. As we traveled, the legend of the cake grew and grew. I recall at some point, after our flight had been delayed yet again, we began deciding who would be cast in the movie recounting our adventure to protect the cake.

Finally, sometime after 8PM, i think, our flight departed Atlanta for Baltimore. The last train was around 10PM. Nervously we would look up the aisles at each other, wondering if we just might make it. I think we landed at about 9:55. So we made our way to the Hertz counter, so grateful that we had bothered to book two different modes of travel.

I may have my times off a little bit throughout the story, but one thing I remember is that when we crammed all our luggage and 6 people into a minivan and turned the key, the clock said 12:00 midnight exactly.

Our production manager drove with the intensity of our desire to get home (and to protect the cake!) and when we emerged out of the Lincoln Tunnel it was 3:00 exactly.

The funny thing is, I don’t remember what happened to the cake at the end of all that. I remember getting let out of the car at 42nd Street and 9th Ave and making my way home. Someone must have taken the cake home for safekeeping for the two-week layoff. Maybe it was me.

Anyway, that’s my story of travel woes, perseverance, and the insanity that comes from being trapped in the airline system for about sixteen hours. It’s surely far from the worst kind of travel nightmare, but it was the passion with which we wanted to get the hell home that made it an unforgettable experience.

Day Off Dilemma

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:59 pm

It’s the great decision that needs to be made on any day off in Minneapolis in January:

Is what I want to accomplish in the outside world really worth leaving the house?

On our day off we also go grocery shopping in the Guthrie van. There are usually three grocery runs, at 10am, noon, and 2pm. I like to take the 10am one, because it gets me up early so I don’t waste the entire day sleeping. It also acquaints me early with how cold it is. Which is usually pretty damn cold. Except when we greet each other in the front lobby of the Guthrie to meet the van, we usually use a stronger word than “damn.”

So today I was planning to go downtown to Nicollet Mall. This always has to be explained to people: Nicollet Mall is not a mall like the Mall of America is a mall. It’s a mall like the mall in Washington is a mall, except instead of national monuments it has like, a Target, and an Office Depot, and a Barnes and Noble, and a Walgreens, and so forth. And it does have one national monument, which is the statue of Mary Tyler Moore outside Macy’s. Anyway, it’s simply a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare that runs through downtown.

So I had some things I needed from Target and/or Office Depot (or Office Max, I can never remember which it is). The question is, how badly do I really want to go there? Do I really need a nice big eraser when I’m frantically making changes in my calling script during tech? Does our extra cast member since last year really need a valuables bag that matches all the other ones, this week? If I bother to replace my exercise band that broke this fall, will I actually use it? If I tour with a second lingerie bag, will my socks really dry any better by being split up into two piles? Well yes. Does it matter this week, when I have free laundry 8ft from my bed?

On such things do I dwell on my day off.

And then finally I went to WeatherBug on my iPhone for the hourly forecast, to decide if there might be an optimal time of day for this journey. And I actually said to myself, in total seriousness, “Oh look! At 3:00 it’s going to be 6 degrees! Maybe I can make it!”

On Stage!

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:36 am

A magical thing happened this week. The show has really come to life. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the difference between a show that just kind of happens, and a show that sucks you in and makes you feel like the action is really happening for the first time right now in front of you. In a few short rehearsals our cast has found many new ways to bring their characters to life. On one particular day, I left the room for maybe 15 minutes to make some phone calls to take care of set issues, and when I came back the scene was totally fresh and new. I don’t know what exactly occurred, but all week we have made leaps and bounds in the show. Our run-throughs in the rehearsal room have been highly complimented, even by veteran designers and crew, who usually don’t come to runs to be entertained or moved.

Today was our first day onstage, and the excitement of the show in the rehearsal room has been topped by the excitement of the show on the set. The depth and texture of the structure really makes the action pop off the stage. Everything just looks so good and feels so comfortable. A large part of what we had to do today was to adjust spacing for the actual set, but we haven’t hit any problems, just things we can now refine better in three dimensions.

In the most unexpected good news ever, our platform Fred does not appear to need brakes. Through some combination of the quality of castors and the fact that it’s moving on marley, it rolls almost silently, yet has enough weight and stability that it doesn’t move at all even under significant leaning and sitting. It moves easily when you want it to, and not at all when you don’t. It’s like the scenic holy grail! So we have had to take back all the nasty things we said about Fred.

The theatre has a very warm feel. It’s very intimate, yet also has a grandeur that feels like working in a real honest-to-goodness professional theatre. And of course the Guthrie facility provides all the little goodies a stage manager wants. At my personal tech table, I have plenty of power and ethernet, my headset console, with four channels (of which I assume we’ll use three — deck, lighting and sound), a paging mic, infrared and color monitor, and a cue light panel that I hope to God we don’t need. We have cue lights set up here, but I’d really rather not have to worry about that on the road if all our actor entrances can be handled by Nick giving hand signals off my cue. Anyway, the best part of the cue light panels here is that they have a built-in electric pencil sharpener. Uh huh. Yes, they do. I believe the reason I never blogged about this last year is that they removed the panel from my tech table before I got a chance to take a picture. So this year I made sure I did:

As you can see, it’s a regular electric pencil sharpener that just fits right into the casing. It almost makes me wish I used regular pencils.

My other favorite thing in the room today was our rehearsal mock-up of the victrola we have in the show (what does a victrola have to do with R&J? Well part of what happens at the Capulet party is that Capulet shows off his new technological purchases, such as this fancy device that plays music by itself, and electric lights). In the rehearsal room, we used a cardboard box that vaguely resembled a pizza box, so while waiting for the real victrola to be delivered (supposedly Tuesday), our prop master, Scotty, wanted to make us a more accurate mock-up to use on stage.

Here’s what it looks like before it’s unveiled at the party:

Looks pretty nice, huh? And here’s what it actually is:

I think it’s the greatest rehearsal prop ever. Most of the cast hadn’t seen under the sheet before we rehearsed the party scene, so the reaction when the new victrola was unveiled was very special!

Our day went very well today. Between getting spacing done for all the major scenes, and apparently solving the Fred problems, we’re in good shape. At my urging, everybody on the production team who’s in town was present for the entire rehearsal, as well as our two local carpenters, Craig and Sarah, who are awesome. It’s so nice to finally all be in one room and able to discuss things in real time. That’s why I find tech less stressful than the rehearsal process — aside from learning to call the show, what I really have to do is guide all these people who are specialists in their respective fields to work together and solve problems, and I find that fairly easy and relaxing, once all the people are in place.

We have a very welcome day off (our second in four days, due to our weird Christmas schedule shaking out back to a normal schedule), and then we begin tech on Tuesday.