January 16, 2010

The Booth Window

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:46 pm

This is my view from the booth window at the Guthrie. It’s pretty comfy. Tonight I moved our printer up here, and now I can do all of our end-of-night paperwork and phone hotline recording from here, instead of having to office-hop all over the building at the end of the night.

Gold Star for Actors

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:08 pm

In my own mind, I award gold stars to actors who perform acts of extraordinary technical assistance while onstage. Today we had several worthy candidates.

In the party scene, Romeo dropped his (thankfully plastic) champagne glass, which is filled with diluted tea. Almost as soon as it fell, several party guests and servants were wiping it up with their handkerchiefs. One of the things I find most important with a new company is figuring out which actors have a special awareness of these kind of things and will take the initiative to fix onstage mishaps.

When Romeo threw his coat on the back of a bench and it slid off the back, Friar Laurence (Ray Chapman) picked it up and dusted it off completely in character, and laid it back on the bench nicely, which saves the scene change at the end where Romeo needs to grab it quickly.

And finally, Benvolio’s hat somehow got stuck onstage just upstage of a bench centerstage, where it would be very difficult to get it off through most of the very dramatic scenes in Act II. I didn’t think it was worth trying to get it off for the next half hour or so. Myxolydia Tyler, who plays a combination of Capulet servants we have compressed into one character named Perrin, had a plan, though, so I said she should try. What she did was the greatest act of sleight-of-hand I have ever witnessed in a career filled with actors trying to nonchalantly get incongruous props offstage. She hid a HAT, while also dealing with a serving tray and two (real) glasses filled with liquid, while standing, sitting, and then standing again and exiting. It was amazing.

I also have to give credit to Penny, our director, as during the rehearsal process when these kind of things would happen, she would stress to the actors the importance of dealing with unexpected events in a realistic manner, both because it makes sense to the audience, and because it’s often necessary for technical reasons to get things off the stage that shouldn’t be there. I very much appreciated her emphasis on that.

This was the first show where we really had to deal with these kind of problems, and I’m very impressed with how the cast responded.

In the Run

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:00 am

We’ve now done 3 official performances at the Guthrie. The day after opening, the rest of our out-of-town collaborators took off, and now it’s just the traveling company here in Minneapolis, along with visits from some of our local creative team — such as Andrew Wade, our vocal coach / guru, who has continued to surprise us by showing up in person to conduct his famous pre-show warm-up, when he has had free time from Macbeth rehearsals downstairs.

But for the most part, this has become like another stop on the tour. Everyone has gone home, and Corey and I are now maintaining the show. We don’t yet have our touring crew here (mostly because there’s nothing for them to do because we’re in a union house). They will show up a few days before we leave to learn their tracks and then load the show out.

To catch you up on what’s been happening since we started previews…

We’ve had great houses, and our notes from each preview were minimal, and the rehearsals during the day very easy-going. We were still tweaking things here and there, but there was no great rush or panic about it.

On the night of the final preview, Nick and I took Ashley to dinner as our official thank you for her help throughout our process. However, she hasn’t been needed that much for Macbeth, so she’s still assigned to us for the time being. In addition to helping us as we go back into rehearsal for Alice in Wonderland and the one-hour version of R&J that we will perform for younger audiences, she’s going to observe as much as possible of calling the show and Nick’s deck track (neither of which are particularly challenging or unusual, unfortunately).

Opening night was fun. We had just a few hours of rehearsal, but the rest of our time was taken up with preparations for the opening night events, and organizing and distributing the opening night gifts for the cast and creative team. It was kind of fun getting to play Santa Claus, sneaking into all the dressing rooms while everyone was out to dinner and leaving the bright red Acting Company tote bags, with two luggage tags and an Acting Company frisbee inside.

On Fireworks

On the day off, Laura (who plays Juliet) went to speak to one of the schools that came to our invited dress. She revealed that their favorite part of the show was the fireworks in the party scene. I found this absolutely hysterical since I think of the fireworks as some sort of stage management torture device, rather than something I should be patting myself on the back for. Basically instead of the lights and sound being programmed with a delay so they execute together, the sound cue of the rocket whistling up and then exploding is called first, and then I call the light cue to create the flash with the explosion sound. I managed to get them to put a delay on the first one because it executes with another sound cue, making the rocket almost impossible to hear. The first time I called the show from the booth was during the invited dress, where I realized I needed a dedicated monitor with just sound effects in it to call it well. It was nice to find out that the kids thought the fireworks looked good, even when I couldn’t hear what I was doing.

I had to go through this exact same thing last year with The Spy, in which several military flares were sent up in identical fashion, except it was even better because we only did the show like once a month, so I had even less time to get good at it! This show has about 8 fireworks effects more-or-less back-to-back, and based on my experience from last year, I’m getting decent at it pretty quickly. It’s pretty much the only thing I do in the show that’s difficult or in any way flashy from a stage management perspective, so hearing that it was memorable makes me feel good.

I know that all of my contributions help tell the story and elicit emotion in the audience, but it can be an adjustment to go from cueing falling chandeliers and towering pillars of flame, to calling nothing but graceful scene change light and underscoring, that are most effective when the audience isn’t really aware of them happening. So I do look forward to the fireworks as the one point in the show where everyone gets to admire the cool technical effect.

As the show settles in, I can now take time to start working on the finer nuances of my cues and really fitting them into the way the show breathes. There is an art to that as well, although it requires a little more patience to reap the rewards of it than the immediate positive feedback of getting a chandelier to explode perfectly on cue. I’m looking forward to really starting to work in depth on making each cue perfect.

Student Matinee

Yesterday we had our first student matinee, which went really well. We also had our first talkback after the show. I absolutely love doing talkbacks, so I always look forward to this. Corey did a great job moderating. He had also done a pre-show session with the students, so he had given them things to think about and discuss after seeing the show. I’m always very impressed how well the kids are prepared when they see the show, which is a testament to their teachers and the people in the education departments of the Acting Company and the Guthrie. On another note, it’s also fun to do talkbacks with a new company of actors because you usually learn new things about your coworkers by listening to their answers.