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.