March 1, 2010

New York Wrap-Up

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:15 am

Tomorrow morning we hit the road again. The entire traveling company is flying together, which is a first in my time. We’re flying to St. Louis, where we will meet our buses and drive to Poplar Bluff, MO for our next show. We spent a day in Poplar Bluff last year, and it was a good day. The students and technicians there were very friendly and eager to work. And the Holiday Inn had surprisingly good internet.

For the Children

Our student matinees turned out a little strangely. First of all, despite the enjoyment of fulfilling the company’s prime mission of educating audiences, a student matinee is usually something approached with a bit of dread, only because for some of us it means getting up at 5:30. In the morning. As opposed to most performances, which require getting up at 5:30, at night. So being home, and therefore for the most part farther from the venue than we would be on the road — in many cases much farther — we stumbled in for our 10AM matinee. The crew arrived for the 8:30 show call, the cast at 9:00 for warmup or 9:15 for fight call.

We drank as much coffee as we needed, and stumbled through our pre-show rituals. I turned the house over to house management, called half hour (or had Nick do it), and went to crash in the greenroom with the rest of the crew and some of the cast. At around fifteen minutes to curtain, Corey noticed that it was awfully quiet — on this particular day the doors were all open from the greenroom to the stage. “Shouldn’t 200 kids be making more noise?”

It’s my personal responsibility to put the show on the stage at the designated curtain time, and as everything was proceeding according to plan for that, I wasn’t really concerned with whether or not the audience was coming. But when Corey and Joseph quickly returned with the news that there was no audience, the greenroom soon emptied out.

We cautiously wandered onto the stage in the empty theatre, feeling a bit like we were trespassing by being on stage so close to curtain time. One actor described it as standing in the middle of an empty Times Square. But sure enough, there was no audience! Joseph got on the phone with the office, and with our education director, Justin, who was upstairs waiting for the kids to arrive. Nobody knew where they were.

I called five, still not knowing whether we were having a show. We learned that all the students were from one school, so if they had all decided not to come, there would be no show. We began fantasizing about going home and going back to bed (we had an 8PM show that night).

At 10AM, there was still no word. This was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. Actors wandered onto the stage in full costume for the prologue, ready to be at places. We all just sort of paced about, waiting to see what would happen, and marveling at the idea of being at places and having no audience.

Now, mind you, I have had the experience before, but in the situation of Off-Off-Broadway shows that legitimately have not sold any tickets. That’s a very weird situation, too, but entirely different when you’ve got a tiny unknown show in some hole-in-the-wall theatre and are aware of the possibility that nobody has heard of you or particularly wants to see you. But this was a sold-out performance, with no indication from the ticketholders that they weren’t coming!
Finally at 10:05 we got word that the first half of the kids were a block away. With the theatre being three stories underground, we knew that would still take a while.

The cast was very patient, conserving their carefully-stored energy for 20 minutes while we waited for all the kids to arrive. They were a student audience like only NYC schools can provide, but despite their talking through the whole show and spitting gum on the marley, they were listening, by golly! I expect student audiences to be rowdy, but personally all I care about is that they’re following the show. If they’re whooping and hollering at the sex jokes, they’ve already succeeded at understanding something about Shakespeare’s writing. This particular audience really got into the fights. I think that was definitely enhanced by the intimacy at Baruch, where the swords were flying just a few feet in front of their faces. One of my favorite moments during a student show is when, after an entire act watching the characters fight with sticks and umbrellas, Mercutio and Tybalt pull apart the canes they’ve been fighting with to reveal sword blades. The two fighting swordcanes were handmade specifically for the show by a weaponsmith in Minneapolis, and are quite badass — basically a long rapier blade with a tiny piece of wood for a handle, no hand guards or anything. I figure if anyone is left in the audience who’s bored or thinks they won’t see anything that catches their interest, that moment will do it. And these particular kids were big fans of that.

Our other student matinee of the week also had problems, but they were much simpler and solved earlier in the day — we got hit with a big snowstorm the day before, and all NYC schools were closed by the mayor. We had to get up, but we had official word by 6:30 that the show was off, and after a hastily-concocted phone chain, the whole company and local crew was notified, and we could go back to bed until our evening show. It’s too bad we didn’t get to do it, because we hadn’t had a talkback with the other group either, because the show started so late. Every time we’re supposed to have a talkback they end up getting canceled.

But other than the drama with the student shows, everything went well. We loaded out after the final show last night, which we feared would take until 5AM or later because of the convoluted route from the theatre to the street, but we closed the truck at 4:00. And thankfully we had today off so we could catch up on sleep during the day. We changed out some of our lighting equipment, which has made the truck pack a little nicer.

Other Thoughts

I miss the road.

I miss seeing the show. Baruch has the worst view I have ever seen from a booth that doesn’t supplement it with video monitors. When the house is full, you can’t see the stage. End of story. Even if there was no one in the audience, you’d have a big fence railing at exactly the height of an average actor’s face when they’re standing centerstage. So one thing I have gained here is a new appreciation for being able to watch the show. I think I may call from the booth at Poplar Bluff just for that reason.

I also noticed I got more sleep doing one-nighters on tour than I got here. Part of that is the painfully long commute from Washington Heights to 24th and Lex, and the other part is that being at home is full of things to do, as opposed to being crammed on a bus, or in a hotel room with 20 channels you hate on the TV. Also, when you’ve been working for 18 hours straight, there are few things more interesting than going the hell to sleep. When you’ve been working for 10 hours and sitting on a train for 3, there’s still a bit of a desire to be active and do fun things to make up for all the work and sitting around.

I am going to miss being home, though. I haven’t had my fill of snacking, playing computer games, and having unrestricted access to a toilet and a shower. I wish we’d had a few days off here before leaving, because our show and rehearsal schedule has been so hectic. But we have a 5-day vacation in about a month, so that will be a good time to just be at home doing nothing.

Oh, look, I’m supposed to get up in an hour-and-a-half. How does this happen? I hate flying. Hate. It. So. Much.