March 22, 2010

Loading Out

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:51 pm

Today we played our last performance in West Palm Beach. We went up 25 minutes late because a school of 200 (out of 300 seats) was late, but they ended up being a really great audience — very much like what the “groundlings” of Shakespeare’s time are assumed to have been like: rowdy, fans of the bawdy humor, talking back to the stage at times, but completely engrossed in the story. It was a great way to end our run here. It’s a shame we were so late, as it would have been fun to have a talkback with that group.

After the show we began our load-out, which took a little longer than it otherwise would have with such a good crew, because of how tight the stage is, but we could hardly complain on the truck crew because the rain had stopped and the dock was equipped with a couple benches and the most beautiful weather one could ever want while being forced to be outside doing nothing.

Emotional Bus Rollercoaster

Pioneer Coach has been toying with our emotions this past week. On our drive to West Palm we found out that our current bus, which we love about as much as one could love a bus, will not be back with us on the next leg. Despite the initial rumor that it was going on the Jay-Z tour, the current story is that it’s going to some boy band none of us are pre-teeny enough to have heard of. We also haven’t been sure if we’re keeping our driver, Jim. Jim and the bus are not a permanent pair, but when the tour goes on hiatus, there is always a chance that driver or bus could be sent out on a different tour.

Anyway, that has been something of a black cloud hanging over our stay here, knowing that it’s our last week with the bus, and presumably our next bus will not be as cool, or else the boy band wouldn’t be taking ours, right? See the thing is, Pioneer is really nice to The Acting Company, and generally will give us nice buses if they can (especially for the crew, as we really live on the bus), but if somebody with deeper pockets really wants the bus, any time the bus goes home we are at risk of losing it. So it was really no surprise to hear that when we go on vacation we’re losing the bus that’s really better than we deserve.

Today when the show ended — I swear to God, this is how it went:

ME: Electrics 135 and the house lights… Go.

(Booth door bursts open)

DEVON: We’re keeping Jim, and we’re getting a brand new bus!

ME: What? You’re bullshitting me.


ME: Seriously.

DEVON: Bobby just heard it from Jim.

ME: Then Bobby’s bullshitting you.

DEVON: I don’t think so.

ME: I refuse to let myself get excited until I hear it from another source.

Well out on the dock, Jim was hanging out waiting for us to load out, and while we were waiting to load the truck, he confirmed that it was true. The bus is a 2009 model with a slide. I asked what color it is, and he said brown. We later went on the Pioneer site on my iPhone and looked up the pictures and specs of the brown 2009 bus, and found that the interior layout looked very much like ours. The color scheme wasn’t as cozy as ours, but we were very happy. We flipped through the pictures of a couple of the other new buses, including one Devon really liked that had a granite floor in the front lounge.

Then a while later Devon came back to the truck and mentioned the bus number — 9616. I said, “Wait a minute, 9616 isn’t the brown one — that’s the red one with the granite floor!” Well apparently that’s the number, so once again I’m not letting myself get too excited (there’s still two weeks for them to change their minds), but if true, that’s the absolute newest bus. Some pics:

This view looks almost identical to our current bus, except that it doesn’t look like the couch has fold-down armrests (with cupholders), which is a shame. You can never have too many cupholders.

Fancy sink in the kitchen! Our current kitchen is more practical.

Fancy floor! Devon also has learned a little something about the bunks on these newer buses, which you can kind of see in this photo: they apparently curve out at the upper-body end, so you have more room by your head/arms and it narrows by your feet. We’re not sure what we think of this idea, but I’m excited to try it.

Anyway, we’re spending one more night in the hotel in West Palm (Per Diem Vortex: activate!) and then tomorrow evening we’ll be doing a 13-hour drive straight to Chattanooga. It’s been great to be able to settle into a hotel for more than two days, but tonight I packed up (not that I really unpacked anything more than I usually do). In the time between when we check out and when we leave, I may go for a walk around to see the parts of town (like the beach) that I never got to, just to say I’ve seen more than the theatre and the City Place shopping area. There’s a commuter train that goes right past our hotel that goes to cities all along the coast for dirt cheap — I thought about taking a ride just to see some more of Florida, but not sure I’ll have time or energy. Anyway it’s been fun being here, but now it’s time to move on and get even closer to our vacation!

West Palm Beach: Vortex of Per Diem

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:04 am

We are now in the part of the tour that was, for a lot of us, I think, the big selling point of this whole adventure: a week-long sit-down in Florida. Let’s take a look at the budget:

Per diem: $90/day
Hotel room: $99/day


Food: NY prices
Martinis: NY prices


Despite the fact that we’re spending a lot more money here than we would pretty much anywhere else, I think the sunshine and warm weather (remember this is a company that spent the first two months in Minneapolis in winter), combined with the free time and calm routine of a sit-down, has been well worth it.

We’re playing at the Kravis Center, which is a large complex of two indoor theatres and an outdoor amphitheater. Our neighbor across the hall is one of the tours of Jersey Boys, which is in the middle of a three-week run.

Our theatre is a large black box that apparently also gets converted into a dining room for other kind of events. The stage is made of temporary platforms 40 inches high. The tricky part is that all the access to the space is at floor level, meaning that the wingspace is at floor level and the actors have to go up stairs to get to the set and the playing space. Which wouldn’t be such a problem if there was some extra room on the stage platform. But as it is, the set barely fits on the platform, so the moment they get off the physical set they have to deal with stairs. Getting from one entrance to another usually involves exiting, going down stairs, walking along the narrow floor-level space that is crammed with prop tables, and then back up another set of stairs to access a different part of the set. It is cr-a-zy. But it has been the subject of frequent conversations on the crew bus, at venues, hotels, restaurants and bars across the country for months now, and we worked out with the venue staff the best way to prepare the space for our arrival. It’s weird, but the fact that it functions at all is a miracle.

The backstage area is a veritable obstacle course (one actor actually had to vault onto a platform and under a railing because he forgot he had to set himself in a different place for his entrance until the last minute). However, onstage the set actually fits really well into the space. It’s very intimate, but the Rinker has a very high ceiling and an openness that matches the scale of the set well. Sometimes our set is a tiny speck in a house with a 60-foot proscenium, and then there was Baruch where the audience literally had their feet on the stage. The subtitle for the show among the crew and staff during the Baruch load-in was “Shakespeare… IN YOUR FACE!!!” This is a little bit like that because the edge of the marley is only a couple feet from the front row, but it all feels a little more in proportion.

We actually are doing a lot of the Baruch staging for the fights, because the actors are close enough to the edge of the stage, and the audience is lower than where the swords swing out downstage, but still very near, and Corey felt the impending danger would distract the audience from concentrating on the story. Since we did all the legwork at Baruch, we have a bag of tricks that we can pull from selectively when a venue requires a change in staging, and can mix-and-match to only alter the show as much as we have to.

We also had to change some entrances (which we do to a small extent in a lot of venues), many due to the fact that our only stage left entrance is about 18″ wide and down a flight of stairs in view of the audience. Directing traffic through that entrance late in the second act was a bit of a puzzle.

I must say the cast has done a great job of justifying the presence of the onstage escape stairs. It’s not easy to take a show that was staged on a flat surface and suddenly make everyone enter and exit on stairs for no apparent reason. Before the first performance they had a quick discussion of how to handle it, and the basic idea was just to start acting before you get to the stairs. They’re doing a great job making it make some kind of sense in every situation.

We’re doing six performances while we’re here, including two school shows that were originally scheduled to be the 1-hour R&J, but just a week or two ago were changed to be full shows. It required a large flurry of emails among the departments to make sure that could happen (including delaying the load-out for a day), but I’m very happy they made that decision. The 1-hour is a great intro to Shakespeare for groups who for some reason can’t see the full show, but it’s no comparison to a real production with sets, costumes, lighting and sound, and since we’ve got the show loaded in anyway, we might as well go whole hog. It’s more work for us, but the payoff for the audience is exponentially higher in my opinion.

There have also been a number of social events, from birthday parties to free dinner and drinks for the cast and crew at a local restaurant, to a fancy benefit for the cast to mingle with board members and other donors. It’s definitely a change of pace from our usual breakneck pace at which we roll into town, do a show, and roll out.

After this we head to Chattanooga for another sit-down, which includes only two performances of R&J and two days of work on our Alice in Wonderland development process. After that it’s vacation time! So the West Palm stop has been kind of the gateway to our vacation. It won’t be easy when we come back, so we’re enjoying the cushy part of the tour while we can.