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April 26, 2010

Stage Management Survey

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:35 pm

A while back I took a stage management survey that I saw advertised in an issue of Equity News (which is a monthly newspaper for Equity members). It was organized by a stage management class at the University of Iowa.

There was recently another note in the Equity News that the results are now available at smsurvey.info. Based on their numbers, they got approximately 15% of all Equity stage managers to respond, which is really cool. It’s only a few hundred people, but in such a small profession, that’s a good turnout. The survey was open to students and non-Equity professionals as well, but it’s much harder to know how many of them are out there.

It was a very extensive survey, and the analysis of the results is quite detailed. If you’re interested, I encourage you to take a look, I’m not going to quote all of it here.

I will paraphrase some parts of interest:

  • Stage managers have no personal lives
  • Female stage managers especially have no personal lives
  • More people (12%) have called a show from a computer than I would have imagined, and not just young people. I very much want to do this, but I have not settled on the software that would work best (during a very boring load-in recently I wrote the first two pages of my R&J calling script in HTML/CSS. It was fun, but time-consuming and way more complicated to get proper margins than just doing it in Word.) They mentioned InDesign for making calling scripts (not necessarily to call on screen), which has kind of blown my mind, and must be thought upon.
  • Young people like calling from booths, old people like calling from backstage. I don’t even remember what I responded. If the options are both equally viable, that question generally will shut down all my brain function for several minutes. I probably said backstage, though. I like both for different reasons, and on tour, being in a different theatre almost every day, sometimes I mix it up just for the sake of mixing it up.

The statistic of particular interest to me is that 11% of responding stage managers call light cues as “electrics.” This has been a frequent topic of debate on the tour because I say “electrics,” and it’s unusual, and especially unusual for someone of my age. Indeed the survey found that the percentage was more than twice as high among older stage managers.

Devon (our lighting director) had a little informal survey of his own that he would do in every venue: He would always be in the booth at the start of our first show, and would watch the reaction of the board op to the first cue, and would note if they were a) completely clueless that “Electrics 2” was them, b) a little bit thrown off for a second, or c) reacted like it was totally normal. We didn’t keep records of the results or anything, and we also played a variety from IATSE houses to high schools, so the experience of the board op varied quite a bit. But on the whole I would say that the majority of the reaction to it leaned toward the belief that it was at least a little bit weird.

And now, a little bit about why I say “electrics:”

It has been a consistency in my entire Equity career that at any given time I need to be ready to call two shows: the show I am currently employed on, and Phantom. Phantom (being from the dawn of time) uses “electrics,” thus by calling my other show the same way, I am less likely to screw up by saying the wrong word. Especially earlier in my career when I was doing short runs of showcases and stuff, it was very common for me to be calling a couple performances of Phantom and a couple performances of something else in the same week.

I also think that “electrics” is a better idea because there are so many syllables that the chances of the board op not hearing it, or mistaking it for another word, is almost impossible. It’s a little more work for me to speak it all, but I think that’s worth it to increase the chances of the cue coming out right. I have done a few shows where certain sequences were so fast that I had to switch to “lights” (just for those parts) because there really wasn’t time for three syllables.

The program intends to conduct another survey in 2011, so be on the lookout for it!


April 23, 2010

The Computer Rental

I call this: computers,mac,On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:33 pm

As you know, my Macbook Pro’s screen finally died this week. It died after I got home from the show on Wednesday. Thursday morning I brought it to the theatre and plugged it into the spare light board monitor in my office. There it served sort of like a desktop computer, while I had to write down the running times with a pencil, of all things. Then I took notes on my iPhone. Then at intermission and after the show I went to the office and actually entered everything into the database.

Between shows I went to the Apple Store and bought a new Macbook Pro. I got it home about an hour-and-a-half before our van call for the evening show, so I got as far as cloning my old drive (almost) before I had to leave. As the transfer was still going on, I decided I really could survive without a computer for one performance.

Nick had a good idea, which was for me to email him the database file so I could have his computer on the calling desk, and it would be exactly the same as usual — except his 13″ Macbook would fit on the desk better.

When we arrived I went out on a Starbucks run. I was feeling good about my purchase, and still have a ton of money on my Starbucks card (because we’ve rarely been near a Starbucks on the road), so when Nick tried to give me money to pick him up something to drink, I said I’d take care of it. We then agreed that the venti iced tea lemonade would be payment for the rental of his computer.

When I got back to the office with our drinks, Bobby was sitting at my desk, and casually gestured to a piece of paper and said, “Nick left you an invoice.” I really wasn’t gone more than 10 or 12 minutes, and Nick came up with a brilliant plan. I have encased it in a sheet protector and hung it in our road box.

Nick’s Macbook on the calling desk (which is very crowded and normally requires my script pages to lie on top of the wrist rest, so the 13″ size was a nice change!)


April 22, 2010

Macbook Pro i7 Review

I call this: computers,mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 11:53 pm

Today between shows I purchased the new 2010 unibody Macbook Pro with Intel’s new i7 processor. My faithful 2007 Macbook Pro finally gave up the ghost from the screen problem it’s been having for the last six months or so.

First Impressions

It’s so pretty. Throughout all of this you have to remember that while I have a lot of friends with unibody Macbooks, most of my experience is with the older style body, so there are things here that are new or unusual to me that will not be shocking if you own a more recent model.

I love the rounded curves. It feels so much thinner. The unboxing experience was very simple, but even expecting Apple’s typical style, I had to stop and admire it, despite the fact that I was in a huge rush to get it up and running before the evening show. I failed miserably at that, by the way. I didn’t even get as far as finishing the clone of my old drive.

I just can’t get into the black keyboard. I’m still firmly in the phase of adjusting to a new tactile experience, and I think like most people I will soon prefer typing on it, but black plastic in the midst of an otherwise characteristic Apple design of sleek aluminum is weird. It’s like something you’d find on a PC, slapped in the middle of the most Apple-like hardware you could imagine. I mean it’s a single slab of aluminum, with a trackpad. It doesn’t even have a mouse button. The speaker holes are so tiny you can barely see them. Even the power button is trying to hide in the corner hoping no one will notice it. And in the midst of all this cutting-edge design, the keyboard is black plastic. I’m going to assume Jonathan Ive is smarter than me, but I don’t get it. I can only imagine he wanted something else and it was impractical, and for some reason white plastic looked worse — maybe because it would be harder to make it light up, or look good when lit up. I also recognize that the glossy screen (which is the way Apple obviously intended this model to be seen) has a black border, which would make the black keys look a little bit less like they wandered in off a Vaio.

Screen

I got the 15″ high-end model (2.66GHz) with the hi-res anti-glare screen. The first thing you should know: this is not a build-to-order option — you don’t need to order it online. Which is important because I’m reading that people ordering them online are being told there are shipping delays on the anti-glare screen. I called Apple Stores in the last three cities we’ve been in, while my MBP was gasping its last, and every single one of them had this model in stock. In many cases they only had the 2.66GHz one, not the lower-end 15″. But if you want the one I have, you can just walk into a store and get it.

I’m not ashamed to say I’m one of those snobs who won’t use a glossy screen, because it’s so important for my “design work.” And it’s just annoying. Apple discontinued the matte screen in most models for a while, and I’m not sure how many iterations of the feature they’ve gone through since then, but to dispel any rumors, it is indeed a matte screen, despite the fact that they’ve changed the nomenclature to “anti-glare.” I don’t want to poke it too hard, but it looks to me to be the same type of screen the older matte models have. It’s not a glossy screen with a coating or anything horrible like that. As far as my eyes can tell, it’s the same kind of screen that used to be default on all their laptops.

One fact Apple doesn’t much advertise is that the matte screen still has the silver border around it like the older Macbook Pros and Powerbooks, not the black border that many people think looks very slick on the glossy screens. This has to do with the fact that the sheet of glass on the glossy screen can hold everything in in one unbroken expanse of screen, but the matte screen needs some support to hold it in. I’m not bothered by it in terms of design, but I must say that given how sexy the body design of the unibody is, I was disappointed to find that the silver bezel is actually wider than on my old one. The screen is the same size, but in some ways it looks smaller or more low-tech because it doesn’t have a fancy thin edge around it. The glossy screen’s edge isn’t that thin either, but black is slimming, and the glass extends all the way across the surface, so people don’t tend to notice. My new screen also has a black piece of rubber all around the outer edge, which probably does awesome things in regards to making it close nicely, but the black against the silver also accentuates how fat the border is.

Size

I’m sure the above situation was necessary not because of how the screen is made, but because of the width of the base, which must need to be that wide to hold all the internal components in such a thin package. Obviously the lid needs to be as big as the base, but a 15.4″ screen is a 15.4″ screen, and if the lid gets bigger, there will be more blank space around the edges.

I was surprised, when I tried to pack up my old MBP for travel in the new one’s box: the box has a form-fitting cutout for the computer, and I was sure it wouldn’t fit. Actually the old one fits inside with room to spare. It’s much taller, but the box doesn’t care about that. In two dimensions, at least, the unibody is bigger. My first reaction was how hard it can be to cram it onto a calling desk already, now I’ve got additional millimeters to worry about. It also explained for me why I often see the models in the Apple Store and think I’m looking at the 17″ (because it’s bigger than mine), but it’s really the 15″. This is why I decided the 17″ was a bad idea, despite considering it last year.

Little Details I Am Just Getting

These are old features, but they are new for me and make me happy:

  • Multi-touch trackpad! Basically the one feature I wished my old MBP had. The best part of this is the four-finger up-or-down swipe, which does two different kinds of Expos√©. Now I can stop using my F-keys as F-keys and let them perform the special tasks they’re intended for like playing music and adjusting brightness, since I don’t have to devote any of them to Expos√©. Other features I will use a lot include forward and back browsing, and zoom in and out.
  • iPhone headphones control music playback. This is just a nice detail. I actually forgot my 3GS headphones (with the volume buttons) on this leg of the tour, so I have been using my backup pair (with just the play/pause button) for the last month or however-the-hell-long we’ve been out here. So I haven’t been able to test the volume control, but I’m very excited to.

The old Switcheroo

Just getting to the point of playing with it was a big ordeal because of the way I wanted to set it up. I bought a new hard drive for my old MBP right before going on tour, about six months ago. It’s 320GB, 7200rpm. I felt that the slow HD speed was the bottleneck on the computer’s performance, so I was very happy to upgrade it. I’m still totally satisfied with it, both speed and capacity-wise, so I wanted to install it in the new machine, and take the stock 500GB 5400rpm drive and put it in the old machine. Because of the differences in hardware and related system files, you can’t just swap them and turn the things on, so it involved a lot of booting in firewire mode to shift all the bits and bytes around (see the comments for another perspective).

When I opened up the back to change the hard drive, I was struck by how orderly and tightly packed everything is. We heard all about this in some Steve Jobs keynote years ago, but seeing it in person (after just opening my old MBP, which is not quite as tidy and densely packed inside) really emphasizes how much care Apple put into creating as small a package as possible with as many features as possible.

In case you’ve arrived here interested in the hard drive swap, here’s the order of operations.

Swapping the hard drive in your new Mac for your old one

  • Do an additional external backup of your old drive (Time Machine or whatever)
  • Put the new computer in target disk mode by holding “T” while it boots
  • Connect the two computers by firewire
  • Using Disk Utility, format the new disk for Mac OS Journaled
  • Using a utility like SuperDuper (free), make a bootable clone of your old drive onto the new drive
  • Shut down both computers, and physically swap the drives (find instructions online for how to do that with the model you have — on older ones this will void the warranty)
  • Boot the old computer (containing the new drive, which is now a clone of the old one). It should boot perfectly, as if nothing has happened.
  • Turn on the new computer in target disk mode, and connect the computers using firewire.
  • Using Disk Utility from the old computer, format the old drive (which is in the new computer) as Mac OS Journaled.
  • Eject the firewire connection from the old computer, and disconnect the cables. Shut down the new computer.
  • Insert your Mac OS install DVD into the new computer (if it’s shut down it won’t go all the way in, but it will be sucked in upon booting).
  • Power on the new computer, holding down the “C” button to boot from the CD.
  • Follow the regular Mac OS install proceedures.

Speed?

Rule #1: I hate benchmarks. They bore me. My assessment of hardware generally falls into three results:
1. OMG holy shit that’s fast!
2. Fast enough
3. Slow and it pisses me off!

I have been really busy this week, and haven’t actually done anything more than what I need my computer for to do my job and some casual web browsing. I haven’t touched my Windows partition yet. I’m kind of scared, because it’s the one from my old MBP.

When I have opinions about more demanding processes I will update — certainly when I get around to gaming I will have opinions — but if you want benchmarks, there are many sites that specialize in that better than I ever could with my limited number of models to test — so that, combined with the fact that I don’t even care enough to read their analysis in depth, much less write my own, is why you will not find it here.

Update:
I’ve now had the machine for almost three months, and my assessment is that it’s good but not incredibly noticeable during normal use. Maybe the bottleneck is still the hard drive, and that’s why it feels exactly the same as before. My hope when I bought it was that maybe a year or so later, an SSD drive of respectable size would be available for a reasonable price. And I’m sure sometime around then, 8GB of ram would be really cheap. I haven’t quite mentally grasped the situation of 8GB being a “normal” amount of RAM yet, but when it’s cheap enough, I’ll buy it just because, and maybe I’ll see why. When I bought my last MBP I bought 4GB of RAM (which was relatively expensive at the time) because I was using the machine to run full-motion-video-with-audio projections for Singin’ in the Rain, and it made an enormous difference overnight — just before we opened we increased the resolution of all the videos, and they looked much better, and played much more smoothly. So I’m sure with the quad core and everything else, this thing has more power under the hood that I would find if I was doing more video and other demanding activities.

Gaming on this machine definitely feels smoother. Compared to my last MBP, its performance reminds me more of my home PC. That’s not to say it’s as good as a full PC, but it’s more similar. My PC also was last upgraded in 2008, so it’s not cutting-edge.

I’ve also been wondering more about buying Windows 7. Of all the things to drop a couple hundred bucks on, Windows doesn’t sound like the best investment, but I’m starting to feel like it might be approaching the point where the advantages of an OS that can support more than 3GB of RAM, and other advanced features of the hardware, is more helpful than the possibility of incompatibility with games and gaming hardware. I still think XP is solid, for what I need it for at least, but I’m starting to feel how old it is, especially because a lot of the newer games require at least Vista. I think trying Windows 7 on this machine might be a good way to start out with it, before screwing up my gaming rig.

Battery Life

In addition to my lack of patience with benchmarks, I also don’t feel the need to sit around with a stopwatch calculating battery life, especially when there are many kinds of activities that can have an impact on how quickly the battery is drained. What I will say is that after a full day of using the computer off the battery during two shows, the little picture of the battery in my menu bar was showing it getting very close to running out (maybe a quarter of the bar full). When you click on said icon, it estimates the actual time remaining. What, percentage-wise, was “almost run out” was estimated at over two more hours of run time! Now bear in mind that I haven’t been using the machine that long, and the system may or may not be smart enough to have properly calibrated the battery without a full charge cycle. But it’s funny that with a 9-hour battery life (basically double that of my last computer), what used to mean “time to plug it in” now means something entirely different.

Update:
The battery got amazing life on the first day at work, as I said. After that it went through some period where it was more like 5 hours for a few charge cycles, which had me worried. But that first day the wifi was off because the theatre’s wifi sucked, and there were few apps running in the background, so who knows how many factors may have been different. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to get 9 hours during normal use. With your wifi and bluetooth off, brightness down, and not running any apps that engage the Nvidia video card (some of which are completely nonsensical — my RSS reader triggers it!), then it’s a possibility. With more heavy usage, I think 5 hours is probably about right. I very often get through a whole work day without plugging it in, because I’m a little careful with pacing my usage throughout the day. For a performance, you can run it the whole time, no problem.

External Display Disappointment

One thing that has been a complaint about recent Macbook Pros is that Apple did away with the full-size DVI video-out port, and has switched to Mini Displayport (MDP). What this means (theoretically) is that you now need a new adapter (which inexplicably doesn’t come with the computer, where before you always got one or two most common ones for free). But if you’re thinking “OK fine, I’ll get the MDP to DVI adapter, and then use my old DVI adapters, and I can connect to anything,” you’re in for some disappointment.

While not indicated on the packaging anywhere (although the baggie is clear and you could just look at the connector), the MDP-DVI adapter does not support DVI-I. In practical terms, what that means is that the four little pins that surround the big horizontal pin are not supported. The female end of the connector only has a slot for the horizontal pin, so if you have a DVI-I connector you’d like to plug in, you can’t, because there aren’t any holes for those four pins. In more technical terms, DVI-I supports analog as well as digital connections (so in order to connect to VGA or RCA equipment, you need that analog signal). So although the packaging just says “DVI” all over it, it is very specifically DVI-D.

So OK, now you’re thinking, “Alright, so Apple gets me to buy a bunch more $30 adapters so I can connect to all this different stuff.” Well, no. Apparently not. See, as far as I can tell, some of those adapters don’t exist. First of all, there is no adapter that supports DVI-I, so there’s no hope of chaining it to your old adapters (which would probably be bad for video quality at some point, but if you’re stuck between “works” and “doesn’t work” it wouldn’t be a bad fix). Also, I see no MDP-RCA adapter listed on the Apple site. There is an MDP-VGA, which I have recently purchased, which works fine for using my Samsung TV as a second monitor. I think Apple then expects you to get an adapter somewhere else that goes from VGA to RCA or S-video.

All I can say about these cables is be very careful. Apple has been bouncing around with various types of mini connectors on their laptops and desktops in recent years, so there’s a lot of Mini Displayport, Mini DVI, Mini VGA, etc.

Most of all, and I’m not sure if this is a defective product or by design, the MDP-DVI adapter I first bought does not work with my Apple Cinema Display. This is an old monitor from 2002, with an ADC connector on it, which is plugged into a KVM switch which can switch between two DVI inputs (from my PC and Mac) so I can share the screen and keyboard/mouse with two machines. It’s an unconventional setup, but the point is it receives its signal from DVI-D, it works with the other three computers in the house, and it should work. I get nothing. No indication from computer or monitor that anything is happening or plugged in. Now I have read on the reviews page for this item on the Apple site, that a number of people have purchased defective connectors of this type, and upon buying one (or sometimes more!) replacements, it suddenly worked fine. But I don’t have another DVI monitor to test with at the moment, so I have no way of knowing if it’s just a bad connector. But I intend to find out.


April 21, 2010

Musings on Musicals

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:53 am

In relation to my last post about the IRNE Awards, as well as various Facebook posts among friends about it, I put on a couple cast albums of last year’s shows, and a few minutes into the opening number of Mame was reminded of something very special.

It was the feeling of calling a first preview of a show with about 600 cues (maybe a third of which can hurt somebody), having maybe run it once before, if you’re lucky. While the relative relaxation of premiering a show you’re sort of comfortable with is nice, there is a thrill in doing the former which is probably the stage management equivalent of skydiving. I don’t understand why anybody would want to risk jumping out of a plane just because it’s fun, and I know there are people who would never want to stage manage a musical, but I find that after I’ve been terrified out of my mind and survived, it’s really fun. Maybe the being terrified is what makes it fun later.

I should also mention that I am always nervous before a first preview, no matter how easy or well-teched the show. On R&J our stage management intern, Ashley, was in the booth with me for first preview, partially to observe the call, and partially to take a final round of scene timings on my computer. I was probably as comfortable in my knowledge of the show as I’ve ever been in my career. Just before we started, I turned to her and said, “Just so you know, I’m really nervous right now,” and she said, “That’s good to know that it’s not bad that I feel that way when I do a show.” I said, “That’s why I’m telling you!”

As we come to the end of this year’s R&J tour, I presumably have to get my head in gear to call some more big musicals (not to mention the biggest musical of all time, which I need to be call-able on five days from now). I’ve been very addicted to Pandora Radio and other popular music for a while now. think I need to listen to more showtunes.


IRNE Awards Shoutout

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:42 am

The IRNE Awards were last night — that’s the Independent Reviewers of New England, basically the theatre awards for the Boston area and other New England environs. I’ve never been to the IRNEs or anything, but it’s something I like to follow because I usually have a few horses in the race.

This year it was productions of Hello, Dolly, Mame and La Cage that I was PSM for at the Reagle Players this past year.

I’m pleased to say that we won six awards including Best Musical.

The winners were:

  • Best Choreography: David Scala for La Cage
  • Best Supporting Actor: R.Glen Michell in Mame (Beau) and La Cage (Dindon)
  • Best Actress: Rachel York in Hello, Dolly! (um, Dolly. Obviously.)
  • Best Actor: David Engel in La Cage (Albin)
  • Best Musical Direction: Daniel Rodriguez and Jeffrey P. Leonard for Dolly and La Cage
  • Best Musical: La Cage

We had many other worthy nominees, many of whom lost to the people above. They were: Susan Chebookjian for choreography on Dolly, Maureen Brennan (Mame) and Sarah Pfisterer (Dolly) for Supporting Actress, Jamie Ross (Georges in La Cage, who was just as important to the charm of the show as David, but naturally had the less flashy role — literally!), Worth Howe (Dolly) and David Scala (La Cage) for Best Director, who were both a real pleasure to work with, Troy Costa for Most Promising Performance by a Child Actor for Mame, and finally Dolly was also up for Best Musical — which is a tough choice, as it may or may not have been the best show I’ve ever done. At least until we did La Cage a few months later.

I also have to give a shoutout to Anita Yavich, who is an awesome costume designer I worked with on Henry V, who won for her design on The Miracle at Naples.

Anyway, if the IRNEs are anything like the Tonys, they would be motivated only by political and financial concerns, by a bunch of people who haven’t seen half the shows nominated. So I hope they’re not. I prefer instead to think that we are being recognized for our good work this past summer. It’s nice to think that my work might have contributed in some way to the impact the show had to earn it Best Musical, especially since I haven’t been able to have that degree of impact doing Shakespeare for the last six months. It is truly time to go home.


April 17, 2010

On the Subject of Star Dressing Rooms

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:35 pm

On this leg of the tour I have taken the majority of my showers in star dressing rooms around the country, and it’s gotten me thinking: I’m no star, but if I was, I would be distressed by the fact that most venues have not provided any hooks or towel racks in my bathroom. Maybe I’m going to dress in the dressing room proper, but maybe I would like a place to hang my towel, or a toiletries bag, if not my clothing.

One recent venue not only had no hooks or racks in the bathroom, but no mirrors as well!

Of course as a stage manager, the dressing room itself is usually my office, so I can’t use it as a getting-naked-place, which makes the lack of anywhere to hang or place anything off the floor in the bathroom (including the toilet, which almost never has a seat that can be closed) even more frustrating. Sometimes this is only made workable by the presence of a railing for the handicapped, over which clothes can be draped, or toiletries bags hung, but this is far from a civilized solution, and is often too low to the ground, so that it risks things dragging on the wet floor.

Nobody cares what I think about this, but I think the stars should be like “WTF, I’m bringing thousands of people to your theatre, and you couldn’t spend $3 at a hardware store and screw one lousy hook into the wall?”


April 13, 2010

Nick’s Revenge

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:18 pm

Nick has been seeking revenge on me for some time for some alleged misbehavior on my part. When we were in Tyler, TX, he executed his plan to get back at me, and then made a hysterical video about it. There have been many tour videos, but I think this one will stand out as the best. He made it in iMovie ’09 in about four hours on the bus.


Week from Hell, Part 2

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:56 pm

We are in the middle of our infamous overnight load-in. We had a show in Wallingford, CT this morning at 10AM. Immediately after load-out we began driving to Keene, NH. After a stop for some fast food, we got to Keene with about 15 minutes to spare.

The Colonial Theatre is very small, but really cool. Everything is really old but beautifully maintained, which is fun. There are even wooden catwalks up in the flies. I’d really like to get to go up there. The theatre is so small that Nick and I have evacuated to the bus just to get out of everybody’s way.

We had a bit of negotiating to do when we arrived, as the measurement we decided on for the placement of the set would have prevented the entrances from being used the usual way. Since Florida, we have an option for getting actors from our “hobbit hole” entrance to the up-right door without any room upstage of the set, but it involves building the hobbit hole backwards, which does weird things to lighting, as well as just plain not being the way the set was designed. It is nice, though, to have gathered an established set of options along the way that we can quickly consider when we encounter challenges. In the end, we placed the set another six inches downstage, which makes lighting a little more difficult downstage, but it was already way farther down than it should be, and with much less frontlight than usual, so gaining a few more inches upstage that allows us to move around the set properly was the better deal.

Nick and I are blogging while watching an old episode of Star Trek: TNG, as I wait by my radio for Devon to call me in to start focus. Nick is done, having put up the signage with his new Tactical Signage Deployment Unit. You may recall that he has a Signage Purse. Well we didn’t pick the Signage Purse, it belonged to the previous stage managers, so the fact that it was pink wasn’t really a choice. But Nick has wanted to have a more manly signage folder for a long time, and in light of certain jokes I’ve played on him, I felt it was my duty to provide him with the manliest signage folder imaginable before the tour was over, and that he could take with him to future jobs. I’ve been working on it for about a week, and here is the result:

It has some advanced practical features like a clip on the side for a dry-erase marker, but the best part about it is that it’s got little army men glued to the front cover. Nick seems very happy.


April 11, 2010

Week from Hell, Part 1

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:53 pm

We are just now finishing our hardest week of the tour. We think it is, at least. Next week is awful, too, but in different ways, so we’ll see.

Nick has been trapped on the actor bus for much of this week, and thus has had time to make very accurate venue summary posts for each of our stops. I will link to his as well.

Ruston, LA

Nick’s venue post
We performed on the campus of Louisiana Tech, which has quite a large theatre. The booth is definitely farther away than any we have had before (actually I can’t say for sure, since there were a couple huge venues where I was able to call from backstage). The actors looked very tiny. Matt, our sound supervisor, remarked that it was fun to imagine that they were actually that small. That amused me for the rest of the performance. In my mind, they were about the size of the G.I. Joe action figures of the 80s. Some other people were picturing them to be the size of the larger G.I. Joes, or Barbie dolls.

The people in Ruston were very friendly, perhaps especially so since we were one of the best-selling shows they had ever had. We never know what to expect as far as attendance (and it almost never corresponds to assumptions one would make about the population or cultural sophistication of the area), so to be told that first thing in the morning was nice. The audience seemed to really enjoy the show. As I was leaving the booth I was stopped by a theatre major who wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed the show. Others on the team had similar encounters.

Nick and I had a big surprise when we arrived: a stage management intern! One of the stage management students, Kate, was assigned to us to assist with whatever we needed. Of course we were happy to have her trailing us all day. She was with us for literally all 17 hours of our work day, helping us set up backstage, watching us hang out on the bus during our downtime (which we spent discussing our careers and trying to give her an idea of employment opportunities). She watched me call focus, and a couple hours into that, I ran to the bathroom because the Genie stopped working. When I came back, the Genie was fixed sooner than I had expected, and Kate had resumed calling focus in my absence. That was pretty funny. During the show she had one of our spare wireless headsets, and was with me in the booth during the first act (which is more interesting to call), and with Nick for the second act (which is more interesting to deck). As I had hoped, Nick let her cue a couple actors towards the end of the show. At the end of the night, she loaded the truck with us. It was great to have some extra help, and to make a new stage management friend. It’s great that her teacher (who was also the presenter) thought to give her that opportunity. It would be nice if more schools that we play would do that.

One aspect of the tour that I think gets completely overlooked is that in addition to providing workshops and talkbacks for students to get to ask professional actors about interpreting Shakespeare, vocal work, stage combat, working on new plays, etc., when we play college theatres that have student crews, we are providing a lot of the same kind of education to the technicians as the acting students receive from our actors. We don’t sit in a circle and talk about where we went to college or anything — it’s all in the process of doing the job — but our show often gives students a chance to work with a bigger set than they usually see (and made of steel and aluminum rather than wood), and to encounter different lighting and sound equipment than what their school has, which makes them more valuable technicians if they’re proficient in multiple brands and models of gear. Sometimes we even teach them features that their own equipment has that they didn’t know about, and they can continue to use on future productions. We love any good crew, but it’s especially fun when they’re students who are excited to be part of the show.

Baton Rouge, LA

Nick’s venue post
We returned to Baton Rouge Community College, where we had an evening performance. Corey and I had been requested to do a seminar with some theatre students to talk about careers in theatre. Naturally we spent most of it talking about directing and stage management. It was nice to have a session that was about us, rather than about acting. It was only a half hour long, which always seems too short when you first have to get through the basics of where you came from, where you went to school, and how you got into theatre. But a couple of the attendees stayed behind and we talked for a while longer. Nick had to get out of his nice warm bed to run focus while I was gone, and the whole thing went to hell. It was like Murphy’s Law of focus, and pretty much as soon as I got back everything was fixed. I felt pretty bad about that.

Orange, TX

Nick’s venue post
As soon as we finished in Baton Rouge, we began the drive to Orange — without Nick. The cast had a morning show of the 1-hour R&J in Baton Rouge.

Orange was fantastic in every way. The Lutcher Center is a beautiful theatre that is maintained like it’s brand new, though it’s actually 30 years old. The TD, David, has done many little projects that are pretty ingenious, including one (using strips of different colored rope light along the rail as cue lights) that I am totally stealing someday. The crew were lots of fun. The set was finished amazingly early. I think lighting would have been finished even earlier than it was but we were having so much fun chatting. It was a great day, and I decided to buy a shirt to commemorate our day with the men and women of Local 183. They also have a really cool logo.

In this case Nick also had a 1-hour the next morning, and again travelled with the cast to our next venue.

Tyler, TX

Nick’s venue post
Coming off Orange, we were afraid our expectations would be too high, but Tyler was also a good experience. They had the set finished by lunch, which is insane, and they broke the load-out record set in Orange the night before. We were very excited to have an easy time there, as it was the end of our hellacious four days of constant work, and we were looking forward to some time to relax on our cross-country drive to Connecticut.

Driving

We’re currently on the last few hours of our drive from Tyler, TX to Wallingford, CT. There we will see a hotel for the first time in a week. We’re driving through Pennsylvania right now. We’re not accustomed to extended daylight driving, but the trip is so long that some of it is inevitable. We’re spending it flipping back and forth from Deadliest Catch and the Masters, and of course using our computers.

We don’t get a day off when we reach our destination, but we do have a load-in day, which at least means we only work about 8 hours, and we have the night off.


April 6, 2010

Last Leg Begins

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:20 am

Well we’re back! Our five days of vacation are over. The overall verdict was that they were very welcome, not long enough, and yet we all missed each other a lot.

Today we all flew to Shreveport, LA from wherever we were (I was with the largest group, from New York), where we all boarded the cast bus. The crew bus needed some last-minute repairs, so we found out a few days ago that the cast bus would take us all from the airport in Shreveport to our first destination, Ruston, LA — about an hour and a half away.

I’m not sure if this is the first time ever — I can’t imagine it is — that the company has had the entire traveling company (22 people) all traveling between cities on the same tour bus. The bus is designed for 12 people to live on comfortably, but between the large music singalong party going on in the back lounge, a few people in bunks, and a few in the front lounge, apparently nobody was bothered by the overcrowding. It was actually kind of a nice bonding experience between cast and crew, especially since we haven’t seen each other in almost a week.

I had a rough day — I started out with a headache, and flying always messes my body up, so it just got worse throughout the day. By the time we got on the bus I just wanted to sleep it off. I borrowed one of the actors’ bunks (my first time sleeping in the coffin-sized bunks the 12-person configuration creates) and attempted to sleep the whole time. It was nice to be able to close my eyes, be in the dark, and lay horizontal, but I don’t sleep well on a loud bus when I don’t feel well, so I don’t think I got more than 10 minutes of actual sleep.

We just had a crew room here, but because of how awful our schedule is this week, I had a plot that depending on how I felt, if the hotel had some rooms and could match the company rate, I might want my own room, just to store up as much comfort and sanity as possible before the craziness begins.

Given how rough the day was, I decided to go for the room even though we didn’t have the best discount here. It’s a colossal waste of money, but the room is nicer than I expected, and I’m lying in a big fluffy bed watching what I want to watch on TV, able to use my computer comfortably on a lap desk, I can sleep in quiet and darkness, with access to a bathroom, and in the morning I can take a shower easily. I think I stand a much better chance of waking up feeling fine and being useful at load-in.

And in answer to the bus question, we have a different bus, not either of the two we thought we were getting, but it’s so close to being identical to the one we just had that when we first saw it in the dark, we really weren’t sure. Even after we walked inside, I looked around and thought the sconces in the front lounge were a different shape, which is the only reason I was able to say, “This is a different bus, right?” The artwork is also different, but also cool, which is a tall order, because I loved the art in the last bus. I didn’t even get as far as checking out the accessories in my bunk before checking into the hotel, so that’s the big thing that to me increases the comfort level. Little details like where the outlets are located, a hook, and a pouch or pocket of some kind to hold the TV remote, headphones, your phone, wallet, etc. make a huge difference.

So I think we’re all ready to begin the final leg. We have two weeks of hell and then what should be a nice sit-down in Philly to finish it off. I’m going to be sad when it’s over, but it will also be nice to be home for at least a month.


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