July 19, 2010

It’s a Twister!

I call this: random — Posted by KP @ 9:20 pm

So we’re having a big thunderstorm, as this area is wont to have in the summer (which is part of the reason I like spending my summers here). The screams of my actors up and down the halls made me aware of the fact that we’re under a tornado watch. Apparently it’s all over the TV, but my TV doesn’t have a remote, so I refuse to move it from Channel 56 down to the kind of channels that would carry local news.

Weather.com and WeatherBug on my iPhone mention severe thunderstorms and hail, but nothing about a tornado. Not sure if it’s much ado about nothing, or if they just want me to get unsuspectingly killed or transported to the magical land of Oz.

My apartment faces away from the direction the storm is coming, so when they knocked on my door I took the opportunity to visit one of the apartments facing the other way. It does look a little bit scarier, but there’s a big building blocking most of the horizon on that side so it’s hard to really see.

The reason I’m blogging is because when they came to tell me, I quickly packed a bag before going to visit the other apartment. In about 10 seconds I decided on what to pack as a stage manager preparing to ride out a tornado:

  • My everyday flashlight
  • That other flashlight, too
  • And yeah, that other one that can be used like a flare
  • And the other one that’s the same as above but in another color
  • Car keys, just in case that somehow becomes useful
  • Laptop? Probably not necessary. After all I have my iPhone.
  • Laptop. Because if I survive and my apartment doesn’t, I’ll be really pissed that my brand new laptop got destroyed because I was too lazy to carry five more pounds with me.
  • I also packed my space pen without even realizing I did it.

So now I’m back on my couch watching the storm, and will try to get some work done on Hairspray before we all blow away.

What I Learned Today: Camels in North America

I call this: random — Posted by KP @ 8:17 pm

I was just doing preproduction for Hairspray wasting time reading Fark, when I came across this article about some fossils discovered in California, including ancient camels.

I had no idea that camels were known to have lived in North America, but apparently this isn’t the first time remains have been discovered.

Upon further research, Wikipedia states:

Fossil evidence indicates that the ancestors of modern camels evolved in North America during the Palaeogene period (see also Camelops), and later spread to most parts of Asia.

So that made me curious about what exactly the Palaeogene period was, and how the camels might have traveled from North America to Asia. Here’s a picture I found of where the continents are believed to have been located at that time (65.5 – 23.03 million years ago):

Looks like that move would be kind of hard. Did they swim? Did they build boats or airplanes? Blimps? Did the aliens that built the pyramids bring them from North America to Egypt to use as work animals? Because that would be weird if a species capable of interstellar travel needed camels to pull stones. As you can see, this new piece of information that somehow escaped me for 31 years has raised more questions than it has answered.

Stage Management Master Class

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:34 pm

Today was one of my favorite days in my yearly summer stock ritual. Reagle runs a Musical Theatre Camp for about a month in the summer, which always gets a surprisingly good turnout (this year they have about 100 campers). The kids take all sorts of classes mostly related to the performing aspects of musical theatre, but in addition to that they have a series of master classes where various guests come in to work with the kids for a day and talk about and teach them a variety of topics. The full-time teachers and guest artists are largely pulled from the performers and creative teams of the summer shows. Since the camp was started in 2006, I have always taught a stage management master class at some point in the season.

Basically in my case it’s more of a question-and-answer session where I talk about the job of a stage manager — what’s involved, how I prepare for a show, what my duties are during the show, what my training is, and how I find work. Then I also field questions about the particular show we’re doing at the time (usually I have the class soon after the kids have seen the show), as well as questions like, “What’s the craziest thing that’s happened while you were calling a show?”

The kids vary in ages — in the past I’ve had two large groups divided by age. This year I had four separate classes, starting with the youngest kids (probably about 8 years old) and ending with the oldest (who I think are about 13). It’s always interesting to figure out what topics to focus on based on the age group. Sometimes it’s surprising what the kids want to talk about.

My co-host for the day was Rachel Bertone, who is one of the camp teachers, and one of Reagle’s regular dancers (she’s currently playing Zaneeta in Music Man). We’ve probably done close to 10 shows together, so we work well together, and Rachel helped to steer the conversation and ask interesting questions when the kids ran out of things to say. Before each class she would give me an idea of what topics each age group might be most interested in, and ways to tie in to what they’ve been studying in their other classes.

Rachel contacted me early in the summer about scheduling this class, and I was able to have more input than I usually do on what the class would consist of, where it would be held, and how the groups should be divided up. In the past we’ve always done it at the theatre in two groups of 50-60 kids, which can be really distracting because all the scenery is around and it’s more of a “field trip” atmosphere, and the large groups aren’t as intimate. I really wanted it to be in more of a classroom setting with as much time as possible to take questions and let the conversation go in the direction the kids were most interested in, and more classes in smaller groups seemed to be the way to go. It’s also a lot of the same kids who attend the camp each year, and many of them already know me from previous master classes, or from having been in the childrens’ choruses of various Reagle shows (which results in me occasionally being asked for autographs at the stage door!), so I try to avoid repeating the same information when half the class has heard it already.

It was nice that we ended up talking about different things in each class. I always feel that the classes are too short. Describing the job of a stage manager can take a really long time if you had to talk about every part of the process, and answer questions about it! So I liked that we were covering a lot of new territory with each class, it kept the day interesting for me, instead of repeating the same things four times.

With the oldest group, they had been learning more about “the business,” including preparing resumes, so I talked a little more about how I get jobs, and how I hire other people, including ways in which resumes have stood out for me.

One thing that came up with most of the groups is the story of how I got into stage managing, which I found myself getting way more specific than I intended to with the 8-year-olds, about how I had wanted to be a director, and after pursuing directing and nothing but directing from the age of 12, I decided halfway through college that I had to give up my lifelong goal and become a stage manager. I realized by way of answering the simple question of “what’s your training in stage management?” that it served as a good life lesson that even if you spend your whole life wanting to do a certain thing, it’s OK to admit that maybe you were wrong and you should really be doing something else. Rachel also chimed in about how she had wanted to be a ballerina her whole life and eventually discovered that she really belonged in musical theatre. So we found a way to work that story in with almost all the classes because it seemed like something important for kids to hear in general, especially in this business where so many people grow up wanting to perform, and very few will make it all the way to being working professional actors.

I’ve learned in my experience of running talkbacks at Phantom, as well as later in my career at Reagle and on the Acting Company tour, that every talkback group is different. That’s part of the reason I love doing them, because you never know where the conversation will lead. Some groups want to know all about the technical stuff, some all about the acting / performance stuff, some are really curious about training and how people grew up to be professional theatre artists. I think of the master classes like extended talkbacks, except that instead of an entire cast, I’m the only one being talked to.

The part of any talkback I don’t like is where the talkers are spouting off canned information.

“Tell us a little about yourself: where you’re from and how you got into theatre…”

“The Acting Company was founded in 1972 from the first class of Julliard’s drama division…”

This is all necessary information that gives context to what the listeners are about to hear, and helps them to decide what questions to ask, but I always want to get it over with as soon as possible because I never feel there’s enough time to cover everyone’s questions, and I like to get to the part where I figure out what the group wants to hear about. I like the intro to be very brief, but give a quick sample of what the possible topics might be, and then when the listeners latch on to something, we can talk more in depth about that.

Rachel had brought along the Music Man program, and began each class by reading my bio, which was nice because in 75 words or less it brings up a couple different topics right away. Here it is:

Karen Parlato (Production Stage Manager) This is Karen’s sixth season as Reagle’s PSM — credits include all summer productions since 2005’s Crazy For You. She is based in New York, where credits include The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Off-Broadway: Inventing Avi, Frankenstein, The Fantasticks, Wanda’s World, Bingo, and others. In the fall she will return for her 3rd year as PSM of The Acting Company’s national tour, bringing Romeo and Juliet and The Comedy of Errors to 33 US cities.

So right away that potentially leads to:
1. What’s a production stage manager, as opposed to a stage manager in general?
2. How do you travel here from New York? How do you handle working away from home?
3. Wow, I saw Phantom! How do the candles come up from the floor? What’s the hardest scene to call?
4. What’s touring like?
5. Do you like doing Shakespeare? How is it different from musicals?

I could fill the entire class period on any of those topics, so I don’t want to waste time talking about something they’re not interested in, when I have hours of material I could share on a topic they are interested in. The interesting challenge for me with the camp is that usually none of the kids are specifically interested in stage management or technical theatre, so it’s not so much about the nitty-gritty of my stage management style, as it is about familiarizing them with what a stage manager does, and I’m one of a number of guest artists they’ll meet who can answer general questions about what it’s like doing theatre professionally.

On tour our cast does a lot of performance-related workshops at schools we visit, and on a few rare occasions the schools have requested a stage management or more behind-the-scenes workshop for their students who are pursuing other careers in theatre, which I am always beyond excited to do, no matter how busy the day. When we were in Tucson two years ago, Nick and I spent an hour in the greenroom after a performance with a college class of stage management students, which gets much more specific about “how do you write your cues in the book?” and that sort of thing, which is equally fun, to be talking to people who are not that far behind us in their careers. Last year Corey (the staff repertory director) and I did a seminar with a group of theatre students that focused on how we keep the show running on the road, and the career paths of a director and stage manager. Also last year, we arrived at one college and the resident stage management teacher introduced us to one of her students, and offered her as an intern for the day. We gave her a 16-hour example of a day in the life of a stage manager doing a one-nighter, which at one point included a tour of our bus, that ended up with us sitting on the couches in the lounge for probably two hours just chatting about stage management and life.

This whole experience led me to send off an email to The Acting Company reminding them how much I enjoy doing talkbacks, workshops and working with stage management students, and offering that while they’re contacting schools to offer workshops on acting, interpreting Shakespeare, stage combat, etc. they should also feel free to mention that I’m available to talk to technical theatre students or to be shadowed by any aspiring stage managers. They got back to me right away saying they’d begin offering that to venues. So I’m excited to be doing my little part to have our roving troupe offer educational opportunities for other students besides just performers.