August 15, 2010

The J/K Tree

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:18 pm

Gather ’round, children, and I will tell you the story of the J/K Tree.

(For anybody over the age of 20, or people who spend too much time in real life, and not enough time on the internet, “J/K” is text-speak for “just kidding.”)

This summer at Reagle the J/K Tree has become a metaphorical representation of anything that happens onstage when it’s not supposed to.

It began at the start of the summer, with our first show, Into the Woods. The set consisted of a bunch of two-dimensional trees covered in random text from fairy tales, as though they were cut out of the pages of books. Like so:

There were ten trees at various depths and locations, which would fly in in seemingly random patterns to define different areas in the story. In reality, which tree was in which scene was often very important to direct focus and allow access to certain parts of the stage while concealing others. But for the purposes of running the show, there was really no easy way to remember when a certain tree was supposed to fly. You just always had to have the right linesets moving.

Sometimes the wrong tree or set of trees would move. I had a tree-tracking table in a sheet protector on my desk which showed all the moves, the cue numbers, and most importantly, all the trees that were supposed to be in after a given cue had completed. Generally if it was found that a mistake was made, we would just have to deal with it for that scene and assign fly cues so that on the next transition we would end up with all the right trees in.

Until the J/K Tree. The J/K Tree was known to the director and the cast as Tree #2. It was known to the crew as lineset 7. I had to memorize both sets of numbers, which gave me a headache. Anyway, there was one particular transition, on one particular night, when Tree #2 flew in when it wasn’t supposed to. Because it was pretty far downstage, and close to center, it caught attention right away, and I and several other people immediately cried out that it was wrong. But it was coming in like it meant to, and being the center of attention, couldn’t just come halfway in, stop, and then go out. We figured, as we usually did, that we would just have to live with it until the next possible transition. As soon as it landed I mentally scanned ahead in the show to figure out when it could make a graceful exit.

Immediately I realized the problem: this was the transformation scene, where the Witch turns into a beautiful woman. There was a special in the floor that would shine right up at Rachel. I knew the special was just downstage of Tree #2, so her mark for the transformation would be exactly where the tree is. I said, “It can’t be here for the transformation, get it out!” and away it went, almost as soon as it had come in. As it casually returned to the sky, someone on headset commented cheerfully, “J/K!” And from then on it became known as the J/K Tree. Because of the words painted on the trees, we thought it would have been nice if it actually had the letters J and K on it, but I don’t think we ever inspected it that closely.

So through our techs of later shows it’s been the joke when something happens when it’s not supposed to, and is then quickly, and not so subtly, corrected — such as a dramatic light cue called early and then backed out of, or an actor who starts to sing before their cue and then stops — “Oops! Fly in the J/K Tree!”

It’s one of those you-had-to-be-there stories, but I noticed that I used “J/K” in my video in the previous post, and figured I should explain the particular history of it among our crew.

Crazy Sunday Afternoon

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:38 pm

All we had to do today was a Sunday matinee. After that we have no show until next Thursday. Things have been running smoothly, audiences have been leaping to their feet. When the sun rose this morning, all that stood between us and three-and-a-half days off was two-and-a-half hours of awesome musical theatre.


I’ve already been awake for a while, because somehow I’ve become an early bird like that. My phone rings, and it’s our star. She’s not calling me at 9:30 on a matinee day just to say hi. As I suspected, she wasn’t feeling well. She was calling me to get our producer’s home number to see if she could be rushed in to see a doctor so she could get a prescription before the show. Much to my relief, that was the extent of my involvement, and she was indeed able to see the doctor, and was feeling OK for the show.


I’m about to leave the house. Like packing my stuff. And I get a call from one of the Dynamites. It’s obvious right away it’s train trouble. A large portion of our actors commute on the red line from Boston, and need rides from Alewife, which is the last and nearest station to the theatre. There are two regular pickups: an hour-and-a-half before the show is the Ednamobile, which is driven by our “Edna,” Dan. 15 minutes later is the scheduled departure of the Musicmobile, driven by our music director and keyboard player, also Dan (which is why the two cars have names, instead of “Dan is driving me.”) Anyway, I find out that it’s not just the usual Sunday delays on the red line. Apparently the entire T has been shut down for about 40 minutes due to a power outage. Part of my dismay is that, not being from the area, I really don’t know how to help people when they have train trouble. But I do know that somebody even being slightly delayed on the train can really mess up my day, so all the trains in Boston being shut down less than two hours before a show doesn’t sound good.

I decided that getting to the theatre was not important at the moment, and stayed on my computer trying to reach people who could potentially offer rides, while checking Twitter to see what other Bostonians were reporting about the outage (the MBTA website showed all trains happily running with a green checkmark. Thanks!) Shortly after that, the trains started running again, and our actors (and one of our other keyboard players) made it on, and slowly towards Waltham. The Musicmobile would stay behind for them.

Act I

So finally everybody arrived and the show started without incident. Marissa wasn’t having problems, and I soon stopped worrying about her completely. We had almost gotten through act I when everyone kind of noticed at once that there was something in the air in front of the house right light tree. With all the fake hairspray hanging in the air, seeing particles in the beams of light isn’t anything unusual, but as our board op, Jess, pointed out, there hasn’t been any hairspray sprayed in that area in a really long time. So then the only explanation is that something is burning.

Thankfully this happened at the single point in the show where we have lots of time, during the last scene of the act. There was definitely steady smoke, but even with people looking from all possible angles, nobody was able to tell which instrument it was coming from. The light trees are just in front of the front row on either side and probably contain about 12 instruments each, from about 15-30 feet in the air. We spent the last 10 minutes of the act trying to narrow down the offending equipment, and praying it wouldn’t set off the fire alarm before we could examine it more closely at intermission.

We made it, and soon a good portion of the crew had gathered with flashlights to look at it, and saw nothing. After some debate, we decided it was time to take the inelegant step of bringing a ladder out into the audience. Taking a chance, we got the 16ft. ladder, which was much less disruptive than the A-frame, but wouldn’t be able to reach the top rows of lights, if that’s where the problem was. Basically we just wanted to figure out which light it was so we could unplug it or turn it off at the board.

Most of intermission went by and still no luck. We had our deck electrician on the top of the ladder checking all the connections. We brought all the lights up at 20 percent and he saw no sign of smoke. Finally I said that if we couldn’t find anything we’d have to give up, and suggested we put everything on that tree at full in the hopes that the offending light would show itself. Soon after, the smoke began again. After more looking with multiple sets of eyes on the ground and on the ladder, they found it was coming from a damaged connector. Jess quickly took all the lights out, and the connector was unplugged, and traced to the lights it controlled. That channel was parked out on the board, and soon the ladder was being spirited away backstage.

After the Show

We were pretty exhausted by the time the second act started, but everything went very smoothly for the rest of the show. Then as soon as the show ended, or perhaps as it was ending, the stage right toilet started flooding. Not like kind of backing up, or leaking a little bit. It was gushing water like Niagara Falls. By the time I got there there was at least an inch of water on the bathroom floor, so I wasn’t going in to see exactly what was happening. Two of our stagehands were inside trying to do something, and succeeding mostly in getting soaking wet. Wardrobe, who are based in the room next to the bathroom, and props, who have their tables set up just outside in the hall, produced several tubs filled with towels and we began laying barriers to contain and direct the water away from the props and costumes. The janitor arrived from the lobby, and splashed bravely into the bathroom. Soon we heard cries of, “Leatherman! Leatherman!” coming from inside. I dug into my bag and passed my Leatherman forward. Several seconds later, the sound of rushing water stopped, and the three intrepid plumbers emerged from the bathroom, mission accomplished.

Remarking that in one day the theatre had been attacked by both fire and water, I was getting out of there before the plague of locusts showed up.

I did, however, make a movie about the end of our harrowing day.