February 20, 2011

(How Not to) Pick Your Wireless Carrier for Tour

I call this: On the Road Again,phones,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:08 pm

Just found it worth mentioning that we’ve been on the road about 3 weeks, have hit 10 cities, and this is the 2nd time that our crew members on T-mobile (3 people including our production manager) have been completely without service.

Yeah, I know they have cheap rates and flexible plans. Just something to think about if you’re going on tour. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen to other carriers, but our sad T-mobile subscribers have been experiencing epic communications fail so far at a rate exceeding anything I’ve ever experienced in recent years.

Of course if you’re on some really nice tour that only plays places like LA, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. then you’re probably OK. But if your itinerary sometimes contains places like Portsmouth, OH and Potsdam, NY you may want to pick another carrier.

February 15, 2011


I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:38 pm

My job is sometimes hard.

I have a lot of responsibility, to make everyone happy, even when some people’s desires are in direct opposition to each other.

Sometimes I’m more-or-less asked to do the impossible, without the things I normally need to do my job.

I do a lot of physical labor in unpleasant weather conditions.

I don’t always get enough sleep.

I don’t always have access to a shower or a bathroom when I wake up.

Sometimes I just don’t get a day off for a while.

But when I do find myself in a place with a shower and a bathroom and a few hours before I have to go back to work, sometimes it has a private deck that looks out on this:

February 14, 2011

Eyewear and Touring

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:13 pm

Sometime over the summer, probably while it was sunny, I had a revelation: I was sick and tired of wearing glasses. They make it really inconvenient to wear sunglasses, they get tangled up in your hair, if you wear a headset for many hours a day, the headset can squeeze the ear hook on the glasses between your ear and head, which gets really annoying after 10 or 12 hours. If you’re really unlucky and have long hair, every time you remove your headset you’ll pull your glasses off, as well as yanking part of your hair out of place.

Not to mention you have clear vision through part of your field of view, but if you need to move your eyes but not your head, you have something blocking your view, and then blurriness on the edges. If I have my head down looking at my script and glance up, my script is clear but the stage is blurry, which is totally bass-ackwards for someone who is nearsighted. After wearing glasses with varying degrees of necessity since 3rd grade, I was fed up.

I was like, that’s it, when I get home I’m getting contacts! Then I was like, “that sounds expensive.” But then I was like, “wait a minute, my insurance gives me a free eye exam and glasses or contacts every 2 years!” And it had been 3 years since my last pair of glasses. So that was it.

I researched this the way anyone should: just before I returned home I posted a message on Facebook saying I was looking for a good eye doctor in Manhattan (preferably west side) who took the Equity insurance. I got 2 recommendations within a day. A well-known Broadway actress with a family, who lives in a classy neighborhood on the Upper West Side seemed like the most reliable source for a good doctor, so I started there. I was able to get an appointment with her doctor within a week, and got myself a new prescription for contacts. My last one was when I was 18, so I hadn’t worn contacts at all in years, because my prescription was so out of date.

I talked to the doctor a bit about touring to get his advice about sleeping with them, and how long I could safely leave them in. Since he’s a doctor, it was basically his job to say that some people leave them in a really long time with no problems, but if I sleep with them in or shower with them, I might be fine, or I might go blind. So… I’ve been pretty cautious.

Touring with Contacts

I’ve really enjoyed the switch to contacts in general. I’ve forgotten how much extra stuff you end up carrying around in your bag in exchange for not carrying glasses on your face. It’s not a problem if you’re living at home and put them in in the morning and take them out when you come home, but for touring (especially for someone like me who’s obsessive about carrying unnecessary things) it adds a couple extra items to the toiletries bag, and you will have to have access to drug stores to replenish your cleaning solution before it runs out. Plus, you still need to carry a pair of glasses as a backup (unless your job doesn’t require good vision — unfortunately mine does).


For the fall tour (which was all in California and Arizona) I brought along an old pair of sunglasses that I rarely get to wear, and had a great time being able to slip them on and off at will, without losing clarity of vision. I was so excited that during the hiatus I bought myself a nice pair of Ray-Bans. Unfortunately, sunny days have been few and far between since November — generally the only thing they’ve been useful for is preventing snow blindness when walking to the Guthrie, but I trust by the time we end the tour in Florida, they will be awesome.

Contacts When Sleeping on a Bus

The main challenge I’ve faced with the contacts is what to do when sleeping on the bus. Being in a hotel every night is a pretty straightforward process. You take them out when you go to sleep, leave them on the bathroom counter, wake up, shower, and then put them in. Then you leave the hotel with all your stuff.

Living on the bus means you either take out your contacts before load-out is over, or take them out in the tiny bus bathroom, or take them out in the tiny bus bathroom while the bus is moving, which is an extra-fun time to stick your finger in your eye. Then you need a place to put your contacts case. I use the ClearCare case which holds the lenses vertically, and needs to be kept standing up. So I need a place where the case won’t fall over when the bus takes a turn during the night. Our wardrobe supervisor has provided us with some mesh hanging bags for our bunks, which are awesome for holding phones, wallets, glasses and whatever else, when gaff-taped to the side of our bunks. So far mine has failed at keeping my contacts safe, and I’m not sure I want to put the effort into actually sewing one of the pockets into a smaller size to hold the little container securely (since the whole thing has fallen off the wall a couple times anyway, as I noticed early this morning when I rolled over towards the wall and was like, “why is there gaff tape stuck to me?”) I think I need to come up with a better solution. I can think of a couple (a piece of foam the size of a soda can, with a hole in the middle for the container, which could be put in a cupholder), but will have to figure out which is easiest, most reliable, and least in everybody’s way if it has to be in a public (i.e. non-bunk) part of the bus.

The Insurance / Doctor Stuff

I wound up paying a little more than I expected to, but it was still worth it. My exam was free, which included all the usual checkups (I chipped in a little extra for a glaucoma test, since it runs on both sides of my family and I’d never had one done — I don’t know how old people do it, it was like a very hard video game). Years of Nintendo and Playstation allowed me to pass with flying colors, and I don’t think I’ll do that again for a few decades if I don’t have any problems. The contacts weren’t completely covered, but I did get a discount on them. I was given a trial pair, which I wore diligently every day for a week, and went back for a quick checkup to check that the prescription was still the best for me (the doc said the contacts may sit differently on the eye after you’ve been wearing them for a while). I needed no change. So then I ordered a year’s supply, which arrived a week or two later.

I got monthly contacts, but I do wonder if it would be a better idea to have daily disposables for touring. It would certainly be easier because I’d avoid the whole hassle of figuring out what to do with them overnight when I sleep on a bus and might get to shower halfway through my workday. I don’t want to end up losing a lot of money by switching to contacts, but I think it might be affordable enough if I can find them cheaply online.


Overall I’m very happy with my decision to ditch the glasses. I still wear them occasionally (like yesterday when I sadly dropped a lens into the hotel sink, and was surely not putting it in my eye!), but far more often I’m wearing contacts or skipping any eyewear altogether on a lazy day off. It’s a little more challenging for touring, but I really enjoy not having glasses on my face, and being able to wear sunglasses easily, and the benefits to stage managing — having my whole field of vision clear, and not getting tangled in my headset — have been great.

Typical Travel Day

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:49 am

Today we are in the middle of our first multi-day drive: from just outside Detroit to Vermont. We made our mid-trip stop in Buffalo, for no particular reason. There doesn’t seem to be anything to do here, but we could find equally no other reason to go to Albany or anywhere else that would have made a similar good stopping place (anything to do seemed to involve being outdoors, which we get more than enough of at work).

My day began with several staples of travel days:
1. A partially-pajama-clad meeting of the PSM, TD and lighting director, gathered around the LD’s laptop looking at a Vectorworks rendering of our set in an upcoming venue, scooting it upstage, downstage, left and right until it kinda-sorta fit in a way that made us stop saying, “oh shit.”

2. Showering in a crew room that is nicer and cheaper than any hotel we get to actually sleep in. This pretty much always happens. The room that you only use to shower and poop in is a room you’d kill to have for a real stay. That’s not to say that we don’t sometimes get to stay in really nice rooms (the Hilton Suites in Phoenix and the Towneplace Suites by Marriot in two different Michigan cities were notable awesome hotels so far on this tour), but the crew rooms are usually in the category of insane luxury. This one here is a Comfort Suites, which is one of my favorite hotels anyway.

3. Changing my shoes in a roadside snowbank. It was a small snowbank this time. But generally we go from having loaded a truck the night before (for which I wear my truck-loading shoes), to a day off, for which I wear my not-loading-a-truck shoes (lightweight running shoes). I keep my spare shoes in a separate pocket on my main suitcase, which rides under the bus. I usually don’t get to wear my not-loading-a-truck shoes, so I try to wear them whenever I can.

4. As I was writing, Matt grumbled from the back lounge that he’s hungry, which I agree with. Figuring out when to eat on these days can be tricky because you need a critical mass of people who have showered and want to eat before anyone will go out. There’s a Starbucks a short walk away. I’m thinking I may go myself, just for an opportunity to stretch my legs and have some alone-time, and see something other than the bus, a hotel, or a theatre.

February 9, 2011

Killing Time on the Bus

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:30 pm

Today has been a long day for the crew. After a very long, very hard day yesterday (for myself, I spent 4 straight hours on the truck in temperatures in the teens at load-out), we got on the bus around 2:30AM, and slept until around 10:00. Thankfully we had a late load-in because our local crew was on a tight turnaround from the night before, so we got to sleep in our bunks a little longer than usual, have breakfast in the green room, and shower in a dressing room, before the day officially began. There’s something to be said for starting at 8AM though — it feels much more productive, and we’re very used to the routine of what we should have accomplished by different times of the day, so we always feel like we’re way behind when we start late.

We awoke this morning in the parking lot of the Wharton Center in East Lansing, MI, which is a road house, currently host to the Shrek tour. …And us. It’s been a very long day, which included an hour-long visit from the cast a few hours ago, because the secondary stage is a thrust configuration, and we have to plan how to fit our proscenium-style shows (BOTH of them!) onto this stage, in the middle of a very busy 3 days here (we have 3 performances of R&J and one of Comedy).

For those of us not the TD, ATD or lighting director, we’ve actually had a lot of down time. We’re going a little bit crazy. You might say we’re getting a bit of cabin fever, or in our case, green room / bus fever.

So here’s a short list of what we’ve been doing today:
1. watching Dog the Bounty Hunter
2. watching NCIS marathon which is still ongoing
3. napping
4. playing frisbee down the length of the bus (a length of maybe 35 feet, down a corridor maybe 2-and-a-half feet wide — it’s very challenging not to let the frisbee ricochet off into a bunk.)
5. ordering pizza
6. fantasizing about Steak n’ Shake, which Bart (our driver) promised us for a late dinner when he left us this morning.
7. updating paperwork

Our long ordeal may soon be over. Well, at least today’s part of our ordeal. The cast told us that our hotel is amazingly nice. It’s also dirt cheap, which is win-win! So we can’t wait to check in and get a little rest in a real bed before our first 9:45AM(!!!) show.

February 4, 2011

Truck Pack Victory

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:25 pm

Here’s what our first truck pack looked like:

Our next one was slightly more efficient, but ended up basically looking the same, as far as everything being piled up right to the doors.

So yesterday, Daniel had a plan. He’s made me truck boss for this tour, and in the morning started talking to me about his ideas for the pack. My brain was still frozen from Brainerd, so I made him draw me a picture of the floor pack, which resulted in this piece of abstract art:

So last night, having not even been present for the load-out from the Guthrie, and having been a pusher/loader for the load-out from Brainerd who spent very little time actually in the truck, I had to make this pack happen.

We were at an IATSE house, and I was given four dedicated truck loaders, who were of the opinion that our 150-lb sections of flooring were nothing to worry about. This is a fantastic thing, but having such an efficient crew made the fact that this was a brand-new pack, and I didn’t even really know the old pack, much more stressful. It was just me and the loaders on the truck, with Meaghan sometimes acting as a runner between the truck and the theatre, and Sara (our new prop supervisor, who also functions as ATD) on radio with me, keeping me informed of what scenery and props were available for the pushers to bring out.

I’m sure we all were on high alert trying not to slow down or demoralize our crack crew with the fact that yes, we have a plan, but basically, we’re pulling this truck pack out of our ass. Actually it went very well. Here Daniel inspects the final result. Look at all that room!

I forget what exactly our time was, but it was somewhere between two-and-a-half and three hours. Which is half the time it took us at the last venue! And I should mention, there were two ramps involved. Had we had a loading dock, I can’t even imagine how fast it could have been, though with dedicated loaders and pushers, we spent very little time on the truck waiting for scenery anyway.

It was a very successful night, and I’m kinda-sorta looking forward to the next one, though we will be hard-pressed to find another crew so willing and capable of doing all the heavy lifting for us.

Giant Photo Recap

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:12 pm

It’s Laundry Day in Poplar Bluff, MO, so finally I’m going to post some of my favorite photos from the tour thus far. I’ve been saving them, and as you will see, I’ve been procrastinating too long!

From the Fall Tour

Meaghan (ASM) and Tim (Sound Supervisor) are the wall-holders for the R&J load-out from Tucson

I really like this picture of Olivia (our former truck boss) dancing on the ramp during load-out in Tucson

Also from Tucson, Tim, Olivia and Mariela (Wardrobe Supervisor) sit in the sun outside the stage door.

One more of Tucson, where we came across an abandoned lot with a creepy abandoned stroller sitting in the middle of it.

From the Guthrie (tech & rehearsal)

When the truck arrived at the Guthrie, Daniel had everything labeled to indicate whether it should be unloaded. He took this opportunity to continue to rag on me about the weight of my workbox.

Tech tables. Mine is closest to the stage, followed by the director's table, followed by sound (house right) and lighting (house left)

I made a sign in the hopes that I wouldn't have to climb over people every time I wanted to get up. It kinda worked.

The view from my tech table (this was after I moved further up in the house)

This cracked me up. This is the label on the rail for our upstage black drop.

After we finished tech on the day of our first performance, we took a group photo of cast, (some) crew and creative team. I'm on the bottom row on the right.

At the Guthrie (During the Run)

The R&J set in storage upstage during the run of Comedy.

The Comedy set in storage upstage during the run of R&J.

My favorite use for the Comedy set: making a desk out of the Pelican cases that act as counterweights for the towers.

The preset for Comedy, behind the curtain.

The Comedy set, as seen from the down-left corner.

I had a monitor showing the SFX screen at my calling desk. One night I was like, ha, I thought for a minute that cue description said 'peeing!' Of course, given our show, it DOES say 'peeing!'

And the most important thing that happened to me in my time in Minneapolis, I finally got to go to nearby sushi restaurant Wasabi, where my martini was on fire!

From Earlier this Week

The sun sets in Brainerd, MN as seen from our bus.

February 2, 2011

We Will Never Be Warm Again

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:48 pm

Jackie (wardrobe supervisor) regards the truck pack at the start of load-in

The mantra of our day in Brainerd, MN: “We will never be warm again.” Meaghan coined this phrase sometime fairly early in the day, I think.

Long story short, we worked an 18-hour day, about 7 of those hours were spent outdoors loading or unloading the truck, and the rest were spent in a theatre that wasn’t very far removed from the loading door and aside from the dressing rooms, never reached what one would normally think of as an indoor temperature. I’m not sure what the temperature was throughout the day, but when load-out ended it was -30 with the wind chill. After nearly 5 hours of loading the truck, we should have been dead if that was the case, so I think the walls of the building, and the truck, shielded us from some of that, but still. It was well below zero all day.

And what I learned today, because we were short-handed and the show crew had to fully participate in all the loading and unloading, is that the Comedy set is ridiculously heavy. The deck, which is in theoretically 32 pieces (although we only used 24 here), is several layers of plywood and each piece weighs so much that every piece is individually demoralizing. The truck is packed too full with the R&J set to allow all the flooring to be on carts. We have one very high-quality plywood cart, but all the loads except the last one have to be unloaded once they’re in the truck.

There’s no dock, of course, so we had to use the ramp. Oh, and when we arrived the ramp was covered in snow from riding under the truck, which we had to continually try to clear with a broom to keep our stuff from skating down in freefall and killing everyone. Also, if you grabbed onto a several-hundred pound thing and held onto it tight, it would simply pull your entire body along with it as your feet slid on the snow on the ground. But with enough people doing this, I guess we at least created enough resistance to have control of most things. Purposely grinding the castors into the side of the ramp to create friction also helps a lot.

The first load of flooring we took down had probably 10 people holding onto it, and one brave gentleman tried to get in front of it on the ramp. We got about halfway down when gravity really started to take over and the cart started accelerating beyond our ability to slow it down. I started yelling at the guy to get out of the way, because other than him nobody was going to get hurt if we lost control of it, and the scenery would probably survive too because the base of the ramp was covered in several inches of snow which would stop the cart before it slammed into the wall of the building. We managed not to run him over, in fact nobody got hurt at all except our TD, which was minor and not snow-related, and mainly resulted in him doing the entire day in a pair of pants that became more and more comically ripped as the day went on. Later on, I was stupid and was working in the truck alone, and became trapped for about 5 minutes when the load I was strapping shifted and an 8-foot strip light wanted to tumble down. I had to keep hands on it, but was otherwise fairly secure that the rest of the load would fall the other way if it went, so I waited to be rescued while nobody felt the need to come out to the truck or take a smoke break, or come anywhere near the open loading door for an unusually long time.

Anyway, it was a painful, miserable time on and around the truck, and we all had to take frequent breaks to come inside, where it wasn’t much warmer, since the loading doors were open. To get warm at all you had to spend some time in the dressing room. Towards the end of the night one of the locals gave us a tip: not only go to the dressing room, but turn on the mirror lights and warm your hands by them. Here Meaghan demonstrates the technique:

Note Meaghan’s nice new truck-loading jacket. She says it’s very warm. I’m a little jealous. I don’t have a truck-loading jacket for this kind of weather. When I saw we didn’t have enough crew I just dug out my windbreaker to put it over my sweatshirt, and I was wearing a T-shirt under my turtleneck because I knew it would be cold for load-out. But I’m not, you know, supposed to actually be loading the truck, just pushing and strapping things into place. Actually I’m supposed to be sitting in the bus watching TV while everyone else works, but I’ve never done that.

We finally finished just before 2AM (the show being so short, came down around 9PM), and limped to the bus on our frozen feet. I brought my remaining half-bottle of Ketel One from our stay in Minneapolis onto the bus, planning to pour one out in memory of the unopened $40 bottle that was destroyed in a tragic slide-retracting accident on the bus just before our departure from Brainerd last year. That was easily the saddest day of the tour last year (for me at least), and I hoped to make it right by successfully sharing my vodka with the crew at the end of the day. Little did I know we would need it so badly! So this time I smartly kept it in the cabinet until we were on the bus, and we toasted to our survival.

Our departure was also filled with uncertainty, as we were driving right into a bad snowstorm on our way to Madison, WI. During the show ideas were being tossed around about us staying another night in Brainerd, since we had a day off and the hotel had the rooms. But we left it up to Bart (our driver) and he felt better about pushing on ahead of the storm and stopping mid-way if we needed to. We made it to Madison a few hours later than we should have (it took 8 hours instead of the projected 6), but sometimes after a day like that I prefer arriving late because it means we can sleep longer! I was very grateful when my alarm went off and I cracked an eye open to check my GPS and saw we were nowhere near Madison, and rolled back over. I had slipped a doom-and-gloom note into the report last night about how we were uncertain whether the crew would make it on time, or what would happen to the cast the next day, but we got in almost on time, and the cast arrived early this evening with no problems.

I wasn’t too worried about the drive because Bart can make a bus do pretty much whatever he wants, and several of us commented that if we died in the night, at least we wouldn’t have to unload the truck. I don’t know about them, but I really meant it. Most of us didn’t sleep particularly well because our bodies never really warmed up, no matter how high we had the heat cranked on the bus, or how many layers and blankets we had. We’re all sore in crazy places and our bodies are generally out-of-whack. I didn’t get to do much on the day off because I felt like crap and had to sleep it off for most of the day. I still don’t feel recovered enough to do it all over again in the morning.

The Show

The misery of getting the show in and out pretty much overshadowed the part where the actors and the audience show up, but it was a good show and our cast handled their first new venue with Comedy very well. It was very different from the setup at the Guthrie and the moment they arrived they were proactive in working amongst themselves to plan out how they would do things. They definitely have the right attitude for this kind of touring, where being able to adapt an existing performance to a variety of conditions, without rehearsal, without getting freaked out is a must.

I called the show from backstage, which was a lot of fun. I was in front of the masking, so I had a good view even without a camera, and it was cool to be backstage and see what else goes on that you can’t see from the front. R&J from backstage doesn’t reveal that much more, but Comedy is all about layers and concealing things, so seeing it from the wings was fun. I was also in the corner where a lot of our live offstage sound (which consists largely of banging loudly on pots and pans) is performed, so I was ducking and covering a lot, but it was cool to see the actors as they watch the onstage action. We also did our first show without a front curtain, and the alternate cues worked perfectly and as expected. I appreciated that towards the end of our tech at the Guthrie, we took about 15 minutes to tech the alternate version (without actors), but until you try it for real, you never know!

Other than the weather conditions, and our set being constructed from plywood, steel and pure evil, it would have been a good day. The folks in Brainerd were very nice again, and provided us with a great breakfast (best bacon ever, we all agreed), and ordered some pizza for lunch, since there’s no food we could walk to. For our first load-in of Comedy, even with the extended time it took to unload the truck, we weren’t rushing to prepare for the cast’s arrival, which is a great sign. And it was the first time our crew could run the show (they’re not allowed to at the Guthrie, so they have to jump in at the first tour stop, having only trailed their Guthrie counterparts), and they all did a great job.