February 29, 2012

20 Years Ago Today

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:41 pm

I just happened to notice, because today is leap-year day, that this is also the date of the first time I saw Phantom on Broadway, which was also the occasion that led me to pursue a career in theatre. So naturally, I’m like, “how many years has it been?”

20 years.

Holy crap.

Last year was 15 years since I started working on the show, and I made a really long page basically as a love letter to the show, recounting some of my fondest memories and sharing some old photos. I direct you there for further illumination of how this date in history changed the course of my life.

February 28, 2012

Apple’s Non-Teaser Teaser

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:18 pm

When Apple sends out a teaser about an upcoming product announcement, they’re usually pretty coy, even if overwhelming evidence has already confirmed what the announcement is suspected to include.

The rumor about the current announcement goes something like this: an iPad with a retina display. Pretty much all evidence supports the idea that the iPad 2 is about to be replaced, and that software support for a higher-resolution iPad already exists.

So Apple just sends out a picture of a retina display. The photo is so clear that the team on CSI could identify the fingerprints of the model without even using their magical “enhance” button, and you still can’t see any pixels on the screen. That’s a retina display. That’s definitely not an iPhone. The only things it could be are an iPad or some other device that hasn’t previously existed — that’s constructed just like an iPad. Or a MacBook with a retina display, laying on its screen, displaying iOS upside-down. Nope, I think it’s an iPad.

I should mention that an amazing amount of analysis has gone on around the web today just on the subject of whether this photo proves the removal of the home button. It mostly has to do with the location of the water bubbles on the wallpaper, believe it or not. The conclusion is that either the home button has been removed, or they flipped the iPad upside-down to tease us. I’m ambivalent about the home button. I question what would replace its function, but confident that they wouldn’t get rid of it unless they came up with an elegant solution. There’s also been a decent amount of trouble with the button on the iPhone 4, so maybe they’ve been looking to eliminate the failures that come with having moving parts.

Anyway, we’ll see what it’s all about on March 7. I have been comfortably opposed to owning an iPad until they release one with a retina display. Now that this impediment to iPad ownership appears to be removed, I’m still not convinced it would be useful enough to justify the purchase. My other concern is this rumor about a 15″ MacBook Pro with the form factor of the Air, which if true, would eliminate some of my reasons for wanting an iPad at all. Patiently waiting…

February 26, 2012

Let Me Tell Ye: A Cautionary Tale About Calendars

I call this: computers,mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:18 pm

Let me tell ye a story:
Last week I was very nearly late for a meeting because I completely lost track of its existence. In my defense, it was seriously the only appointment I had all week, and pertains to a job that doesn’t start until April. But I have a habit before I go to bed each night of asking myself what I have to do the next day. Sometimes it’s really obvious, like if I’m rehearsing six days a week and just sent out the next day’s schedule six hours ago, then I don’t usually need to consult a calendar to remind me. But if it’s not immediately obvious, then I check the calendar to be sure.

On the eve of this particular meeting, as I was preparing to shut down my computer and head to bed, I asked myself the usual question of whether I have something in particular to do the next day. And I consciously made the decision not to take the 5 seconds to open iCal and check. So sure was I that I had no responsibility in the foreseeable future.

Well let me tell ye, I was wrong. Thankfully, my PSM texted me a little more than an hour beforehand to double-check where the meeting was being held.

As I sat fuming on a train wondering how this all happened, I broke it down to the most essential failure:

It wasn’t that I didn’t bother to check the calendar. It’s that this appointment was likely to be lost track of in the vast expanse of free time surrounding it, and I didn’t set a reminder alarm to go off several hours beforehand.

I have these kind of alarms for lots of things — when I’m going to visit my parents, the stage managers’ networking event at Equity next month, if there’s something on TV or an event on the internet like an Apple keynote (obviously things that don’t require leaving the house don’t need a 3-hour warning, but I might include a shorter warning in case I’m out shopping and need to get home).

So the real cause of my near-missing of this meeting is why I didn’t set an alarm for something so obviously in need of one. The real reason is because I’ve stopped using them as much.

I stopped using alarms because they had become unreliable.

I had been using my Google Apps account for my calendar, which is great because Google Calendar is kind of the de facto standard in calendar sharing in the theatre industry, even if it seems nobody uses it to its full potential. The problem is, for many months I’ve been having a lot of trouble with alarms properly syncing between iCal and my phone. I had done a lot of experiments with iCal, the Google web app, and the iPhone, trying to figure out the circumstances under which an alarm wouldn’t sync. I had looked for solutions online, and had heard some suggestions that adding a sound to the alarm caused problems, but that didn’t seem to fix it for me (not that silent alarms are a great solution anyway). I was really stumped. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, and instead of entering my appointment in whatever app I pleased, I was now having to check and double-check on multiple devices just to make sure there really, truly seemed to be an alarm set somewhere.

Let me tell ye: this should have been a huge red flag. A rather important component of my workflow (the one responsible for not forgetting to be somewhere) had essentially stopped working, and while I had spent many hours trying to fix it, I let it continue to be broken. I was smart enough to stop trusting it, but I didn’t replace its function.

Late that night after the meeting, I created a bunch of calendars in iCloud, and gave them the same names and colors as my Google calendars. Then I changed all the appointments pertaining to the upcoming show I’m doing from the Google calendars to their new iCloud equivalents.

Now let me tell ye: I don’t really have great faith in iCloud. It’s no better than MobileMe, which was not much better than dotMac. But I always felt that MobileMe’s calendar syncing was a little more reliable, which is only natural when you’re using apps designed for it, rather than relying on support between two companies’ implementations of calendar standards. The only advantage to using Google Calendar, as far as I could tell, was if I wanted to share calendars. And let me tell ye, I have hardly ever shared my calendars, and definitely won’t need to in the kind of jobs I’ll be doing in the near future. It would also be very easy to convert back. Just a checkbox to turn the account back on in iCal, and one of those blue switchy-things on the iPhone to turn calendar syncing back on for my Google Apps account.

So far things feel a little safer. I am by no means saying that iCloud is a superior platform to Google Apps. On email features alone, I declare it is not. But the most important thing in my workflow should be to prevent data loss, because it could lead to absolute disaster for me and whatever production I’m working on. Sometimes that means picking the safer solution. It’s why I’ve never used Google to sync my contacts — it adds an extra layer of syncing between Address Book and Google, and in 12 years of syncing contacts, if I’ve learned anything it’s that they love to either disappear or inexplicably get duplicated 5 times, and it’s even more fun when field names get mixed up. Since my contacts are just for my own use, I prefer to go from an app to a cloud service to an app that are all designed to work together.

Anyway, my point in posting this is not specifically to talk about which calendar syncs better. The point is that I failed to fix something that was broken in my workflow — I guess because I was stubborn, or because I was afraid of breaking something else by switching formats — and it caused me to become disorganized and nearly make a major mistake. So I present this cautionary tale to anyone who relies on computers as much as I do, or on non-computer routines, for that matter. If something is preventing you from staying organized, fix it. If your thing is that you stick post-its on your corkboard, and you run out of post-its, run to the store and buy more. If your new corkboard makes the post-its fall off, stick them on with push-pins until you figure something out. Don’t stop using the post-its!

Also, it’s a good idea to look at your calendar before you go to bed.

I think this article may elicit some FAQs, so:

Why is Google Apps better than iCloud (for you)?
What I meant about the email being superior is best expressed in this Apple knowledgebase thingy. In short, MobileMe email would not push changes in status other than the arrival of a new message. So if you got 2 emails and read them on your computer, and then deleted them, your phone would still show two new emails until you actually opened the Mail app, at which point it would connect to the server and the emails would be marked read and then disappear off to the trash. Now imagine you’re on a train, and don’t have access to the server. Even more annoying.

Google mail had no such problem — all changes get pushed instantly, so you never have false unread mail alerts, and everything is in the folder where it belongs. Thus proving it’s never been a problem with the phone, with multitasking, or anything else. It’s just that MobileMe sucked. I had hoped that iCloud, whose only selling point was basically “MobileMe, but without the suck,” would fix this behavior. It didn’t. And that knowledgebase article basically says, “yeah, we meant for it to be this way.” So I no longer use any of my old dotMac/MobileMe/iCloud email addresses because it’s so annoying, and clearly not likely to change. Also with Google Apps I can use my own domain name for my email address, and that’s nice. Plus, if I someday didn’t want to use Gmail, I can keep my address and take it somewhere else.

So why don’t you just use Google Apps for everything and forget the syncing to iCal and Address Book?
Because I hate web apps. I do not trust the web, or the cloud, at all. Its only use for PIM (which is a term that’s never used anymore, but it means personal information management, and it’s a useful phrase), is to create local copies of my data simultaneously on all my devices. If it can’t be saved, accessed, and edited offline, and then successfully synced later without fucking everything up, I don’t want it. There are a disturbing number of places where I have to do my business without any internet access, so I prefer to work in well-designed local apps that stay in sync with each other, rather than in web apps that might try to throw in offline access as some kind of afterthought.

I like to know that if my tenuous hold on 1KB of bandwidth is severed while I’m entering data, I’m not going to lose anything, I don’t need to stop working, and I won’t be prevented from accessing data I’ve already entered. Also, I like purpose-built apps that are well designed and reliable at the tasks they were built to do. Sure I could use a browser as an email client. I could also use Photoshop as a word processor.

The only time I appreciate the existence of web apps is when I need to access something from somebody else’s computer, and when I do it’s very useful, but those occasions are rare. Also, they always seem to involve something about a printer that can’t be accessed except from the office computer. So yes, a great option to have in your back pocket, but I’m not comfortable with it as my primary method of working with my data.

You’re insane, you know that?
I offer this FAQ only as an explanation of why I personally have dismissed other available options. My way is far from being the most appropriate solution for everyone.

February 24, 2012

Day -44: Production Meeting

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:47 pm

Today I attended my first production meeting for a developmental presentation of a show that starts rehearsal in April. 44 days from now. No, that’s not normal. Also, I’m the ASM. Generally, unless you’re working on Broadway, the ASM’s contract starts 2 or 3 days before the first rehearsal, but I’m a big believer in getting involved ASAP if I’ve got no other work. I figure it’s more helpful in the long run not to have missed anything. Also, one of the biggest things I think I bring to the table as an ASM is my ability to function in place of the PSM when needed, and it’s hard to do that if you don’t have the same information the PSM has. So in pretty much any case where I’m told, “well, you don’t technically have to be there, but if you want…” I’ll go.

Anyway, it’s good I was there, because my friend Brian is the PSM, and he’s doing a show in New Brunswick which had one of those awful 10AM / 8PM two-show days today, and he didn’t make it in time. I took notes in Evernote, and cleaned them up and emailed them to him when I got home.

At the meeting we received a calendar, and an updated contact sheet (which we got in an email the other day). I hadn’t received the script yet, but it was waiting for me in my email by the time I got home from the meeting.

That led to an interesting situation towards the end of the meeting when I was asked, “does stage management have any questions?” I admitted honestly that all I knew about the show was the title, which got a good chuckle from the room. But it’s an interesting illustration that there are lots of things to think about at a meeting like this, that remain the same no matter what the show is. A lot of my initial questions usually revolve around the rehearsal situation: where is it (this was already answered, we have a nice studio at Pearl, which I’m thrilled about), whether we can tape the floor in the rehearsal room (and more importantly, leave the tape down overnight), whether we have storage at the studio. Usually I also want to get some kind of sense of what crew we will have when it comes to the actual run. In this case we’re presenting the show in a large rehearsal studio, and there isn’t planned to be any “backstage” space, so it looks like I won’t even be able to help with the running of the show, much less need a crew. Basically there will be sets, props, staging and choreography, and some level of sound to be determined by the acoustic needs of the space, but no lighting. So it sounds like Brian will be sitting around a lot, too.

With the hour-long meeting completed, I headed home with lots of new things to do.

The first thing I did was send Brian my notes.


Then I finished putting the information on the calendar into iCal (which I had been doing a little of during the meeting). I always like this part of the process, when I first get something of a schedule. It makes me feel much more organized, and there’s always a moment of “what have I gotten myself into, anyway?” when I first see it laid out. This one is pretty nice. Straight 5-hour rehearsal days until we get to tech. I say that with the biggest “we shall see” possible!

Pro tip: if your rehearsal schedule looks too easy, that’s usually because it is, and while you may be the only person to think that in pre-production, and the producer may say, “nope, this is really it — we’ve booked the studio time,” the director will realize it eventually in the middle of rehearsal and that booking will be changed. Let me tell ye: we shall see.

I promise to let you know. I’ve got a reminder in OmniFocus for April 23rd, so you know I won’t forget it. I would love to have to admit I was proven wrong.


After dealing with the calendar, I put all the contacts into Address Book. About 5 of the people on the production are people I’ve worked with before. When that happens, I generally don’t update their title and company from the first show I met them on, but I add a note listing any subsequent shows I do with them. I currently have 1,498 contacts, because I basically don’t ever remove people I work with. I will usually, but not always, remove someone who drops out of a show before it starts production (if I’ve had literally no contact with them). I also tend to remove non-professional child actors because the odds of working with them again are a bit lower. Of course I’ve still got contact sheets elsewhere, so nothing is ever really lost, but I like to have most of my old contacts at hand (and not have to type them again!)

This allowed for a rather funny exchange before the meeting as those of us getting settled around the table began introducing ourselves. I worked with the set designer about 4 years ago, we hugged and said hello. Then I turned around to meet the choreographer, and we both looked at each other and knew that we had worked together, but had no idea where. I threw out a couple show titles with no luck. I asked what her last name was (I was pretty sure I had matched the name with the face, but wasn’t certain), and began typing it into my phone. She was like, “Wait! Don’t tell me, I want to figure it out!” I pulled up her contact and said, “Wow! I never would have guessed that one!” and we began the meeting. Impressively, a few minutes later she figured it out. Anyway, that’s the most useful reason I never get rid of my contacts: I use the quick search feature on the iPhone constantly when I think, “I know that name — have I worked with that person?” or when I know I’ve worked with the person, but am not sure what show it was or what their role was on it.

If I was the PSM, I would then import all the contacts into my database and begin making my own contact sheet. But since that’s not my job, my involvement with the contacts is limited to making sure I have everybody in Address Book so they’re in my phone if I need to call anyone suddenly.


Ah, props. One of the only jobs of the ASM. One thing was made clear at this meeting, there will be a lot of props. But — halleluja! — we have a prop designer, and he seems really on the ball. I actually kind of like managing props, as my title implies. When someone else makes them appear, and I don’t have to go shopping for them, it’s a source of great pride, as it is, after all, the only thing the ASM really does independently.

I don’t know anything about what the props are yet, except a vague notion that they will be largely kitchen- and restaurant-related, but in preparation for this onslaught, I have prepared my blank prop spreadsheet. You can find the template for it on the templates page.


My last post made it clear that I don’t particularly like reading scripts during pre-production. As a result, this is the only part of all the information I received today that I haven’t fully processed. I still have 44 days. Maybe 42, since I might be able to get a good start on the prop list if the script is descriptive enough.

As is apparently my new M.O., I made the script into a PDF and then emailed it to my Kindle, so the next time I go somewhere I can start reading it on the train. I’m visiting my parents on Monday, that should cover it. Something I just thought of: I can even take notes on the Kindle as I read, to mark mentions of props and other things of import. That would remove the main advantage of reading on paper. I’ll give it a try.

The Cloud

So to recap where all my information on the show is:

  • The calendar is in iCal, which through the magic of Google Apps is synced instantly to my phone, and available on the web with Google Calendar.
  • The contacts are in Address Book, which through the magic of iCloud is synced instantly to my phone, and is available on the web through the iCloud web app, which I have used approximately never, but if my computer and phone fell down a well, it would be an option.
  • The notes from the meeting (along with another note from when I got hired where I jotted down some simple info like my salary, and the dates of employment) are in Evernote, which syncs less-than-magically between all my computers and my phone, and is available on the web in case every piece of electronics I own has fallen in the well.
  • My task list pertaining to the show, which thanks to my work today is now empty except for reading and processing the script, is in OmniFocus, which also syncs less-than-magically between my laptop and my phone, and is not available on the web.
  • The script is on my Kindle, ready for reading. I think it actually saves a copy on Amazon’s servers, but really, who cares?
  • All the files pertaining to the show, which right now are the contact sheet, script, and prop list, are on my Dropbox in a folder I’ve created for the show, which syncs instantly between my computers, and less-than-magically to my phone.

So that’s where everything is now. I should be caught up for some time, and ready to process any smaller bits of information as they trickle in. There was some casual talk about having another meeting in about two weeks. For now, I’m going to do my taxes tonight!

February 22, 2012

eReaders Make Reading Scripts Less of a Pain

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:57 pm

Last week I did a reading of a new musical. As with pretty much any process, at some point before the first rehearsal (ideally well before the first rehearsal), you have to read the script. This helps you not look like an idiot when other people on the production start rattling off names of songs and characters and expecting you to have some clue how they relate to each other, and is especially necessary once you start working on the schedule.

No matter how excited I am to do a show, I always have difficulty getting myself to read the script for the first time. Finding a time I want to sit down (or lie in bed) for probably a couple hours is hard for me. Once I get through that initial reading, I don’t mind sitting at my desk and taking notes, and beginning paperwork related to the script. I just need a reason to crack it open and sit through reading it.

Since I purchased a Kindle 4 this fall, I’ve been taking my books everywhere. When I got the script for my recent show, the first thing I did was forward the PDF to my @kindle.com email address, so that it would automatically sync to my Kindle. The next time I left the house, I had the script with me in an easy-to-hold format, and by the time I had completed my round-trip commute, I had read the script. It was also pretty interesting because this particular PDF was formatted with the score and script pages intermixed (which is normally weird, but works great for a reading where the actors have to perform with script in hand). The lyrics on the sheet music were very tiny and hard to read, but it was workable.

I really enjoyed this solution, and plan to keep using it. If you get a script as a PDF or other digital format you can convert to PDF, and have any kind of eReader or tablet, I highly recommend it.

February 19, 2012

A Real Nice Clambake

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:58 pm

I was going through a lot of old paperwork today, and I discovered this gem:

This is from the 2005 production of Carousel at The Reagle Players. The musicians at Reagle have a long tradition of making funny signs to display in the pit, generally referencing the songs in the show.

Sometimes the pictures never leave the pit, but are displayed along the inside of the pit rail so the actors can also enjoy them. When I want to be let in on the joke, they have to take the picture down and pass it to the conductor so he can hold it up to the video camera.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out what show that was.

February 16, 2012

I Sent a Resume: Episode II – The Company Writes Back

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:03 pm

You may want to read Episode I, if you haven’t already.

In the first development since I submitted my resume a week ago, I received a form letter acknowledging that they got my materials. It warns that they have a lot of applicants and not everyone will get an interview. I don’t know where they draw that line, but I’m pretty confident that I’m comfortably above it.

Interviews are next month, so I’m just going to patiently wait, while keeping an eye out for other job listings. My job hunt has been basically outsourced this week, while I’ve been doing this reading. My awesome assistant, who long-time readers will know as Ashley, formerly stage management intern at the Guthrie, and now New York-based stage manager, has also been looking, and has been showing me listings for anything I might be right for. Nothing really interesting has come up yet.

February 8, 2012

I Sent a Resume: Episode I — The Saga Begins

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:37 pm

I’m a big believer that sending cold resumes doesn’t really work. Stage management, especially PSM work, is such a tricky thing, nobody will hire somebody they don’t trust, because if they screw it up their whole show could potentially be a disaster. This means they hire somebody they know, or they hire somebody that somebody they know knows.

However, I’m aware of some cases where a company gets really desperate and hires somebody from the pile of resumes they receive. It does happen, I just don’t have enough faith in it to bother with a process that used to require paper, ink, envelopes and stamps, as well as hours of staring at a blank page that it is hoped will eventually become a cover letter. I stopped torturing myself with this process somewhere around the age of 22.

I have done just fine for myself by essentially waiting for my phone to ring, my email icon to bounce, or a conversation with a colleague to turn into something. However, lately I’d like to branch out to working with different people. I’d like to do the same job I’ve been doing with other companies that pay more. And I’d like to keep my health insurance. So I have decided that it couldn’t hurt to put myself out there for jobs that I know I’m qualified for, that I want. Also, things have changed a lot since I was 22: stamps are no longer a requirement, and I’m not hung up about my resume making me look inexperienced or unqualified.

Today I sent out a resume. If you’re curious what it contains, hit the big “RESUME” link in the navbar up yonder. This job listing was for a PSM position with a well-known purveyor of summer musical theatre productions. I intend to apply for many similar jobs, but for now, I’m curious to see the journey of this first humble resume across the interwebs to its final conclusion, whatever that may be.

February 1, 2012

Another Stage Management Survey

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:41 pm

Remember that survey I totally forgot to tell you about? Well I’m making amends today.

Through the magic of Twitter, it came to my attention that a stage manager / tech guy named Tim Boucher is conducting his own survey about how stage managers use their scripts. Like the University of Iowa survey, it also focuses a lot on software and technology issues. He’s looking to gather some data for the purposes of developing electronic script-making software. If you’ve read the post I linked above, you know that this is an area of stage management technological development that I think is still lacking a useable solution. So I wish him luck, and I wish to pass on the link to his survey.

Survey Link