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December 30, 2014

Calling from Backstage

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:15 pm

IMG_4899This is sort of an addendum to my recent post on how I chose my calling position on Mary Poppins. I was going to go into detail about the advantages I experienced calling from backstage, and eventually realized I had so much to say about it that it could really be its own post.

The most basic and practical advantage to calling from backstage is that you don’t have to walk far to get there. First of all, the stairs to the balcony were particularly exhausting in this venue, and the whole path went through the audience, so the travel time could be seriously delayed to get through the crowd. I’ve definitely started shows late because of a crowded front-of-house. Once situated in a booth, there are plenty of things that I might want or need from backstage that I would forego because it would take too long, or too much effort, to go back. And you don’t have to compete with the line at the ladies’ room if you can go backstage. I mean you still have to compete, but there are less potential pee-ers, and they will generally let you go ahead if they see you waiting.

But the most important thing to me about calling from backstage is that I think it’s better for morale because I get to spend quality time with the cast and crew as we work together to make a performance. Often when in a run I feel like I don’t see the cast enough. If they keep to their dressing rooms before the show, and I’m in the booth the entire show (maybe not even coming down at intermission if it would take too long to fight the crowds), then we never really see each other and it can feel a little distant. I always expect the ASM to get closer to the cast than I am, but I also don’t want to be a shadowy figure sitting behind glass who is only accessible by passing messages through someone else. Especially when I have such a fondness for a cast as I did on this show, I wanted to have easy access to them, and for them to feel like I was around if they needed to talk.

The Check-In

I made it a point — before every act, and at the end of the day or show — to set aside at least two minutes to make a pass through the 2nd-floor crossover where all the principals and most of the Equity chorus had their rooms. I usually made it to the ensemble rooms in a dead-end tunnel of the sub-basement, about once a day. I didn’t bother people if their doors were closed (unless I specifically needed to talk to them), but I made sure everyone knew I was passing through if they had anything to say, and our Mary and Bert generally got some kind of direct contact of at least a quick “Everything good?”, “How did your flight feel?” etc.

Sometimes it was nice just to say hi, and participate in the social life of backstage. There was one room in particular that I often stopped in not because I expected the occupants needed anything, but because I knew they’d probably have something interesting to chat about.

During one performance I was having a really frustrating first act dealing with technical issues, and found a gaggle of actors and musicians gathered in the hall, and joined in on their conversation with an “is everybody having a better show than I am?” This was a good opportunity to explain what the hell was going on and that it was fixed, and have a laugh about what the actors were thinking onstage, and totally unexpectedly I got a very good backrub through most of the conversation. I absolutely delayed places because I was getting a backrub and being entertained out of my frustration, so I was glad when I finally got to the calling desk to hear the house was requesting a 20-minute intermission. Seriously, knowing when your stage manager needs a backrub is a special skill, and if you’re calling from the deck there are dozens of people nearby, one of whom might possess that skill. It probably isn’t your light board op.

There was one show in particular that I thought was a fantastic performance but the audience was kind of lackluster, so I went upstairs when we came down, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, and the cast felt as good about it as I did. They were glad to hear that I agreed it was their best show, even if the faces out there in the dark weren’t giving them a lot of support.

Artist's rendering of the audience in question.

Artist’s rendering of the audience in question.


I find that my mood can sometimes color my impression of a performance, so I like to have some kind of verification before I say something in the report like “This was the best show ever, and the other 900 people who saw it are wrong.” Being backstage removes a step from that process. A lot of the time I find myself asking the ASM, after everyone has gone, “how did the cast feel about tonight’s show?” and well, that’s kind of a lame way to do it. Also, I went up there selfishly looking for material for my report, but when I got there I saw the real benefit in the faces of the actors, who were genuinely thankful to hear that somebody noticed what a good show it was, and you don’t get that by doing it through a third party.

But when I wasn’t getting backrubs and giving pep-talks, I was doing the real work of keeping the show running: getting things done and fixing the show. Rather than avoid opening the door too wide to any and all complaints and requests, I welcomed it. My attitude was to put myself in everybody’s face as often as possible, in the hopes that they would tell me how I could make their show better.

I should note that this is not my usual M.O. It’s something I think I could work on, so I used this opportunity, and this lovely group of actors, to play with cranking my accessibility up to 11, to see just how helpful I could be. Part of what made this possible was how well-supported I was by management and crew. I had all the time in the world to take care of the cast because everybody else was doing their jobs. And the cool thing is, when you’re not stuck doing things that aren’t your job, and everyone else is able to do their jobs well and without much supervision, the PSM actually doesn’t have a lot to do, except be around to find out what else can be done better.

This was the case even sometimes in the middle of tech. I love when we can take a 10 and I literally have nothing to do for 10 minutes. And because I’m sometimes a bit calculating with how my behavior affects everyone else, rather than just sit at the tech table tweeting for 10 minutes, I often took advantage of the opportunity to show my face around the theatre — in the dressing rooms, on the deck, in the lobby where the producery-types had made their office — specifically for the purpose of being like, “Hey. No, just saying hi. How’s it going for you? Oh, there’s a funny YouTube video of Mary Poppins as a horror movie? Let’s all stand in the middle of the stage and watch it right now, cause your tech is going so well that this is what your PSM is doing.” I know from previous feedback that this kind of thing works wonders in everyone else having an enjoyable tech, so in addition to watching YouTube videos, I began my dressing-room-hallway flybys, just to show that although tech isn’t about the actors, this tech is so under control that it could be about the actors if they needed anything. With this pattern established, I made it a predictable occurrence as we continued into the run, in the hopes that people would think of things to ask me, secure in the knowledge that any problem they had could be taken care of swiftly.

It became something of a game for me, which is actually a very Mary Poppins life lesson, about making things that could be work seem like fun. I challenged myself to make sure that any note I was given was fixed immediately, whatever bad thing was happening never happened again, and any question, if I did not know the answer, I quickly hunted down the right person and came back with an answer. Anything from issues with the heat, to props getting stuck on scenery, to missed mic pickups of lines that aren’t in the script, to broken dressing room chairs, to soap running out in the mens’ room, to escorting backstage guests was something I enjoyed providing prompt and effective service on.

My proudest moment was a team effort, as one night after the show our PA alerted me to a potential problem that I hadn’t heard about. I was flabbergasted — it seemed impossible that this could be a real problem (a safety issue, no less) that had gone unreported with the amount of time I spent hanging around, prodding everyone to think of anything that was on their mind. I suspected one of those situations where something happens in the heat of the performance, and by the time there’s an opportunity to tell someone, it’s three scenes later and long forgotten. And then the next night it happens again, and the cycle continues.

So next intermission I swing around the dressing room door with, “Hey, I don’t know if this is a thing, but is there a scene change in Act II where you could potentially get crushed?”

“Yes! I almost die every night! How did you know?”

Because I am your magical PSM. If you don’t remember to tell me when I make my check-ins (many of which you actually answer with a cheery “I don’t feel like I’m going to die”), my magical minions have eyes everywhere. And now that I know what’s happening from your perspective, we can employ a change right now, ensuring you will never be nearly-squished again. #dropstheheadset No but seriously, I gave our PA most of the credit, cause it takes a village to keep a cast alive.

On the Deck

As I said in my earlier post, I was disappointed how little contact I got with people while the show was going on. The deck was crowded, and as a result everyone instinctively knew that if you were hanging out, you were going to be in the way of actors, crew or scenery who had a need to be where you were standing. So there wasn’t a lot of hanging out, at least not downstage right, and due to large chimneys and houses stage left, I’d imagine people got the hell out of there, too. Or maybe waited on top of chimneys and houses for a while, I don’t know.

When I picture calling from the deck, I think of those moments where you know you’ll see certain people. Maybe you have a little ritual you develop for that moment. And it’s important to learn the times during the show that you have a chance to get a word with people of note, if the need arises — your ASM, your head carp, your leads (especially those who rarely leave the stage), the dance captain. We did eight shows in five days, and I know if we’d run longer things would have relaxed enough to allow for more of that, but the inherent pace and structure of the show still would have limited it.

As it turned out, the moments I had any chance to talk to people were almost nil. The stage right offstage singing position was right behind me, which you’d think, “cool!” Yeah, but I’m still calling cues, and they’re singing, so every time I had the impulse to turn around and wave, I realized I’d be calling a cue right into somebody’s mic. And the moment they were done singing, they were scampering down the stairs to their dressing room to get out of the way and make their next change. So much for that.

The number of times in the show where an actor was standing next to me in a moment of calm for the both of us, for long enough to speak words? One. ONE. It was at the top of “Feed the Birds,” when Mary and the kids arrived for their entrance. The whole time they were there was maybe 20 seconds. In reality, between me finishing calling the scene change, and them moving into position to enter, it was more like 5 or 10 useful seconds of communication. Make eye contact of the “everything good?”/”good” variety, and then maybe a couple extra seconds for pleasantries, like actually saying those words out loud, or perhaps a brief comment on the performance, and off they went. A couple times there was something of actual content to say, like we’re working on the monitor issue. But the good thing was that we had eight deck crew members on headset, plus the A2, so in the event anything important had to be said between me and any actor, they could always find a nearby crew member to tell, and whenever I asked, “Is anybody near so-and-so?” the answer was always yes. So the in-person check-in was really just for socializing, or sharing anything not urgent enough to interrupt anyone, but I was still sad that I barely saw anyone.

Occasionally crew members or ensemble on their way downstairs would spend a moment standing behind me watching the show on the monitor, but the pathway would not be able to be blocked for long. My friend Jimmy, who played Robertson Ay, had a significant amount of time offstage, and would sometimes tuck into my jungle-gym (if you haven’t read the other post, I was under a platform, and the ladder and legs of said platform provided me with a footprint of personal space), to watch for a while. One night we had a prop get stuck on the apron and needed to get it struck, and of course the one time I needed to send him onstage as actor-conveniently-dressed-as-a-butler, he wasn’t there with me (and, I should correct myself, this was the one time when I asked “is anybody near so-and-so?” and nobody was, because his dressing room was in the bowels of the earth).

Word to the wise: make time to find out in advance how audible your paging system is to the audience if used during a performance. I would have paged him to come to the calling desk but I didn’t because I was afraid it might be too loud onstage. So instead we sent out a stagehand-conveniently-dressed-as-a-stagehand during a scene change, which is not quite as slick. Although if you’ve read my other Mary Poppins post, Being Too Clever, you would know that our attempt to solve the problem elegantly would have inevitably resulted in something far worse than an audience seeing a glimpse of a burly black-clad figure in the dark.

After the first few days of controlled chaos, things did calm down enough that the crew was able to wander over to chat once in a while. Our crew chief spent most of his track flying at the arbor right in front of me, so we were usually within sight of each other. Daniel, the ASM, was also able to be around more and more as things settled down. There were a few times when the three of us being able to chat off-headset while the show was going on helped us to better plan our response to unexpected situations.

Other than the fact that the show itself made things so crowded and crazy, calling from backstage was everything I hoped it would be and more. As I had hoped, I had good line of sight to the actors during most of the scenes. Although I never noticed how many of the Mary-snaps-and-something-happens cues were staged with her in my blind spot midstage-right. The ones where I could see her were a lot of fun. The ones where I was going just on knowing her timing and an incredibly blurry and low-contrast figure on a monitor were terrifying. I think I usually got them, but who knows. I have vague memories of getting completely psyched-out once, but I took my rehearsal-hall mock calls very seriously, so it’s possible that feeling of abject humiliation happened not only not in front of an audience, but quite possibly not in front of anyone. Which didn’t make it less terrifying.

The show had an unusually high number of cues that could be taken on acting beats, and that number grew higher the more I saw of the acting. With such performances to hang a cue on, who needs words or blocking to mark the separation between one thing and the next? It was a great advantage to be so close to the stage for all those cues. They were the easiest to call. I guess it also didn’t hurt that in the typical bane of my stock existence, I spent every single rehearsal with the principals. So I could write a paragraph to describe the moment in Christiane’s acting upon which a light shift from the living room to the office will occur, but I couldn’t call the dance break of “Step in Time” without counting it. But honestly, what I found — contrary to my expectations — was that the show is more about that shift from the living room to the office than it is about dancing chimney sweeps. Except Bert dancing on the ceiling. I literally considered my job description to be (1) be able to call the Bert walk correctly, by heart, every time, before we ever set foot in the theatre. (2) Call the rest of the show. (3) Schedules n’ shit.

Hi

Whatever, McKayla. If you look far stage right, you can see all the fucks I was giving about pleasing anyone within 20 feet of the ground.


December 15, 2014

Mary Poppins Calling Desk

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:23 pm

Probably the first real decision I had to make on my whirlwind experience as PSM of Ogunquit’s “Mary Poppins” remount at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH, was to take a site visit of the venue and choose a calling position.

I’ve probably talked about my thought process before. When I was on the road my general pattern was that if a venue had proper video and audio monitors or sightlines to the stage, I would call from the deck. Partially this was because we were in a new theatre nearly every day, and I was very comfortable with the show and wanted to mix it up. Also, walking back and forth to the booth is annoying and sometimes lonely. And not just lonely, but I think bad for morale because I can’t be a part of the backstage life as much.

However, I also liked to call from a nice booth, because it’s easier to really see what’s going on in the show, and judge its whole impact on the audience from their perspective. If you know a show well you can call cues from backstage and know they’re doing what you want, but when in an unfamiliar situation (either a new show, or a venue with significant differences), it’s the only way to know you’re really calling things right.

So I was torn. I wasn’t going to get much time at the tech table. I was really unfamiliar with the operation of the deck, having left that to my ASM Daniel, who already knew the show, while I spent the 6-day rehearsal process focused on learning the show itself and the placement of my cues in it. Being backstage seemed like it might give me a better understanding of how the show operated, and a perspective on what was going on during a problem. Also, I’d be able to spend more time checking in with the actors and crew and generally making sure everything was running smoothly. And I might actually get to know the ensemble, who I hardly ever saw in rehearsal.

We got the site tour, and I was shown my two options, and took photos so that I could look back at them again if I needed to re-consider.

The first option was backstage under a little dimmer platform, behind a short downstage arbor, looking through the ropes. It was a weird view, but not awful. And the legs and ladder for the platform overhead provided a nice barrier to give me some personal space (the ensemble dubbed it the “jungle gym” when they saw it). The sightlines upstage reached to the upper edge of wing 2 across the stage, and only wing 1 on my side, of course. Not perfect, but pretty good for where our scenes played, and there was a decent amount of room to lean in either direction to see upstage or down to the apron. Due to the intricacy of the “Bert walk” Foy effect, in which an actor walks and dances up the proscenium, over the top upside down, and then down the other side, my first caveat was that I would only call from backstage if I had a camera view sufficient to clearly see the position of his feet all the way across. I was told I could.

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The other option was a booth in the balcony, which was not luxurious but not tiny either. The view was almost-center and unobstructed. There was an optional window (which I said I would want to keep, and add an audio monitor). I’d have a nice view of the gorgeous theatre, and a far away and steep, but clear view of the stage. My “cons” about the booth were the fact it would be a real hike to get to, and it was a little far away for the kind of acting-based cues I already knew I would have, and wanted to be able to do justice to. I felt confident I could see those kinds of moments better by watching them sideways from backstage.

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There was a third option, of an open desk adjacent to the booth in the balcony, which was where the light board ended up. That was vigorously and immediately ruled out by me, and by Daniel on my behalf, that there’s no way to call such a show from the audience.

Finally the tour concluded back on the deck, and the venue’s TD turned to me with the words I was dreading, “So where do you want to call from?” I hemmed and hawed. Daniel had told me that my predecessor had called from stage right in a similar position, without any particular problems, so that assured me it was a basically sound idea. I had him come look again at the backstage desk with me, and try to imagine what issues I wasn’t thinking of. There would be guys flying at the arbor in front of me occasionally, but that’s why I have a camera. So I went with stage right.

The end result

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When we arrived for the day of our dry tech (yes, we did a dry tech, which in my experience is rare and usually not that helpful, but definitely allowed us to save six hours of headaches without the actors on the clock), the calling position was still buried in other equipment, so I remained in denial for a while and got comfy at the nicely-apointed tech table I was given.

I familiarized myself with the cue light system our ME had provided. This was a fun process because the only limitation I was given was that there were eight switches, and I could ask for whatever Daniel and I wanted them to do. We met up on a lunch break (because we were pretty much rehearsing in separate buildings the entire time), and hashed out our needs and desires.

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What I requested was:

  • On the deck, ropelight running the depth of the stage on both sides — red, blue, and green, the colors on both sides controlled by a single switch. High enough to be visible from across the stage, so you can see your light no matter which way you’re facing. I requested red/blue/green, but they were plugged in as red/green/blue, and by that point I was actually considering doing that anyway, so we kept it, as red was primarily rail, green was primarily traveler moves, and blue was primarily (and by the time we opened, exclusively) set moves, so it made sense to keep red and green together.
  • A yellow cue light on the fly rail (both sides — it’s a hemp house). A second color here was on our wish list, but we sacrificed it to split the downstage lights into left and right. We planned to call this light Tinkerbell, if indeed we were able to get yellow (as we had our meeting the day after an epic Peter Pan Live-watching party), but to be honest by the time things calmed down enough and we got friendly enough with the crew, I had totally forgotten about it, and am just remembering it now. Which is a shame. I think they might have liked it.
  • Independently-controlled downstage cue lights in wing 1 on either side (colored blue for minimum distracting spill if they glowed in view of the audience).
  • Sound
  • Conductor

I went home that night and stayed up till some ungodly hour matching the switch numbers to the cues in my inherited script, and re-ordering them in the script to match the numerical order of my chosen layout. Daniel provided me with his work-in-progress run sheets, and a list of where each flying piece was operated from (some from the fly rail, some on the deck), and as I went through the show I checked for any transitions that couldn’t be accomplished with our design. There were a few re-warns, but easy enough to do.

I sent our request to the ME, and heard back soon that it should be attainable. When we arrived to dry tech, I met him for the first time, and immediately got some evidence of his sense of humor. The conductor’s cue light was a Christmas tree. Not Christmas tree lights. Not lights in the shape of a Christmas tree. Not even a tiny light-up plastic Christmas tree. I mean an actual (fake) stand-up, leaves-and-all Christmas tree, maybe 2 feet tall, strung with multicolored lights, and sitting smack in the middle of the pit. It’s one of the most whimsical things I’ve ever seen in a theatrical operating environment. The pit was not sunk very low below the audience, so it wouldn’t have been subtle in the event I needed to contact him during the show, but I only needed to do that once, and I was stopping the show during the overture because the house lights weren’t responding.

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Backstage the Jolly Holiday cheer continued (yes, we know “Jolly Holiday” doesn’t mean holiday like we say in the States, and this was a matter of great debate in a marketing sense, but the pro-Jolly-Holiday contingent won out over the sticklers for accuracy, and we frequently threw the word “Jolly” in whenever it was mentioned that this was a holiday-season-based production).

Instead of finding red, green, and blue rope light, we found green and blue Christmas lights, and candy-cane-striped rope light. I decided to go for the morale boost of changing whatever calling muscle-memory I had developed in the rehearsal room, and to warn on the “candy cane” rather than on the Red. It was only two more syllables, though the hardest thing about learning to call the show was to fit the warnings in. I think the candy cane is what distracted us from calling the yellow cue light Tinkerbell (or “Tink” as I suggested it would have to be called, for the aforementioned syllable-rationing reasons). I think by the end of the 8-show run I was comfortable enough that I could have called it “Supercalifragilisticexpialicuelight” and could have made it work.

All the other lights were conventional theatrical cue lights, but the Christmas-y feel when our three main deck lights were lit seemed to put everyone in the holiday spirit. When we discovered an actor had a hard time hearing a dialogue cue to enter through a door, I suggested a cue light, and chose the candy cane simply to be festive.

I was very grateful that the switches were up-and-down and not left-to-right. I kept saying to Daniel, as I practiced with mock cue lights in the rehearsal room, “If these switches are sideways I’m gonna cry!” The really heavy toggles are not my first preference, but the orientation, spacing and reliability were so good that it was still better than most possibilities. I have short fingers, and the panel was angled relative to my body, so I had trouble reliably getting an equal distribution of force to get all the lights off exactly together when throwing 4 or 5 switches at a time. There were quite a few 4-at-once cues, but only one 5-at-once, and most of the time it was a little scary, as my fingers would sometimes slip off the sides without throwing the switch, but it all worked out.

The calling desk

When we finished tech (a day for each act, ending a little early each day, which disappointed me a little, but was respectable), we only had one afternoon for a dress before our first preview that night. So the night before I was faced with my second-most-nervewracking question: did I want to call the sole run from the tech table or the calling position? And I chose, as I always do, the calling position, as if there’s something totally unworkable about it (can’t see or can’t hear), I’d like to discover that in a rehearsal I can stop, and not with an audience in the house. It was especially a no-brainer on a show like this, where there are only a few dropping-flying-things-on-actors dangers, but a number of Foy cues, the clear operation and calling of which was of course given priority over anything else on the show.

But the downside was that I never got to call the show from the house, so I was flying a bit blind as far as the artistry of calling the show. Tech wasn’t all that helpful from an artful-calling perspective because we didn’t repeat sequences very often, and I was so focused on getting the set onstage and getting all the words out, that I didn’t usually have any time to call a light cue and study it in depth. And a lot changes as the designers tinker anyway.

So on the day of our first preview, having never called the show (which was an awful feeling!) I approached the calling desk with trepidation, to figure out how I would set it up. If I faced the stage, the monitor with the front-of-house view would have been just behind my right shoulder, and I’d have to call on a steeply-pitched music stand, which is not my cup of tea. I didn’t like that prospect. If I faced the monitor, my script could be on the desk, but I’d have to turn a full 90 degrees to glance at the stage.

Quite sensibly, I decided to try splitting the difference. If I called the show diagonally, I wouldn’t be facing anything of use, but I’d have the comm and the volume adjustment for vocals over my script, and closer to my left hand, and the cue lights in front of my right hand. The stage would be a 45 degree glance left, and the monitors a 45-degree glance right. And my chair swiveled, so I could pivot as the moment required, to watch the stage more comfortably, or to use both hands (as I usually had to) to throw cue lights. It felt pretty comfortable as I set things up and imagined myself calling the show.

The front-of-house camera ended up being an interesting situation. Originally it was in the booth at the center of the balcony. It was a great view, until the curtain call of the first preview, when we discovered that when the back row stood up (a good problem to have — the back row was always full, and they always stood), they completely blocked the camera. I called the spot pickup for Mary’s bow based on where she was approaching behind the ensemble when I last saw her. I have no idea if it was right. And then I was like, “Well thank God the rest of the show is all musical cues!” and I proceeded to call the 3-minute finale totally blind from FOH.

When we discussed it at the production meeting that night, I was asked if I would be OK with it being somewhat off-center, as that was the only location available to mount it high enough. I didn’t think I’d ever used a significantly off-center camera, but the show didn’t have a single “when _____ gets to center” cue (except for stopping Bert at the top of the proscenium during the Bert walk, which is a musical thing, and his feet are literally right below the ornamental decoration at the middle of the proscenium, so it’s easy to tell). I didn’t feel it would be a problem even if it was somewhat noticeable. But the distance between camera and stage was so great, I really couldn’t tell. The photos here were taken after the move was made. I basically forgot all about it.

The conductor camera was a tiny one mounted above his music stand, and had a perfect view, and as an added bonus, clearly showed a good chunk of the audience, which was helpful for observing audience reactions (if they’re quiet, are they at least smiling?) and the timing of the standing ovation.

I didn’t use the music stand in front of me (which was bolted to the desk) for much. I put the God mic on it (sometimes with a post-it to remind me of things I wanted to announce), and whatever else I needed to store.

Over the course of the short run, I really fell in love with the layout. It wasn’t perfect, but I think I really got the most ergonomic solution out of the situation I was dealt. The audio deal was actually cool, too. At my feet was the stage right monitor for the actors to hear the orchestra, which of course had no vocals, but as much music as a body could want. Our sound designer then gave me a small monitor right in my face with just vocals, that could be adjusted from soft to deafening with a quick flick of my hand up from the talk button. It was actually better than most situations because I couldn’t control the volume of the band, but I could make whatever mix I wanted of vocals vs. music.

Being backstage was a great advantage. It accelerated my understanding of how the scenery shifted around in the very crowded wings during the show, which was incredibly helpful in managing issues as they came up. The one thing I was a little disappointed with was that the pace of the show and the packed backstage space allowed for very little direct contact with the cast during the show, which is part of the reason I like calling from backstage in the first place.

But I was really happy with how this arrangement worked out, and I hope it gives you some ideas for brainstorming the next time you’ve got a challenging calling desk setup.


Life Lesson Time: Being Too Clever

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:34 pm

Hi all! If you haven’t been following on Twitter, I’m up in Ogunquit right now, just finished re-mounting (or “mounting” as I think of it, since I didn’t do the “pre-mount”) Mary Poppins at the very historic and beautiful Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH.

Because it was a quick holiday re-mount of a summer production, we rehearsed from Dec 1st-9th and played from the 10th-14th. You can imagine my terror at PSMing Mary Poppins as one of the few new people (the music director was the only other person in a leadership position who was new, and we’ve been pulling each other along in our efforts to learn the show). But with the expertise of all the returning actors, creatives and production staff, as well as existing paperwork and an ASM with an great grasp of what needs to happen on the deck and what all of our many crew members are doing, it’s actually been quite a nice process. I basically made it my business from day 1 to focus on running rehearsals efficiently and teaching myself to call the show, and didn’t get bogged down in learning things that I knew would be of no use in a 10-day process.

And I want to give a shout-out to the many benefits of being given access to an archival video. Yes, I do consider it cheating, but if it’s the difference between giving an audience a better or worse show, for that I am grateful that Equity has in recent years made more allowances for reference recordings.

But let me tell ye about something that happened at one of our first performances:

Picture it, Portsmouth, NH, 2014. The curtain has just gone up. Figuratively. Then like 10 seconds after the overture, the curtain goes up literally, and we see revealed on the stage, that these sliding tree masking pieces have been preset in the wrong position, too far offstage. There’s a gap between the wing and the sliding flats making up the facade of the Banks home. It’s a smallish gap, revealing a slice of the interior of the house beyond. It’s not really ugly, just not how it’s supposed to be. Frustrated that we all missed the incorrect preset, and feeling the pressure that it’s our official opening night, and 10 seconds into the show we’ve done something wrong, we decide that by golly, we’re going to make up for this by fixing it like the slick professionals we are.

We spring into action, assign a crew member who’s near the traveler lines for the trees to get ready to move them to the correct color spike, and I light the green cue light (which is used exclusively for moves of the several traveler-based pieces) as his standby. In less than 16 bars of music, we have put our plan in place and have time left over to revel in how cleverly we’re about to recover from our mistake. The correction will be subtle, and done at an appropriate transitional moment so as to appear completely intentional.

The moment comes, and with the next light cue I throw the green cue light. The trees move on to their proper position gracefully, and then we all watch in horror as the walls of the Banks house open. Over a full minute early. The actors who are inside on the set took up some sort of tableau of household activity and arguing. Apparently something like this had happened before in the original production of this remount, so they weren’t exactly caught off-guard.

After sputtering something profound along the lines of “w-w-why is that moving?” I gave up and said rather cheerily, “Well, we’ve made enough of a mess, we’d better just stay here. Happy opening!”

Lessons Learned

Now let’s talk about what happened here.

The technical reason that things went from bad to worse is that the crew member who had the next cue on the green cue light (a minute later) didn’t have a headset. The two travelers are operated from opposite sides of the stage for reasons that I’m going to assume make sense, and although a lot of the deck crew knew what the plan was, the poor guy dutifully waiting for his green light didn’t get that information in the few seconds between when we came up with the plan and when we executed it.

The main lesson to take from this (which should have been incredibly obvious to me) is that inventing cue light cues when you can’t communicate with everyone who takes cues on that light opens up the possibility of someone wandering into the situation unawares and going on who-knows-what cue.

If we had been less concerned about getting the problem solved on the fast-approaching next opportunity, we would have taken the time to communicate and double-check more thoroughly. I didn’t know offhand which crew members were on the travelers, so I put it on the cue light because a) all the traveler moves are on that light, and b) I didn’t know if the crew member was on headset. It seemed the most flexible solution. But since the chosen operator had a headset, and it was going simultaneously with a light cue, we could have just as easily made it a verbal cue, and eliminated any chance of the cue being misinterpreted.

I still think it was admirable of us to try to fix the problem at the most appropriate moment, even if it was fast approaching, but a verbal cue would have been the safer way to go. Pretty much the worst thing that could happen would be that the operator didn’t get the message in time, and nothing would happen, or it would be slightly delayed if the message had to be relayed. That’s definitely a better outcome than the completely wrong piece moving. In this case, there was nothing that cue light could accidentally trigger that would have posed a danger to actors or scenery. Had it been, for instance, a fly cue, more precautions would have needed to be taken to ensure there wasn’t anyone in a position to take something by mistake (although on the rail that’s a lot easier to ascertain than our situation on the deck where the lights were on both sides of the stage and viewed from a variety of operating positions).

After this single embarrassing incident, we began to notice the pattern that when we tried to fix small problems, they had a tendency of causing a worse problem. The remote-controlled lights on a single unit were malfunctioning and the troubleshooting caused half of our moving lights to be accidentally disabled. That kind of thing. It became a running joke on the deck, that was not just a joke but often a good reminder to evaluate the risk vs. reward of our solutions.

Ultimately it’s a universal truth that every little change you make to a show has the potential to cause unforeseen problems, and sometimes those problems may be much more detrimental than whatever you were trying to fix or improve with the change. Of course you can’t stop improving and fixing your show just because something might happen, but it’s a good idea to evaluate all the possible ways it could go horribly wrong, and who might be affected by it that you haven’t thought to inform.


August 9, 2014

The Chaos of Tech Paperwork

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:58 am

There comes a point in tech where your paperwork is made up more of scrawled corrections than actual paperwork. But you can’t update it, because you’re comfortable with your scribble, and having it neatly typed up would terrify you as you had to re-learn where to look for each cue. And of course taking the time to re-type it would cut into the 5 hours of sleep you’re getting.

One day, about four days into tech for Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter, I was visiting Ashley’s domain backstage and spied her run sheets, which were completely illegible to the untrained eye, and obviously contained little information that had remained accurate since the sheets were printed.
IMG_4661
Her pages bore a striking familiarity to what my calling script had turned into, so I pulled it out to compare:
IMG_4662

Part of my issue with the calling script relates to the perhaps misguided decision I made to have the calling script not follow the page breaks of the rehearsal script. We were getting 10-20 replacement pages a day during tech (often during tech, not overnight), and only on like 2 of them did I ask our PA, Jonathan, to re-create the calling script pages properly. Most of the time I just shoved the full-size rehearsal script pages into my calling script as we teched them, and through a maze of pencil crossings-out, and brightly-colored Post-Its with arrows and “X”s, I direct my attention from one page to the next, landing my focus on the next cue that actually exists.

The real problem is that this method works, so although it’s sketchy as hell and looks awful, when you’re in the midst of tech and early previews, having ugly paperwork is not as scary as having paperwork you’re not used to reading. And so, even after eight previews, this is what my script looks like, in about 10 places.

I’m at a point now where I’m comfortable enough with the show that I could switch over to a new script, but now I’m just waiting for the day off to tackle it. And really, if I’m calling the show for press, I think I’d still rather have my Post-It trail than take a chance with something neat and tidy.

Also, this is largely made possible by Super-Sticky Post-Its, which I’d never really used before. Ashley was adamant when we were shopping during pre-production, that all Post-Its be Super Sticky, and I’m now of the same opinion.

So from this I learned:
1. If you’re working on a new piece that’s still frequently changing, keep your calling script pages consistent with the rehearsal script pages unless absolutely necessary (to avoid bad page turns, leave enough room for complicated dance breaks, etc.).

2. Super-Sticky Post-Its. Always. I like the accordion ones, because I have my dispenser at the theatre.


May 25, 2014

On Using A Show-Specific Email Account

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:48 pm

A few months ago, when I learned I would be doing an open-ended show this summer, I put a question to my Twitter followers:

I only got a few responses, but none addressed the reasons I would have considered doing so. First, here was my thought process:

Pros

  • The show can be passed off to a replacement without the company needing to send emails to a new address, and the new PSM gets access to all the old emails.
  • Show-related email is easily separated from personal email accounts.
  • Email folders (or labels, as Gmail calls them) can then be used to further separate show-related email (i.e. “design,” “reports,” “cast” whatever).
  • A sub or ASM can handle show-related email and send reports by logging in to the same account, again without having to use the PSM’s personal email.

Cons

  • When the show closes, you either keep the email active forever, or people who know you by that email no longer have a working email address for you. If I’ve learned one thing in this business, it’s that no matter how many times you tell them, some people will always use the old one.
  • For people using web mail, it requires a separate log-in. I prefer a desktop email client, but if I was using web mail it would be a bit of a pain, especially if it were a gmail account, because my main personal email is also gmail, so I’d have to log in and out all the time, as opposed to having everything come to one inbox.
  • People from the show may want to send you private emails. If you use your personal address, they know the email is going to you, not an ASM, sub, or future replacement.

Two followers pointed out a Gmail feature that would be useful if my motives were different:

These are two good points: if I was concerned about filtering, and wanted a solution where people could still contact me at my main address after the show closed, this would be a good idea.

For my purposes, I believe the con of people no longer having your email address is serious enough to be a dealbreaker. I get all my work on recommendations, so everyone who works with me needs to have an address that will work years later.

The pro of being able to delegate email responsibilities to other members of the team is a good one, but I think in practice it really only becomes useful or necessary if you have an office computer that everyone uses. Or if the PSM is going on some kind of extreme vacation and isn’t bringing their phone or computer. I’ll let you know when I do a show with a big enough budget for an office computer, or that runs long enough for me to take a vacation!

But for now, I’ll be continuing to use my personal email.


May 17, 2014

iOS App Review: SMBox

I call this: iOS,phones,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:55 pm

AppIcon76x76One of the most time-consuming and error-prone things a stage manager has to do is deal with time. Break times, scene timings, performance timings… Anything that can be done to automate this process makes me happy.

05-SMBox-iPhone-TimersWhich is why I was excited to get to try out a new app for iOS called SMBox (iTunes link). It’s the first app from a developer called Backstage Apps, who promises further apps to make life easier for entertainment professionals. The app sells for $8.99 and works on all iPads, and iPhone 4 and higher.

I’ve since used SMBox on two productions, the first a one-act play, and the other a two-act musical. Thankfully the app can store multiple shows. You could also use the multiple-show feature to have different configurations of timers for different situations (like one for rehearsal and one for performance).

The interface is designed to be dark and very running-light friendly, which is pretty much a necessity for an app of this sort. However, a lot of the time I was using it in the rehearsal room during scene work and run-throughs, and would have liked to be able to switch to a brighter UI for normal lighting conditions. I hope this will be one of the features added in version 2.0, which is in development.

smboxIn addition to the usual run time calculations, I found it especially helpful for getting scene timings. I love having too much information about run times. I like having up-to-date data on the length of every scene, because you can do so much with it: How much time is left in the act? How many scenes can we get through before lunch? When the director says “Let’s just run this scene before the break,” is there a chance in hell that’s going to happen?

So the way I configured SMBox was to get individual times of all 14 scenes in my play, and then total them. The app can only store one set of timings at a time, but there’s a button to quickly email yourself a copy of the data it has so you can clear it and start over. My one feature request on this front is that while the app saves your email address to send these summaries, there doesn’t seem to be a way to send it to multiple people (without manually adding them to the email each time). I’d love to be able to include my ASM’s email along with mine as the default addresses.

If you need to stop your timer for any reason (like the director stops to give a note, or someone stumbles over their lines, or the scene change goes totally awry), you can tap on your timer to pause it, and tap to resume. A long drag from left to right resets a given timer. The timers can be configured in a number of ways: to count up or down, or both (which is cool in the case of intermission — how long it is vs. how long it should be). You can decide to include or exclude each timer from the total. I wish there was a way to have more than one total (i.e. all the scenes in Act I totaled, all the scenes in Act II totaled, then everything totaled, then everything plus intermission totaled).

It’s not possible right now for a single SMBox “show” to capture and calculate all the data I put in my reports. In particular the Start Time and End Time feature, which record the time of day vs. the run time, don’t appear to support multiple acts or display the time in seconds. The app is very flexible with timers, much less so with “what time was it.” This makes it unsuitable for me in a performance setting, but I did find it helpful in rehearsal, where I’m not interested enough to create a database to track scene timings, but can be bothered to tap the screen a few times during a run.

I am admittedly a very tough audience when it comes to stage management timer apps because I develop my own solutions for these situations, and tend to take them to ridiculous extremes (at some point I must tell you about my famous “Are They Dead Yet?” feature, which was known to predict the time remaining in a performance, or the time an act will end, to within a couple seconds, and which I intend to revive for my next show). Once I have this data on running times, I want to do a lot with it, so my mind immediately jumps to things like exporting it in formats that can be imported into spreadsheets and databases.

That isn’t really the point of this app. There are plenty of stage managers who are using the “lap” feature on their phone’s stopwatch, if they’re doing anything fancier than jotting numbers on a piece of paper at all, and SMBox is a big improvement on that. I can see myself using it on a reading or quick show where I wouldn’t bother using any specialized software. It’s a simple solution that anybody can configure, and the devs seem to have put a lot of thought into making it as flexible as possible. I’m eager to see where they take version 2.0.


April 22, 2014

My 4-year-old, Perfectly Adequate MacBook Pro

I call this: computers,tech — Posted by KP @ 7:00 am

MBPat4I’ve been a computer geek basically my whole life. I started taking computer programming classes at gifted camp when I was 8 years old, and as a result of that managed to get my first computer when I was 9. Although my career isn’t in the technology field, and my knowledge of programming languages is pretty pathetic, I’ve always wanted to stay on or close to the bleeding edge of computing power and new technologies. For as long as I can remember, four years has been generally accepted as the amount of time a computer remains useful if used for anything more complicated than browsing the web, emailing and word processing. I certainly have never been satisfied with a computer any longer than that.

Another driving force in my life is my desire not to have to have a “survival job” while making a living as a professional stage manager. In the course of my career, I’ve had good jobs and bad, long-term jobs that barely pay the bills, and great-paying flops that ran a month. When I used to work more regularly at Phantom I could very suddenly end up with a lot of disposable income. Getting offered somebody’s vacation week meant I could go out and buy a computer just for fun. Last month I got offered a rehearsal and performance in the same week and thought, “Oh thank God, I can turn my cable back on!”

What I’m getting at is that sometimes the unpredictability of my career has forced me to put my dreams of computing on hold. Maybe I’m just getting older and more mellow. The money that buys the shiny new computer thing will probably be needed for rent, so I look more carefully at what I have, and what it can and can’t do, and really ask myself if I need the new features, extra speed, etc. that comes from the latest models.

Which leads me to my MacBook Pro. I purchased it when I was on the road in Philly, in April of 2010 (4 years ago today). You can read my post from the day I got it, if you like. It was something of an expected emergency. My 2007 MacBook Pro had been having problems with the screen for a long time. I waited for a refresh to come out for the 15″ MBPs, and from that point on, every time we got to a new city I’d call the local Apple Store to find out if they had 15″ high-res matte screen MBPs in stock, just in case it died. Finally in Philly, it was too far gone, and I brought home (to the hotel) my current model, officially known as the “Mid-2010” model. I liked it better when the names were a combination of construction material and processor speed, like “1.25gHz AlBook.” It’s rude to say how old a lady is. You’d never know it by looking at her.

File transfer in progress (note the show's lighting monitor that I brought home to use the old computer)

File transfer in progress (note the show’s lighting monitor that I brought to the hotel so I could use the old computer)

Its first performance. Philadelphia, April 2010.

Its first performance. Philadelphia, April 2010.

Anyway, to give you a brief montage of the life and times of this living legend (for this isn’t an “in memoriam” post for a computer being retired, as I’ve done in the past — this baby is still going strong as my primary machine), here are the highlights I can remember of its life so far:

  • Two tours with The Acting Company (the end of the 2009-2010 tour, and the entire 2010-2011 tour)
  • Morning on the bus.

    Morning on the bus.

  • Has been a stage management computer for at least 25 productions and other events (I keep terrible records of all my jobs)
    Who needs paper groundplans?

    Who needs paper groundplans?

  • Until recently had a relatively modest career running projections, having done only four benefits, until this month when it was pressed into service overnight before a matinee, when the PC running my current show died. It not only took over the multiple-projector show, but did it running Windows.
  • Occasionally runs QLab, serving as a rehearsal sound computer (including my current production)
  • Has edited two short films (one in progress), a music video, two other short videos, and countless personal projects just for fun
  • Suffered a video card failure in the middle of tech for Triassic Parq, and took several sick days to go to Texas for a new logic board
  • Tragedy strikes at the dinosaur park.

    Tragedy strikes at the dinosaur park.

  • I don’t think it’s ever needed a battery replacement, which is really quite remarkable. If it did, it must have been a really easy repair process, cause I don’t remember it. Battery life is maybe not quite what it used to be, but I go lots of places without my charger.
  • Now runs Windows 7 and has taken over some of the gaming responsibilities from my “gaming rig,” which hasn’t been updated since 2008.
  • A little hotel gaming.

    A little hotel gaming.

  • Began life with the 320GB 7200rpm hard drive from my old computer, and about a year ago was upgraded to 750GB/7200rpm. Presumably the last laptop I’ll own with a mechanical hard drive.
  • Getting naked for a hard drive swap.

    Getting naked for a hard drive swap.

    Saving Up

    When my last computer died its tragic death, I didn’t have the money to replace it, so I had a lot of debt on my credit card, which I was hoping to pay off during the following year’s Acting Company tour, but basically defeating the purpose of returning from tour with a lot of money. While we were in rehearsal for said tour, I got a check from Phantom, which was forwarded to Minneapolis. I said, “Oh, they’re probably paying out vacation pay. I haven’t worked there in forever, it’s probably like five dollars.” Around the same time I got an email from the company manager letting me know he had sent my vacation pay because it was “a significant amount of money.” At this point I’m thinking it’s like $50. So the check arrives in the rehearsal room one morning and I open it to see how much free money I’ve gotten. It was nine hundred dollars. Which was pretty much the remaining debt on the computer. Once again, Phantom provides the deus ex machina to all my financial problems. It’s like my employment with them is some kind of parable meant to teach me about the difference between wanting money and needing money.

    Anyway, the need to replace the computer without having any money saved up made me vow to be more prepared next time. Figuring I could get at least 3 years out of my new purchase, I began very slowly putting money away. Any time I found myself with actual cash (like birthday money, friend pays me for theatre tickets, etc.) I put it in a drawer. Sometimes I used that drawer money to pay the Dominos delivery guy, but over time I noticed the pile was getting bigger and bigger, too big to keep all of it in a drawer. It was actually becoming enough to significantly offset the cost of a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, and that made me even more eager to put money aside. About six months ago, with my computer three-and-a-half years old, i.e. too old to be repaired if it breaks, I stopped putting money into the fund, because I had enough to pay for the computer, the taxes, and a couple hundred bucks of miscellaneous expenses I expect to need, like new adapters and cases. I was really proud of myself, especially given that I had had some long periods of unemployment and under-employment during those years, and despite my checking account coming very close to zero many times, had never had to give up my computer fund.

    So now I’m just sitting on the money, waiting to be unsatisfied with my 4-year-old computer. And it hasn’t happened.

    Looking Ahead

    Recently my iPhone needed a new battery, and I was left to wander the Apple Store for a half hour while the repair was performed. Having not had much disposable income in several years, I don’t think I own a single thing that was on display in the store, so it was an opportunity to get a little more acquainted with the current hardware options. First on my list was the newer, thinner 15″ MBP, as being the owner of 4-year-old, out-of-warranty MBP means that every time I open the lid there’s a chance some tiny component has fried, and whether I like it or not, the current top-of-the-line 15″ is going to be my new computer.

    I love the thinness, I love the lack of an optical drive, I love the resolution, I love the SSD. I hate glossy screens. The actual gloss has been much improved over the years. They seem much less reflective. But the other problem is that the glass is heavier than the matte screen, which means that the “thinner, lighter” form factor is not really that much lighter than my current model, because the screen is a pound heavier.

    I’ve been lucky to have purchased my last two Macs at a time when they were offering matte screens as an option. It seems they’re currently in another phase of forcing gloss on everyone, which makes me want to wait as long as possible in the hopes they change their minds and decide to be nice to their visual-artist type customers again. So that’s reason #1 that I’m underwhelmed with the current upgrade options.

    Thunderbolt seems cool in theory. I’d love to have a Thunderbolt display which I can connect all my other stuff to, streamlining the number of cables I need to hook up when I get home. Then I looked at a Thunderbolt display in the store. I couldn’t even tell how the picture was because it was so glossy all I could see was the reflection of all the lights in the store. I turned away in disgust without even using the machine. I believe it’s relatively late in its product life and probably due for a refresh, so I won’t judge too harshly, but it’s obscenely expensive (currently $999), 27″ isn’t unusually big for a high-end monitor these days, and it looks like crap! So consider me underwhelmed about the Thunderbolt connector, which is the biggest “you-don’t-have-this” item on the new models. Also, I expect any refreshed monitor will be like $1,500 and still be some degree of glossy. If I’m going to buy a monitor that costs more than a couple hundred bucks, it might as well be matte.

    One thing I am looking forward to, whenever the day shall come, is that the current MBPs can drive two external monitors. Mine can do it with a USB adapter, but it’s not native support and slows everything down. Now that I’m making a little money editing, it’s more than just something that looks cool to post on /r/battlestations on Reddit. But it will require a significant investment of money to do it right, between getting another mounting arm, and possibly needing to buy two monitors that match and fit together nicely, rather than just adding one. I’m crossing my fingers that I have a good job when the time comes, and have the flexibility to make quality purchases that will give the most benefit in the long term.

    In the years since I made my last purchase, I’ve stopped touring (although I’d certainly do it for the right job), and I’ve stopped gaming as much. I have little need for portable gaming power. But I’ve also started a side business as an editor. So raw computing power isn’t as essential as it was before, but I still need enough to work with HD video comfortably. I definitely wish my computer was faster, but it’s not so slow that I want to throw it out the window. It’s teetering on the windowsill, if you will. But I’m trying to be patient to see what’s coming down the road.

    I’m really amazed that after four years, and with the money in place, I don’t have any particular desire for a replacement. I’m not sure if this says something about the quality of the Mid-2010 model, my mellowing as a geek, or the lack of innovation in the last 4 years. I guess it must be all three. I don’t know how much longer we have together, but for now I wish a happy birthday to my strong and loyal friend, who I hope will be some part of my computing arrangement to its 10th birthday and beyond!


February 24, 2014

Filling Out Payroll Forms Remotely

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:35 am

This is more of a company management post than stage management, but it might be a useful link to send to your company manager. Or if, like me, you take a company management gig because it comes attached to a stage management gig, and/or you just really need some money, you might want to use this yourself. Or maybe you’re actually a company manager, in which case, I invite you to let me explain this process to your company.

So everybody always wants to get payroll set up before first rehearsal. Especially stage managers, who are supposed to get paid on the Thursday before first rehearsal!

In a lot of cases, you have actors coming from out of town, busy on other gigs, or the company itself is out of town, and it’s hard to get everybody to come into the office early to fill out their contracts and other paperwork.

DISCLAIMER: Before we get into the paperwork stuff, I’d like to remind you I am NOT a company manager, general manager, producer, or any of those people who know or care very much about payroll or running a business. This post is really about the technical aspects of filling out and returning a PDF online. Which forms you need and what you do with them are up to you to figure out.

The IRS has payroll forms online that can be filled out and printed, for example:
W-4
I-9
W-9

So you send your company the link, and they can fill out their information on the form. But now they need to get the form back to you. I recently found myself in this position, and because it’s my nature, I guess, I basically wrote a blog post with graphics to my company explaining all the ways they could do that. So I figured, you know, might as well save all that work and put it in the blog. Plus, knowing how to print to PDF is something that everybody should learn because it has applications far more useful than filling out a W-4.

If you’re sending this to anybody, you can actually skip all the explanatory stuff above and use this link to skip to the good part: http://headsetchatter.com/blog/2014/02/payroll/#instructions

Instructions Start Here

This assumes that you’ve already got the link to the document you need, opened it in your browser, and filled in your information.

Now you need to print your document to a PDF, which you can then email to your company manager, producer, or whoever is asking for it.

MAC USERS
Choose to print the document and then click on “PDF” and “Save as PDF” as shown:
osx

PC USERS
On a PC there are a number of ways to add this ability. If you don’t know if you have it, look on your list of printers for something like “Save to PDF” or “Print to PDF.” Even if you don’t have this feature, if you use Chrome as your browser, you can use it within Chrome, which is good enough for our purposes. Open the IRS link in Chrome and when you’re done, choose print, then click as shown: “Change” in the printer section, and “Save as PDF.”
chrome

BONUS: iOS SCANNER WORKAROUND
I didn’t bother confusing my company with this, but for you, my dear readers, I’ll share another of my paperwork-returning secrets: you can use your iPhone (or iPad for that matter, or your Android device) as a scanner. A crappy scanner, maybe, but if you have steady hands and decent lighting, it works fine for basic paperwork.

If you want a free solution for iOS I suggest GeniusScan, which has a free version that can quickly scan, PDF and email multipage documents (make sure you select PDF as the format — if it’s a single page it may try to send it as a JPG).

I own a scanner (which is ancient, and a pain in the ass because it no longer has Mac drivers, so I have to fire up Windows to use it), and unless I’m scanning photos or something very intricate, I never need to use it.


January 12, 2014

Kit of a Crew Member

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:00 pm

I’ve spent the last 12 weeks as a deck crew member of Peter and the Starcatcher. This is pretty much the only full-time job I’ve had in theatre where I wasn’t a stage manager.

It was a nice change of pace after a year as PSM of Silence! The Musical, and in general a chance to experience the life of a crew member first-hand, while also getting to observe and steal things from watching other stage managers work.

One of the nicest things about it was how little stuff I needed. When I went to work every day, all I needed to bring was black pants (which was my decision, something I find more efficient that keeping pants at the theatre and changing). And, not being a department head or anything, as long as I remembered what time the next show was and didn’t forget my track, there was nothing I needed to know or prepare.

My bag was usually a very small messenger bag, only needing to hold my Kindle, sometimes my iPad on a 2-show day, and very occasionally my computer, if I wanted to use some of my copious downtime to work on other projects. Other than wearing black pants, I really didn’t need to bring anything for the job itself.

So here’s my list of the things I kept at the theatre (aside from my boots, they all fit in a small drawstring back that hung from the crew’s coat rack).

  • black hoodie
  • black baseball cap (to keep hair out of my face during intermission)
  • Leatherman / flashlight holster
  • hand moisturizer (I did a lot of flying & always had blisters)
  • mints (for coffee breath)
  • iPhone charger (with 4/5 adapter, making me very popular)
  • black hard-toed boots

I’m looking forward to returning to the stage management world full-time, but this was a really enjoyable and useful experience.


January 7, 2014

We Need to Talk About RGB LEDs

I call this: tech — Posted by KP @ 2:55 pm

Recently I made an impulse buy: I found a great deal on a good length of RGB LED ropelight with associated color-changing controls. Essentially what this means is that it’s a length of ropelight that can make pretty much any color — within reason — it would depend on how many levels of control it has over the red, green and blue, whether it’s thousands of colors or millions. I’m guessing thousands. Let’s just say it’s a whole lot more options than going to Home Depot and buying a roll of, say, red ropelight. Which I did at one point.

And if you know how theatrical LED lighting works, well it’s basically like that. It’s not as pure of a color as a light going through a color filter (like a gel, or regular ropelight), because sometimes you can see the different shades that make up the overall color, but it’s still pretty cool. And I don’t have to call a show in my living room, thank God, because I have something of a love/hate relationship with LEDs on stage. Mostly due to watching them attempt to dim and brighten.

In my travels around the web, I found this deal on eBay, which is only a few dollars more than buying a single color of ropelight at Home Depot. (When the link stops working, the seller was dazzlewerllc.)
$_3

So I tore out the red ropelight that ran along the back edge of my desk and replaced it with the RGB strip. And I’m addicted. The controller I have comes with a bunch of preset colors, and six programmable buttons for whatever color you can invent. Here’s what I’ve come up with in a few days:

I really like this soothing yellow in the morning.
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I made this deep orange to match the backlighting on my keyboard.
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This purple is very calming, especially at night.
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This blue matches the wallpaper on my computer (right now the default Mavericks wallpaper), which is apparently a popular thing to do, cause I guess it’s easy on the eyes when the color matches what you’re looking at on the screen. Some people even hook their LEDs up to their computer and have software that automatically adjusts the LED color to match the screen.
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And this is just my favorite lighting color in general:
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These were all taken during the daytime, obviously, but given that my apartment is always rather dark, I actually appreciate the accent lighting more during the day. It makes me feel like I have windows that let in light coming from somewhere other than the concrete wall across the street.

It’d also be pretty cool for lighting a road box without needing to do any fancy electrical work. You could have bright white light when you’re working, and then some dim blue (or red, or whatever) light during the show. Make it the color of your show logo, or the color of the set.

The possibilities for fun and practical uses are kind of endless, and it’s gotten much more affordable than I realized.


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