April 8, 2015

A Reason for Every Rule

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:49 pm

Today is “read the COST rulebook” day. As I haven’t read the rulebook cover-to-cover in exactly 10 years, and I’ve spent most of the last 4 years on Off-Broadway and LORT, and will probably spend the rest of this year exclusively on COST, I figured this time, rather than skimming the rehearsal, performance, and rest period rules, I should take the time to at least glance at every word, just for a general refresher on what it says about things I generally don’t need to know anything about. Also, I’m unemployed. If I was doing the show I was supposed to be doing right now, I’d probably be like, “Yeah, whatever. Is the lunch break vote a majority or unanimous?”

In my perusal of the book, I came upon something that made me laugh and sigh. This is the entirety of the “definition of an Actor” section (20(A), if you’re following along at home):

The term “Actor” shall refer to and include persons who are signed to Equity contracts, including Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers and those engaged under Chorus contracts.

The Producer agrees that the definition of the term “Actor” includes Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers, Swings, Dance Captains and Understudies. It is expressly intended that Stage Managers, all Assistant Stage Managers, Swings, Dance Captains, and Understudies employed hereunder are entitled to benefits provided to Actors under a Conversion Rights or other similar clause of any previous Equity Code or Contract. (See Rule 64, UNION SECURITY.)

I’d like to break this down.

On its surface, it seems pretty simple. Actor-with-a-capital-A means anybody signed to an Equity contract. It’s one of the most fundamental rules, but one that does need to be spelled out, since the word “actor” is also used in the vernacular to describe people who get up onstage and perform, and is sometimes broken down further into actors, singers, dancers, dancers-who-sing, singers-who-move, etc. which is not the same as how “Actor” is used in Equity contracts.

The term “Actor” shall refer to and include persons who are signed to Equity contracts, including Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers and those engaged under Chorus contracts.

Right. Stage Managers aren’t on stage talking and singing and dancing, so that needs to be spelled out. That should be no surprise. But here we come to our first example of a rule that must exist for a reason: it’s mildly insulting that it needs to be said that someone on a Chorus contract is an Actor, but that’s just from our modern perspective. Considering that Chorus Equity was a separate thing from Actors Equity until 1955, it’s understandable that it’s in there just in case some old-school producer conveniently forgot. If it seems unnecessary to remind people after 60 years, bear in mind this is also an agreement that in its 2013-2015 revision still has clauses requiring notification via telegram.

Moving on:

The Producer agrees that the definition of the term “Actor” includes Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers, Swings, Dance Captains and Understudies.

Isn’t that exactly what the last sentence said? “Persons who are signed to Equity contracts.” That should cover it, but just in case it also said: “including Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers, and those engaged under Chorus contracts.”

“Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers, Swings, Dance Captains and Understudies” are almost always a subset of “Stage Managers, Assistant Stage Managers, and those engaged under Chorus contracts.” Obviously saying it once wasn’t enough. And I always like the places where contracts say, “The Producer agrees,” like their signature on the general agreement to produce a show under the contract isn’t enough to bind them to acknowledging that particular rule.


It is expressly intended that Stage Managers, all Assistant Stage Managers, Swings, Dance Captains, and Understudies employed hereunder are entitled to benefits provided to Actors under a Conversion Rights or other similar clause of any previous Equity Code or Contract.

What about Chorus members who are not swings, dance captains or understudies? All assistant stage managers? I just figured if I had two, the 2nd one is a slave and just signed the contract to have it like a souvenir, but it doesn’t actually give them the rights and protections of everyone else who signed the contract.

Seriously, folks. The rule book felt the need to say it three times: ACTOR WITH A CAPITAL “A” MEANS EVERYONE.

Also, that last section is not just spelling out “EVERYONE” one more time, it’s specifically clarifying that EVERYONE applies to the rules about conversion rights. So you know someone had a little trouble grasping that the EVERYONE rule also applies to EVERY THING in the contract.

I’d love to be on a negotiating committee just to see the process of how the treat-the-reader-like-they’re-stupid rules come to be written.

If you’d like to melt your brain with Equity legalese, all the contracts are available in Equity’s Document Library, and you don’t have to be a member to access it. If you’re a student or non-Eq stage manager, it’s never too early to get used to the language. Once you get the hang of it, reading subsequent agreements is a lot easier. And especially if you do Showcases, you may very well need to be interpreting some of these rules before you’re Equity.

December 16, 2009

Homework & Coffee

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:35 am

Step 1: Coffee

photoI’m kinda tired, and I still have some work to do tonight. So I decided to experiment with an area of domesticity that I don’t generally dabble in: making coffee at home. I don’t generally make coffee. I’m a far better stage manager than a PA. To me, coffee is something you pay $4 for, and a barista makes it using some mathematical formula of beans, water, milk and sugar that I don’t need to be involved in.

When we started rehearsal I brought my travel mug that I bought in New Mexico during the tour last year, and threw together some concoction of ingredients that tasted OK. I was kind of excited by this experiment. Our awesome intern Ashley makes the coffee every morning, and sometimes when I ask, “Is the coffee ready?” I am directed to take note of the freshly made coffee that is already in my mug and on my desk, formed of some combination of creamer and sugar that we have landed upon as “the way I like my coffee”, but that I don’t know how to make myself!

So suffice it to say, I consume a lot of coffee, but the act of putting water in a coffee maker and passing it through a filter filled with coffee grinds into a pot isn’t generally something I do on a regular basis. When I do, it’s because it’s part of my job (which it isn’t, technically, but that’s another story). On tour last year making coffee was usually my job, because on load-in day the crew would be working hard for about 8 hours while I took a nap and played on the internet. The tradeoff for this was that they could call me on the radio about 10 minutes before a break, and I would have fresh coffee waiting on the bus when they arrived.

Anyway, I bought some coffee in the supermarket (for possibly the first time in my life, for my own consumption at least), for reasons I don’t actually remember. I guess I decided that since my apartment is furnished with a coffee maker, I could use it, maybe to save money on energy drinks. And since the day we arrived, the coffee has sat on the kitchen counter unopened. Tonight I was tired and cold, so I actually attempted to make some to solve both problems. I did OK, as seen above.

Step 2: Homework

Now properly caffeinated, I turn to the main bulk of my homework for the night: our company manager, Joseph, has created weekly schedules for the entire tour. These need to be submitted to Equity to be checked for rule violations in terms of travel and performance hours. So my job is to check them for accuracy and any violations before they go to Equity. I’m kind of excited to see.

As many rules as there are about rehearsal hours, there are almost as many about travel. The reason I find it a little more difficult is that I never travel with the cast, so the whole thing is kind of a theoretical math puzzle as opposed to something remembered instinctively after having done it so many times.

After a refresher course through the LORT rulebook section on tours, and transferring the basic rules into a Google Wave that Nick and I (and anyone else we might need to include) can use for reference, I began looking over the schedule, checking each performance time against my database to make sure they all match up.

After having spent 3 hours doing this, I feel like I’ve gone through our entire tour, picturing a chronological trip through what our daily life (or more accurately, what the cast’s daily life) will be like on the road. What time the show will end, what time the bus call is the next day, how long the rest period is, how many hours of travel there are in a day vs. how many performances that day. Also checking to make sure there’s a day free of performances in each week, and a full day off from travel and performances every two weeks.

Joseph sent me the schedules in PDF, which would have been great if I had thought to print them while I was at the theatre. But in absence of a hard copy, I marked up the PDFs in Preview.app, and made notes of rest periods, overtime, and possible problem points if the show runs too long. As I went, I composed an email to Joseph listing my concerns (sometimes just correcting a typo) by date.

Some things may be tweaked a bit to avoid overtime, and sometimes there’s nothing that can be done, and it’s an expense the company just has to pay in order to make the next show. I’m sure the OT is small potatoes compared to the advantages of fitting in an extra performance in the schedule.

I’m just glad there are people at Equity whose job it is to approve this for real. It’s just one really long math problem, and I hate math.

A bus containing the cast of Romeo and Juliet leaves Baton Rouge at 10AM…

November 25, 2009

Putting on Plays – Serious Business

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:25 pm

You know in the climactic scene in 42nd Street (which incidentally happens at least 40 minutes before the end of the show), when Julian Marsh begs Peggy Sawyer to do his show, and finally she declares “I’ll do it!” and a giant production number breaks out…?

Well the part they don’t musicalize is Peggy spending the next hour filling out all the paperwork to make the “I’ll do it!” official.

If they did, it would have a lot of choruses of Peggy repeatedly writing her name, address, and social security number.

But the good news is that aside from my hand being about to fall off, and having nearly succumbed to death by boredom, I am now officially the PSM for The Acting Company’s 2010 tour.

October 23, 2009

So There

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:45 pm

So you know how Josh just got a production contract and I’ve been running our show.

Well today I found out I’m getting a production contract, too.

…For two performances I did a month and a half ago.

After a series of negotiations on Facebook, I have made arrangements to sign this document, which will guarantee that last month I was able to pay all my utility bills. And probably used the change left over for a couple pumpkin spice lattes.

See, they’re actually required to tell you this when you sign it — it’s the first thing on the top. Josh’s contract is going to pay his RENT. I think PHANTOM describes mine quite well!

June 24, 2009

Equity Stage Managers and AFTRA

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:00 pm

Just sharing something I learned, in the hopes that it will help others who find themselves in this situation:

If you are an Equity stage manager and your show is filmed in such a way that you and the actors are paid through AFTRA, you may learn the hard way that once you have done this twice, you must join AFTRA.

EXCEPT, this is not quite true. Because stage managers are not performers, AFTRA waives the need to join the union and still pays you. Normally stage managers get the short end of the stick on Equity issues, but for once we get the far better deal! So if, as happened in my case, AFTRA makes a mistake and sends you a membership letter saying you need to pay them $1,000 before they release the $400 you’ve earned, just call them up and explain that you’re a stage manager and you should be all set! And try not to gloat in front of your cast, most of whom just got totally hosed.

Thanks to Nick for getting all “This is BS!” and doing all the research on this.

May 26, 2009

Help Actors’ Equity Get a Stamp!

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:24 pm

aeaIn 2013 Actors’ Equity Association, the union for professional actors and stage managers, will turn 100 years old. They are campaigning to get a commemorative stamp made to celebrate that occasion. Naturally there are a lot of people who want stamps made for themselves, so to go with their proposal they need to show that there’s interest in it. They have put a petition online to be signed by anybody who supports the idea of this stamp. They are trying to get 10,000 signatures. Now there are 40,000 people in the union, so theoretically that shouldn’t be too hard, but as someone with a wealth of experience at asking actors to submit things on time, I think they could use some help from non-members, too! And I’m sure the more names they have increases their odds of being selected. You don’t have to be an Equity member to sign it, and it’s super-easy — put in your name and hit submit!

If you’d like to show your support, you can sign the petition here.

June 26, 2007

Schedules and Calendars

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:49 pm

Another thing I did today during music rehearsal was preparing the calendar to be distributed to the cast tonight. Bob Eagle is directing this show himself, and he’s had his breakdown of the rehearsal schedule pretty much done since last week. We made some adjustments and clarifications to the tech schedule at the production meeting in the morning, and with that I went about creating a calendar to outline the entire production in brief for our cast.

In preparing the calendar, it was the first real opportunity I had to examine Bob’s schedule in depth. I don’t really advise doing this five hours before distributing the schedule, but better late than never. What I’m looking for is two things:

1. Most importantly, is anything scheduled that’s a violation of Equity rules? The first thing I look at is span of day. Our contract allows for either an 8.5 hr day with a 1.5 hr meal break, or an 8 hr day with a 1 hr meal break. I make sure it’s not over that amount, and that the proper meal break is applied depending on the span of day. The next question is whether the meal break is spaced properly in the day. There is a decent amount of flexibility in this, but there can’t be more than 5 working hours on either end of the meal break. The final question is the 12-hour rest period between rehearsals. If rehearsal ends at 10:30PM, the next day’s rehearsal can’t start until 10:30AM. This is something to keep an eye on at Reagle because rehearsals are late in the day during the week and early on the weekends, to accommodate our cast members with “real jobs.” It’s an easy mistake to accidentally infringe on the 12 hours between Friday night and Saturday morning.

2. Once I know the schedule is legal, the next question is, does it make sense? One of the greater challenges of stage management is that you’re supposed to think of absolutely everything and fix everyone’s problems before they occur. Thinking through the schedule and looking for trouble spots or areas that could obviously be improved is part of that. In my perusal of the schedule today, I discovered that we had a 1.5 hr lunch break for an 8 hr rehearsal on the weekend of the first week. As much as I hated to give up that nice long lunch, the fact is we don’t need that long of a break if we’re taking the shorter day, and were losing a half hour of productive time each day as a result. So we fixed that. I also suggested a time change on the two days before tech to shift an extra hour to the evening so we would have more time for our scheduled runs of the show.

I hate math, and I hate math with time, but it’s very helpful to be able to work quickly in your head with common time-usage situations that one might encounter in rehearsal. Part of this is knowing your contract’s specific rehearsal rules inside out (or having a copy of the rulebook handy for those really obscure questions, like how many hours can you rehearse on a 1-show day after the week of the first public performance — I always have to look those up). Equity’s web site has all the rule books in PDF format in the Document Library. The beauty of this is that a) they take up no physical space or weight in digital format, and b) you can easily search them for whatever term you’re looking for. I was lucky in my early career to have spent most of my non-Equity years working on Equity Showcases (unless you don’t count working for like $0.25 /hr lucky), where I had to enforce all the Equity rules even though I wasn’t covered by them myself. By the time I got my card I was completely comfortable with all the basic rules. The numbers change (in general as the minimum salary goes up, so does the number of hours you work), but for the most part the concepts are the same. If you can afford to work for very little, I recommend it to aspiring Equity stage managers, as it will allow you to already know what you’re doing if you suddenly get your first Equity contract as a PSM and everyone expects you to know what you’re doing.

It took me a long time in my career (oh, about five-and-a-half years) to find a format for a calendar that I liked. Any calendar creation software was too restrictive, and in fact I think they’ve stopped making any kind of apps to do that, they assume everyone uses Outlook or iCal or something. Well I like to have complete control over the layout, and I don’t need to sync it to anything, so I couldn’t deal with that. When I was production coordinator of Bingo in Florida, the company manager had a rather nice calendar she made in Excel, I decided that was the way to go from now on. I came up with a layout I liked, and have used it as a template ever since. It’s very blank, which I like because you can really set it up however you want. You could make Wednesday the first day of the week if you really felt like it. You can also see in my example above how I have made a calendar for “June/July.” Since our whole process only takes four weeks there’s no reason to waste space and confuse people with a whole calendar for each month. I can start and end it wherever is most useful for the period of time I’m dealing with. Want to play with it? Have fun.

While I’m sharing files, here’s something else I had to print out today. The two-foot marks in the dance studio are starting to fall off, and we’re going to need to replace them before starting dance rehearsals tomorrow. As a result of the occasional need to rehearse down the street at the Studio of Creative Movement, where we need to bring our own numbers and remove them when we’re done, two years ago I created this PDF, which consists of three pages of fairly large numbers, from zero (center) to 18, which is as high as the numbers go on the Reagle stage. Since I pretty much always have my trusty Canon i70 printer in rehearsal, if somehow I wind up somewhere in life needing to put down numbers for dancers, I can print them out in a couple minutes. Having a tape measure can sometimes be the bigger problem, but in a pinch I have used the 11-inch side of a regular piece of paper, adding the extra inch by sight for every foot. Not the ideal way to do it, but it works. When I’m really prepared, I have in my kit a set of these already cut out and held together with a big binder clip, so they’re ready to be taped down right away, instead of taking all that time to set up the printer and cut out the numbers. It’s a real lifesaver at those horrifying moments when you realize 5 minutes before rehearsal that the room doesn’t have numbers, or somebody ripped yours up overnight. Of course if I was really slick, I’d have some pre-made, sturdy numbers like those you’d use to put the street number on the outside of your house. But that would assume I was prepared and planned to put down the numbers. The whole point of this PDF is that it’s there when you’re caught unprepared.


June 10, 2007

And on the 7th Day, We Went to Work at 7PM

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:31 pm

Tomorrow is our daylight day of rest, which means our day off is not really a day off. It’s allowed on a lot of contracts for the week of the first public performance. It means that on what would normally be the day off you can rehearse, but you have to start after 7PM. At Reagle this feels something like a regular performance day. We come in, run the show, do notes and go home. If there is extra time and problems to be fixed, selected trouble spots will be worked either before or after the run. I find it a pretty relaxing day, because I figure we’ve gotten through tech, and even if something bad happens, it’ll be over in five hours or less.

The only anxiety left is how comfortable (or not) I am about calling the show. Sometimes I feel ready to do it for an audience, sometimes I don’t want anybody to see it. On this show, aside from a few musical cues I need to learn better, I find that the cues I miss are because I can’t talk fast enough to call them. Sometimes there’s more to explain than there is time between cues. Reagle doesn’t have a cue light system, so everything is verbal, which is challenging, but it’s good exercise. Once I have a better idea of what comes next and just how much time I have, I’ll know when I need to abbreviate. Better/earlier warnings will also help me to avoid having to say too much with the actual cues. I actually don’t have the warnings written in my book yet, I’ve just been flipping ahead to the cues themselves and reading them off. I plan to bring my script to the laundromat tomorrow and work on it then. That’s all I’ve got planned for the daylight day of rest. Well I might go to the Apple Store and see if they’ve got one of those DVI-to-RCA/S-video adapters. I almost needed it today for the projector and was kicking myself for not buying it during the week.

April 25, 2007

#1 Reason to Be Equity: There Will Never Be a Video Allowing the Entire Internet to Second-Guess My Work

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:59 am

An incident happened last week at monologuist Mike Daisey’s show in Boston in which a high school group of about 80 people (in a 300-seat theatre) got up and walked out in the middle of his show. Apparently they were a Christian group and were offended by the language in the show (despite apparently having been told it had adult language when they bought their tickets). If you want the full story, it’s on his blog (with video of the whole thing, too!)

But that’s not really my point. There’s been some wondering in the online communities about whether an event of this magnitude might have been staged to drum up publicity for an otherwise largely unknown show. One thing in particular that is used as evidence is that the house lights were brought up right away when the people started to leave. Some have pointed to this as an indication that the stage manager was prepared for what was about to happen. I don’t really have a strong opinion about whether it was staged, but from the moment I saw the video I was interested in the decision to bring up the house lights, simply because I wasn’t sure what I would do if that happened to me.

My final decision is that if I had no idea why they were leaving, I probably would have brought up the lights too, because if a third of the house suddenly got up and rushed out, I would assume it was due to some sort of danger, not because an actor said the word “fuck.” Whatever it was, it would probably benefit everyone to be able to see, and the performance would have to be stopped anyway due to whatever dangerous situation existed. But if the booth was open to the house and I could hear some sort of rumblings of complaints about the material and had a good idea of why they were leaving, they would get no help from me in finding their way out, and I would not turn on the house lights unless told to do so by the house manager or the performer himself. So if this get-up-and-walk-out thing was as sudden as it appears to have been, I’m going to say the stage manager had no idea what was happening, and probably assumed there was a good reason to bring up the house lights immediately.