January 4, 2016

Detailed Prop Presets with Evernote and Skitch

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:02 am

You know those prop presets. The ones where a list is simply not going to cut it. You need diagrams. And with the rise of cell phone cameras, you’re probably used to skipping the diagram entirely and just filling your phone with a bunch of pictures of props strewn about. But the pictures probably don’t tell the entire story. You still sort of need the details that you’d get if you hand-drew a diagram.

Enter Evernote, and its now-subsidiary app, Skitch.

I’ve written about Evernote before. It’s a note-taking app that lets you add multimedia stuff and organize your notes into notebooks with tags and categories and stuff. It syncs with your mobile devices. It’s just generally very handy when you need to dump information somewhere.

Skitch used to be a standalone app that annotates pictures. If you’ve seen any of my calling desk blog posts, that’s what I use to label stuff (a new one will be coming soon). You take a picture, and then you can easily add very attractive arrows, text, and other markings to it. A few years back they were purchased by Evernote, and now the Skitch features are available directly in Evernote when you take a picture.

White Christmas use case

You know what I hate about stock? Sure you do: I hate split rehearsals. I hate knowing that there’s one rehearsal the ASM absolutely must be in, and it’s the same rehearsal I absolutely must be in. Or vice-versa, the dance rehearsal I really want to see, but I’m stuck in a blocking rehearsal. But this post is about the first example.

White Christmas, yo. There’s a scene towards the beginning of the show (which, if you know the movie, it’s the same idea) where Bob and Phil are in their dressing room having just finished a performance on the Ed Sullivan show, and while bickering about each others’ love lives, they completely strip down to their underwear and put on a new set of clothes, in a tightly choreographed sequence that suggests they’ve been doing this forever. It’s pretty cool. But in order for it to look that effortless it also has to at some point be taught and rehearsed. And preset.

So there I am, having to be in this rehearsal. Knowing it’s going to be 90% about prop and costume presets. I’m not a huge fan of this happening without the ASM (or, for that matter, the PA) being present. But there I am, and by gum, I’m going to take awesome notes.

From the beginning of our process we knew one thing about this scene: we were never, ever, going to rehearse it without full costume. Which was actually kind of cool, if something of a pain in the ass to transport the costumes every time (always in the rain). The rehearsal schedule evolved in constant coordination with the costume department to ensure fittings for it were given priority, and this scene wasn’t scheduled to be blocked before the four suits needed had arrived, been fitted, and alterations completed.

There aren’t that many times when you start blocking a scene with your actors in full costume, so it was weird and fun to get a preview of the “real thing” so early in the rehearsal room. Normally people get a little thrill to see someone come into a scene wearing actual costume pieces like a coat or skirt. These dudes were in full show costume including underwear and socks, every time.

Let me give you a visual, using some of our lovely production photos courtesy of David J. Murray.

These are the costumes they start out in, for Ed Sullivan. So very, very green. The shoes were green, too, which really ties the whole “green” theme together, but they didn’t arrive (or get painted) till opening night, so they didn’t make the first photo shoot during the dress rehearsal. Sorry. Imagine the shoes are green. Greener than the costumes. I swear.
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.41.39 AM

But wait, I do have a picture of the shoes!
This is Piggy, our stage management mascot. His exploits (which I promise to blog about soon-ish) culminated in a brazen bid to seize the role of Phil Davis (dramatized in perhaps my favorite film, The Real Pig Davis). This was a teaser photo of him “sniffing out his next role.” You can see part of one of the shoes behind him. Enough to know they were greener than the suits. I told you it was possible.

So anyway, at the top of the dressing room scene, the boys start taking off the green. The street clothes they’re changing into are hung on the coat trees on their respective sides of the dressing table, with the accessories and shoes on the table unit.
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.43.01 AM

Most of the way there, the green stuff has all been crammed into that suitcase (getting the suitcase to behave while two suits with shoes were packed into it ended up being the most disruptive technical challenge of the entire production).
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.40.57 AM

There’s not really a picture of the whole finished look, but Joey can model the basic suit-with-coat-and-hat concept:
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.40.36 AM


So, that’s where we’re going. In the rehearsal room, we had a table (no mirrors, sadly, for the boys) and some chairs, and a coat tree, and an awesome stand-in coat tree that props masters everywhere should take note of. I never got around to getting a picture of it “naked” but that’s a mic stand gaffed upside-down to some kind of wooden… I don’t know. Something that’s not supposed to be a coat tree. It worked great.IMG_5780

Once we had started to settle on where the props needed to be placed, I took pictures in Evernote on my phone, and then immediately synced it to my computer where I could more carefully label things.

These are some of the pictures I provided (there were several revisions, as my ASM and PA didn’t get to see the scene and take their own notes until our stumble-through). The documentation was especially important in this case because it wasn’t just a reminder — it had to explain everything so that people who have never seen the scene, or know that Bob’s suit is the blue one and Phil’s is the gray-and-pink one, could do the preset themselves without assistance. Everyone who received it (the ASM, PA and props master) found it extremely helpful.




The last one has a giant trick question: while everything else is “Bob on this side, Phil on that side,” their ties are intentionally on the wrong side (so they can do a cute little bit where they realize they have the wrong tie and throw them across the table at each other). That particular situation is why the color-coded text for each guy’s clothes was necessary.

The labeling of the photo (as opposed to taking pics and also drawing a diagram) is also super-useful in situations such as this where not all the props are physically there, because you can clearly point out where the “invisible” things are, like the towel and pocket square (which we didn’t realize were needed until we started blocking), and Phil’s shoes (which I believe were being de-tap-i-fied at this time). Yes, that’s a word.

I highly recommend doing this for any preset tricky enough to require good photos as well as descriptive labels. Once you get comfortable with the software it doesn’t take long. And when you’ve got all your photos in your Evernote note, you can quickly save it as a PDF and share it with whoever you need to (or, if you’ve got a shared Evernote notebook with your team, they will automatically have it).

March 5, 2013

Evernote for Resume Management

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

Earlier this week I had lunch with several stage management students from Ithaca College. I returned home with four resumes, which of course led me to consider the best way to organize these new documents.

Previously, I’ve kept a folder in the documents folder of my computer, in which I keep resumes of my friends and anybody else whose resume comes my way. If I need to write a note about who gave me the resume, I had to do it in the file name, which is kind of limiting. Also, it wasn’t on the cloud, which could be frustrating if I was out and about and wanted to reference or send somebody’s resume.

As I do in many matters, I thought of Evernote. When I got home, I scanned the paper resumes with my favorite iOS scanning app, JotNot Scanner Pro, which can also automatically send them to Evernote.

With these resumes, and the digital ones I already had in that antiquated local folder, I created a note for each person, with the title formatted as [name] – [job description]. The job description in this case being “stage manager.” I’ve created a notebook for resumes, as well as the tag “resume.” For people with whom I’ve done shows, I also added the tag(s) for the shows I worked on with them.

The best part of the whole thing, and what really makes it better than simply creating a folder in Dropbox or something, is that in addition to having the PDF or Word document, I can write some text about how I met the person, what I thought of them, what other people I know have told me about them, or really, anything. I could attach a picture or other related file if I had one.

Not to mention Evernote makes even scanned PDFs searchable, so a search for a person’s name, or a show they’ve done (maybe I can’t remember who worked on Wicked), will quickly help me to sort through the files I have.

I haven’t been so excited about a new workflow in a long time!

February 24, 2012

Day -44: Production Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first thing I did was send Brian my notes.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

The Cloud

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

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

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

September 17, 2011

How I’m Using Evernote Today

I call this: mac,pc,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:51 pm

Just a quick use case for Evernote in rehearsal.

Right now we’re still focusing on music, so one of the few things to track in rehearsal is what songs we’ve covered. That’s the biggest challenge on this show — there are 31 of them.

When I’m PSM, I have a ridiculous database that tracks things like this, but this is a pretty simply-structured show, being basically a revue, with minimal blocking, sets and props, and most of what the database does is either not needed, or not needed when I’m the ASM.

Back when I was doing pre-production I made myself an Evernote note with the names of all the songs, because I wasn’t familiar with the show and knew I’d need to be referring to it often. If I were really on top of things I’d have the names of the characters who sing them on there. Maybe that’s my next project.

I didn’t really plan this, but I had nothing to do in rehearsal, and when I have free time when assisting, I do one of two things: create more paperwork than I probably need, and monitor things that the PSM is already doing, just in case it becomes helpful to have that redundancy — for instance if the PSM needs to be out of the room for an extended period he will miss some of what we were working on, and my paperwork can be used to double-check his list for the report.

So I started using my note to not just list the songs, but to check them off as we learn them. I love checkboxes in Evernote. On the Mac you can make them quickly with shift-command-T. I have a suspicion it’s shift-ctl-T on Windows. The system I came up with is that when we start a song, it gets a checkbox. When the song is completely taught it gets a checkmark.

Nothing fancy, but sometimes Evernote is so open-ended that I don’t quite know what to do with it. So here’s an example.

I only wish the iOS client didn’t crash so much. I would keep my run sheet on it. But I can’t have a run sheet that crashes just before a scene change, or loses its most recent changes, and I feel like that would happen at least five times a day, which is five times more per run than I can accept. Currently I’m writing the run sheet in Word. I’m not sure yet what method I’ll use during tech. It will very likely be paper.

May 17, 2011

Evernote Use Cases

I call this: computers,mac,pc,phones,tech,web — Posted by KP @ 9:44 pm

I made my first post about Evernote back in August, as I was preparing for the last Acting Company tour. If you’re not familiar with Evernote, I suggest reading that first, as it will give you a basic idea of what the app does. In very brief, it stores and categorizes any text, document, photos, or other media you want, and makes them searchable and available on the cloud (and as a result can also sync with your phone and between your computers).

I had just begun using Evernote when I made my first post, and since then have mentioned it in passing on occasion. My assistant, Meaghan, and I had been sharing Evernote notes during the tour, as well as keeping our own individual notes about various things related to the show. Now that the tour is complete and I’ve been using Evernote for about nine months, I finally feel prepared to really write about how I use it, not how I thought I would use it. So I went through all my notes to sum up which ones are/were most useful.

Like most things in my life, I find I can divide it into three categories: work, personal, and technology. So that’s how I’m going to break it up. Behold!


  • Cast checklist This is by far the most useful single note in my Evernote. All it is is a list of the full names of the cast, with a checkbox by each one. Initially this can be used as a reference for remembering people’s first and last names, and checking spelling. Once you get to the point where you know everybody’s name, it’s basically used for taking a headcount, or marking off when things have been completed for each actor (such as if you were making labels for their valuables bags). I think it’s fair to say that Meaghan and I used this note nearly every day, very often multiple times per day.
  • Other checklists Some other uses of the handy checklist features of Evernote are for prop presets, pre- or post-show checklists, and one of my favorites, the list of things needing to be run at fight call, and the actors and weapons needed for each one.
  • Rule books and contracts I tend to also have these files on my DropBox, but this is something that is worth the redundancy, I think. I keep the PDFs of all applicable Equity rule books, contracts, riders, letters of agreement, etc.
  • Codes On the TAC tour we had a note filled with all the codes we’d accumulated over the tour: copier codes, combination locks for our road boxes, door unlock codes, bus door codes, computer usernames and passwords, etc.
  • Procedures How to do things you might otherwise forget how to do. An example of this would be on The Comedy of Errors, we used the house’s main curtain in our show. In theatres where that wasn’t possible or desirable we had an alternate set of lighting cues. In theory they were written into the show file. But I kept a note with the designer’s original notes of all the changes made to the original show file to create the curtainless cues, as well as a breakdown of the steps that needed to be taken to make the routine switch between the curtain show and the non-curtain show.
  • “People Who Have Gotten Screwed” I have a note with this title, which is simply a list of names (there were three by the end of the tour). The gist is that when somebody gets arbitrarily screwed (like there’s no way to make the schedule without somebody having a four-hour break in the middle of their day), the person who gets screwed gets their name on this list. The next time that kind of decision has to be made, if there are multiple people who could potentially be screwed, a person with their name on this list will be passed over for screwing.
  • Interview or initial hiring notes When somebody first calls me about a job, I use Evernote to take down quick notes about the name of the show, who’s involved, where it’s being done, the dates, and salary if known.
  • Quotes I kept a list of all the funny quotes that came up during the tour.
  • Directions and maps I’ve got some notes with maps and written directions for how to get to various venues and rehearsal studios.
  • Truck pack info I didn’t end up using this as much as I intended to (probably due to not being able to type on my iPhone with my gloves on), but I had a note for documenting our truck pack, which could be lists of the order items come on in, as well as pictures of various sections of the pack to show how the items fit together.
  • Travel info / itineraries Any time I got a flight itinerary (which sometimes was way in advance), I threw it in Evernote and didn’t worry about it again, knowing I would always know where to find it when I needed it.
  • Notes for reports On more informal shows, I take my notes for the rehearsal / performance report on my phone if it’s not convenient to have my computer out. It’s also handy for making lists of questions to ask the director, or for topics to bring up at a production meeting. Then when I get home or back to my computer, I can process them more appropriately.
  • Exit interview notes While on tour, I knew that at the end of the season I would be brought in for a meeting with the general manager to discuss what was good and bad, what had improved or not since last year, and so forth. I’m pretty terrible at remembering these kind of things six months after they happen, so from the start of the tour I kept a note with all these thoughts.


  • Shopping lists Definitely my favorite in this category. Great for quick, disposable lists like groceries, and also for long-term shopping that I might not get to for a while, like things I want to get for my apartment.
  • Movie and book recommendations Any time I hear about a book or movie I might like, I go to my “Books” or “Movies” notes and jot down the title and maybe a reminder of what it’s about, or the author. This helps me not to forget things that I’m interested in, because when I’m in need of some new entertainment, I can just go down the list and head over to Netflix or to bn.com to see if any are available.
  • Insurance information I have a note with various information about my health insurance plan, and another covering my eye doctor visits last year. I haven’t needed to reference them yet, but it will be very handy over time to have documented when my last check-up was, the doctor’s name, etc.


  • All useful infomation My most prized note in this category sums up everything there is to know about my Mom and Dad’s technological lives. I did a total revamp of their house quite a few years back, and do periodic upgrades and maintenance on their computers and network. Naturally I don’t always remember all the details, so I have a file that has all their various usernames and passwords, router names and passwords, wi-fi network name and password, and computer names. I use this all the time when I’m over at their house.
  • Ink cartridge information This could be as simple as a line of text with the cartridge numbers, but I prefer to take a snapshot of the printers’ ink cartdrige, mostly because it’s faster to take the picture than to transcribe the information. Also it gives you visual confirmation of what the cartridge should look like, which is sometimes helpful.
  • Troubleshooting procedures When something goes wrong with my stuff and I find the directions to solve it online, I generally make a note with that information, if I feel like it’s something I won’t remember if it ever happens again.
  • Terminal commands and other shortcuts Ever find something online like “just type ____________ in the terminal to get this really useful option”? That’s great. Until you reinstall your OS or get a new computer, and then you forget all about that thing you cut-and-pasted two years ago. So I have a single note (which used to be a Word document I dragged around from computer to computer) that holds all of these.
  • Specs of my computer I have one that’s just a screenshot of the item description of the last batch of RAM I bought. I’m pretty bad at remembering my computers’ specs over time, so I keep them in various notes. This also includes serial numbers and MAC addresses.
  • Product keys I really keep all my product keys in 1Password, but when I first get something I often snap a photo of the product key if it’s on the box or the CD or whatever. That way I can be sure I don’t lose it or accidentally throw it out before putting it into 1Password.
  • Configuration info The one that saves me the most time is the settings for Coda, which is the web development software I use. There’s a configuration screen that allows the app to access the local and remote versions of this site, and every time I have to re-enter that information I screw it all up. So now I have it in a note, with a screenshot of how everything should be filled in.


These are the notes I’ve found most useful. Evernote can really be used for whatever you want. For instance, I don’t make any attempt to make it a task manager, as I have the much more powerful and dedicated OmniFocus for that. I wouldn’t say that I’m a power user of Evernote. I do have the $5/month Premium subscription, which allows me gazillions of gaziggabytes of uploads (I believe that’s the technical term) per month (which is more necessary when you’re uploading photos), but I rarely have really needed that subscription. I think about bumping back to the free version (Evernote is fantastic about not making you lose any of your stored data if you decide to go back to free), but I keep thinking “it’s just $5” and I like the app so much. And I really don’t want to lose the 150×150 pixels or whatever it is that the ads take up. But if you were on a budget, you could easily survive the workflow that I normally use on the free account.

September 24, 2010

Small Site Addition – Evernote Site Memory

I call this: tech,web — Posted by KP @ 8:47 pm

You’re going to see a little green elephant button at the bottom of this post — actually at the bottom of every post. That’s Evernote’s new Site Memory feature.

I’ve gotten a bit hooked on Evernote recently. In brief, it’s a cloud-based app that you can use to store text and other files in a searchable, organized format so you always have access to your stuff. For more about it, see my first impressions post. I’m going to do a longer post about use cases and later impressions, but I want to wait until I’ve had time to use it through a rehearsal process. I’ll give you a hint though: so far it’s been very useful at keeping myself organized, and giving Meaghan (my ASM) a way to keep up with my preproduction work at her leisure, while halfway across the country.

Site Memory is a new feature they just introduced, I think last week. Basically you click the elephant and it automatically clips the post content into a nice format to import into the user’s Evernote account, and lets them assign it to a notebook and set tags and add a comment to it. It also allows the website owner to have a little control over the format and content of the clipping, although I’m not doing anything too fancy with that. I just like being an early adopter of things I find cool.

For reading some sites, using Site Memory might not be much more of an improvement over the default Evernote browser plugin, but for blogs it seems handy because it can clip an individual post with one click. It’s also interesting to note that while the browser plugin requires you to be using a computer with Evernote installed, the Site Memory button works over the web, so you can use it from any computer. And if you don’t use Evernote, you can get started by clicking that button. It’s free!

September 4, 2010

Cross-Platform Stage Management

I call this: mac,On the Road Again,pc,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:16 pm

This tour is going to be something of an experiment, and an opportunity for new stage management technical discoveries, as I have an ASM who uses Windows — I know!

Contrary to popular belief, I will actually choose ASMs who use Windows. And the people I most often assist use Windows, so I’m used to the cross-platform thing, although it’s been a while since I’ve been the PSM in that case and had to decide what software to use for the show. So I had no reservations about Meaghan not being a Mac user. I knew she was a PC user when we worked together two years ago, but I couldn’t remember if she had since switched, and I didn’t ask until this week when I was trying to nail down what software I’m going to use for the tour. Well she has a PC, but she assures me she has an iPhone, which is comforting somehow, and is an advantage I never had with Nick and his cursed-trackball Blackberry.

In day-to-day life I don’t find the OS to make that much of a difference. There were a couple events over the course of two years on tour where I remember saying to Nick, “thank God you have a Mac, or we’d be screwed!” but those were situations where we were already screwed and managed to avoid further screwing. Which is good. But those situations are rare, and if you are lucky enough not to be screwed in the first place, then you have nothing to worry about. The big one I remember was when my computer just up-and-died one day, an hour before the show. I was able to install all the software I needed on Nick’s and carry on. It was great, but in reality if that happened again, especially in the more cloud-based world we have now two years later, most things would be fine on a PC, and if I really needed a Mac, there will be like 15 more of them on tour and I could borrow somebody else’s to get what I need converted into PC-friendly form. But those kind of contingency plans will be part of the decisions I make when setting up our digital world.

The first of which is that there needs to be a backup of all our critical files on a drive formatted for FAT32. My backup drive, which uses Time Machine, is formatted for HFS+, which is the format required for Mac-bootable drives. I think I may keep all our files and installers on an 8GB thumb drive that I just purchased. Our show files are on DropBox so we both have access to them, so that’s a pretty good backup right there, but it might be smart to have an offline copy as well. I’ll probably keep that backed up every day or two.

I also have Windows running on my Mac (both natively, and alongside Mac OS using Parallels), which might come in handy if we need to share something in a Windows-only way. I was still using XP for compatibility with older games, and out of cheapness, but when I had the money, wanted to buy Windows 7. I would hate to find us in a situation where we can’t share something because I was still on XP, so I started to think of it as a business necessity to invest in the upgrade at this point. So I just installed Windows 7, and it seems to run well on my machine so far. Maybe this whole collaboration will help me to educate myself on changes in the Windows world that I’ve glossed over since I switched to Mac in 2002. That would be helpful, cause I sell myself as a computer geek stage manager, and if you sat me down in front of a machine with Vista or Windows 7 I don’t think I’d be much of a geek, and at this point it’s starting to feel like false advertising.

Meaghan and I are now pretty much caught up as far as being set up with all the software we’ll be using. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • FileMaker Most of the actual paperwork for the show will go in my database. Thankfully FileMaker is cross-platform, so we should have no problem with that. When at work, we will work off the master copy served from my computer, but I have recently added a feature to upload a copy of it to DropBox, so if she needs to reference the information inside when away from the theatre it will be in the cloud. Plus we could both access it from our iPhones if we wanted. If she was going to do some homework of her own, she would have a copy to work in, as long as I know not to be making changes at the same time on my copy, and to make the Dropbox file the master after she’s done. Nick and I sent the file back and forth over email sometimes, but this way should be a little cleaner.
  • DropBox This summer I started using DropBox as an alternative to MobileMe’s iDisk. The main difference between the two is that DropBox works. It works well enough that I could put my folder for each show on my DropBox and trust it not to get corrupted or out of sync. After three shows using that method, I’m now taking it a step further: I’m sharing that folder with Meaghan, so we will both be able to work off the same files.
  • Evernote For more on Evernote, you can see my first impressions post. I’m storing a bunch of stuff on Evernote, everything from the show logos to essential emails from office staff, to my shopping list for Staples. Meaghan can then check it to see all the information I have, and when we’re actually working she can add notes to my notebook for the tour with information and paperwork that she generates. I’m hoping between this and DropBox, we’ll never have to worry about me forgetting to pass on a file to her.
  • Microsoft Office Obviously. I don’t create all that many Office files, but it’s always necessary at some point. Our script will be the biggest one, and changes will be tracked throughout the rehearsal process.
  • Skype It may come in handy from time-to-time, but what I really intend to use it for is to teach the database before we start rehearsal. Meaghan only arrives in New York the day before we start, so using screen sharing will have to do.

In addition to getting us set up for rehearsal, I’ve been trying to make Windows a little more hospitable for my own use. The problem I have when gaming is that I become completely useless for anything else, because in order to access, well, anything, I have to reboot into OSX. The use of all these cloud-based, cross-platform tools has made it much easier to spend hours and hours in Windows without being prevented from doing anything else. The one major element I’m missing is OmniFocus, which is cloud-based, but only compatible with Mac and iPhone. However, the act of creating or checking off a task is so quick and simple that doing it on my phone is almost as fast as doing it on the desktop. Overall I’m excited to play with some new ways to organize.

August 26, 2010

Things I’m Trying Out: Evernote

I call this: computers,mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 9:52 pm

There are a number of products I’ve been using lately that I haven’t taken the time to talk about. Partially because I don’t feel like I’ve used them enough to have a complete opinion yet. But I thought it might be helpful to call attention to them anyway.


I am like the last person to the Evernote party, I admit that. My awareness of Evernote comes mostly from my use of OmniFocus (also see my tips page on it). Evernote is often mentioned in the same breath as a competing product, when folks discuss what tools they use to stay organized, which is a topic you can imagine I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about, since it’s like, my entire job description. And I run a website about it, too.

OmniFocus is a very powerful task manager, based on the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. It’s all about projects, due dates, and contexts. Basically all the tasks you put into it become rigidly structured based on when they can be begun, when they need to be completed, and where or in what order they can be worked on. I wasn’t quite sure what Evernote was, except that some people used it instead of OmniFocus, and that it was marketed more as a place to hold all your random information, not just your tasks.

I don’t even remember what exactly got me to finally try Evernote. Maybe one of the many Lifehacker articles that ask what people use to manage their life, where it’s usually the winner far above OmniFocus, (which is Mac-only and $80, and thus at an extreme disadvantage). The nice thing about Evernote is that the basic version is free, so I figured I had nothing to lose by educating myself about this product that obviously a lot of people like.

The first thing I noted is that Evernote really is not a direct competitor with OmniFocus. Obviously for some people it serves the same purpose, when the question is “how do you keep track of your tasks?” But Person A might say “Evernote,” Person B might say “OmniFocus,” and Person C might say “I write it on my hand with a Sharpie,” and the methods would be about as similar.

Evernote doesn’t try so hard to be organized. It’s not about tasks, it’s about stuff. Maybe the stuff is tasks sometimes. You could have a single entry containing a picture, some writing, some tasks and an audio file. It doesn’t really matter. You just put your stuff in a note, assign it to a notebook (which could roughly represent a project, or a context, or anything you want), and give it any number of tags that might make it more helpful for you to find it. OmniFocus teaches (maybe forces) you to use the GTD method. Evernote is more of a blank slate for however you want to use it.

So that sums up the basic idea — you put stuff in it, you give it some basic categories so you can find it later. The strength of Evernote comes from a couple places: cloud storage and cross-platform compatibility.

The Cloud

All your notes are stored on Evernote’s servers (unless you want them to be only stored locally). While there, some fun stuff is done to them. Images are scanned for text, and if text is recognized, it will come up when you search for it. So you can take a picture of a sign, a business card, or anything else with text, and when you do a search that picture will come up. For premium subscribers, you can also store scanned PDFs and search them too.

The best thing about cloud storage, combined with the fact that Evernote is available on many platforms, is that you can get to your stuff from pretty much anywhere: on your computer, on Mac or Windows, on iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Palm devices, or from any computer using a web browser — no need to have Evernote installed at all. In addition to using it on my Mac and iPhone, I also have it installed on my gaming PC, and on my Windows installation on my Mac, so I can access and create information when I’m booted into Windows. It’s helpful to have a cloud-based, cross-platform repository for pretty much everything.

A frequent situation for me on the road:

  • I get a few hours of peace and leisure time, so I boot into Boot Camp and fire up a game.
  • *ding* an email comes in on my phone. It requires a response, and the information I need is on my OS X partition, where everything other than games lives.
  • FML. I was just trying to have a little fun!
  • Now I have to decide whether I can ignore the email for a while, or if I need to stop gaming, reboot into Mac, get the info, return the email, and then either reboot into Windows so I can continue gaming, or just give up trying to enjoy myself.

There may still be situations where that’s necessary, but the use of a combination of Evernote and Dropbox to manage my work stuff could make those occasions less common.


Evernote has some very basic sharing and collaboration abilities. You can share your notebooks either with the whole world or with specific people you invite (kind of like how Google Docs works), but the best part is that you don’t even need to ask the other person to start an Evernote account. This alone makes it much easier to bring others on board with your collaboration tools if they don’t need to sign up for something they’re not sure they need. Unfortunately right now you can only view shared notebooks on the web, not in the native clients, but that feature sounds like it’s high on the list for future upgrades. I imagine a use case where I put notes for my show in a notebook and can share a link with my ASM, who can join Evernote for free if they want, and use the app on any platform, or just use the web interface if they want. Also, in situations like at the Guthrie where the stage management intern is using a company computer and may not be able to install third-party software, everything can be accessed in the browser.

Related Products

If I had a premium account I could literally store anything. The free account only stores text, images, audio files and PDFs, but for now that seems fine for me. I use 1Password for most wallet-type duties, for sensitive information and logins, which is not cross-platform, but I can access it on my phone when using Windows (actually a Windows client is in beta, but it’s going to require a separate purchase from the Mac version, which is a very different philosophy from Evernote’s which wants you to have access to your data from any device).


The biggest disappointment I have with Evernote is that it’s not secure — you can’t encrypt a note or a notebook. You can hide a piece of text within a note, but I have also heard some complaints that that’s not always secure. I already use Macjournal, which is sort of a similar idea, but without all the cool cloud features. It does have very flexible encryption features, which makes it great as an actual journal, where you wouldn’t want your most private thoughts coming up in a search for something work-related. I wouldn’t use Evernote for anything that I didn’t mind sharing with the whole world. But even though I will have to continue using other apps that do parts of what Evernote does, I have found in several weeks of use that Evernote fills a niche that is useful to me in ways those other apps are not.

iPhone Client

The iPhone client is also great for snapping a picture or taking an audio recording quickly and knowing it will be ready to be categorized on my desktop. As a side note, the Mac desktop client has a simple iSight feature, so you can hold something up in front of your computer to take a quick picture of it. There doesn’t appear to be a built-in desktop audio recording feature though, which seems like an obvious oversight.

The iPhone version can’t edit notes which have rich text or multimedia parts to them. It’s pretty annoying — and the definition of “rich text” covers almost everything, including checkboxes and lists. There’s a workaround where it creates a duplicate plain-text note that you can edit (and then presumably cut-and-paste into your original note on the desktop), or to append new text to the end of a note, but that’s pretty lame. I hope that will be improved soon.


And getting back to tasks, the “task” feature, such as it is, is that you can put a checkbox among your text, using a pretty simple shift-command-T keystroke. Then you’ve got a checkbox, which you can check or uncheck. What you do with it is up to you, there isn’t any fancy functionality behind it. But that’s actually what I need sometimes. The first thing I did with that feature is create a list of my cast. When I’m checking that everyone is present, I don’t need a task manager, I just need a simple checklist that I can check and uncheck at will. I also find it easier for grocery shopping. For simple lists, putting it in OmniFocus sometimes just gets in the way. Then I have entries like “celery” carrying the same importance as “reformat calling script,” and it’s just too much work for a damn vegetable! Apparently the Evernote folks are considering making the task features more complex, but I’m happy with it just the way it is. Well actually I really wish it had a “check all” and “uncheck all” feature, or if it does, I haven’t found it yet.
UPDATE: strangely, it exists in Windows but not on the Mac. Grrr.


As I’ve been trying to get accustomed to what I can do with Evernote, I’ve also been listening to their podcast, which is very entertaining and informative. It looks like they’ve been doing about one per month, but I’m still working my way through old episodes.

Premium Subscription

As I’ve indicated, there is a premium subscription which provides more features. The most significant is that it lifts the 40MB limit on how much stuff you can upload in a month (your total storage is unlimited, but you can only get it there 40MB per month without paying). Premium subscribers can upload 500MB per month.

As I said, premium users can upload any file type. The iPhone client does not store all notes for offline viewing for free users. You can mark a note a favorite to get it offline, but premium subscribers can access all notes offline automatically, once they’ve synced. That’s a decent workaround to help the free people, but given the number of hours per day that New Yorkers spend underground, offline access is a big deal to me, at least until they get data service in the subway stations.

Only premium subscribers can upload scanned PDFs (i.e. where the pages are images, not text) and the Evernote text recognition will make the text searchable. Also the ads in the desktop version are disabled for subscribers. This may seem like a minor cosmetic detail, but when my window is very small in the corner of my screen, the ad takes up a huge portion of the sidebar, which along with the needlessly big “Activity” window, makes it hard to see all my notebooks, much less tags and the other things there.

The subscription is $5 per month or $45 per year. I think it’s a fair price, but it’s also a lot of money compared to other apps. Even OmniFocus, which is very expensive at $80, goes longer between paid updates. I bought OmniFocus 16 months ago, and haven’t had to pay again. That’s exactly how much it would cost for a $5/mo. subscription to Evernote. It’s hard to do a direct comparison of the two business models, but the point is that a premium subscription to Evernote would be like owning another OmniFocus. As much as I like the premium features, I can’t justify the cost quite yet. If I had the money I would pay for it, but the free version is good enough for me. I should mention, though, it’s easy enough to find $5 each month. Bringing a lunch from home instead of eating out one day a month would cover it. I think once I reach a situation in which I really could use the premium features, I will subscribe.

Also, a very great thing the devs have done is that you can become premium for a month or more and then stop paying, and you don’t lose anything you already had. So if you need to upload a bunch of stuff for a while (like a complicated project at work, or you’re on vacation or something), you can subscribe and then bump back to the free version later. So there’s really nothing to lose by being selective about when you need more features and when you don’t, and it’s not like once you subscribe you’re stuck continuing to pay forever or else you lose functionality. I have a feeling I will subscribe when I get into production for the tour next month.


Do you use Evernote? Drop a note in the comments. I’d love to hear about what other people think of it, and what you’re using it for.