February 4, 2011

Giant Photo Recap

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

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

From the Fall Tour

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

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

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

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

From the Guthrie (tech & rehearsal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Guthrie (During the Run)

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

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

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

The preset for Comedy, behind the curtain.

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

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

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

From Earlier this Week

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

January 30, 2011

Tis Time, I Think, To Trudge, Pack and Be Gone

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:02 pm

Today was a very strangely-arranged day.

We had our matinee of The Comedy of Errors at 1:00.

After the show (2:35) we loaded the R&J set into the truck, so it would be done before the Comedy load-out started tonight. I was asked to direct the loading of the walls, since that’s always been my deal. In less than an hour we had the whole set on. As much as I was dreading it during the show (mostly because I was rather underdressed to be loading a truck in Minneapolis), it was rather invigorating. I haven’t really had strong feelings one way or the other about leaving, but now I’m feeling the drive to move onward.

Also, our buses arrived this morning. Between shows I finally had time to go on board. Wow! We got a really amazing one this year! My understanding is that it’s one of Pioneer’s newest. I only spent a minute walking through it, but my favorite thing that I noticed is a shelf attached to the ceiling of my bunk. Very simple but SO useful!

Also on the break I went home and cleaned my apartment and laid out the clothes I’ll wear tomorrow and packed everything else. I don’t feel too overwhelmed about finishing cleaning and packing, but I’m sure it will take longer than I think, as it always does.

Then we came back for our second and final show, which was immediately followed by the for-realz load-out.

Unlike all previous tours, we didn’t leave town as soon as we were done. Some of our lighting package was delayed in New York because of the recent snowstorm, and we have to wait for the delivery to arrive tomorrow. Thankfully we have a day off before our show Tuesday in Brainerd. I have to move out of my apartment by 11AM, so I’ll be moving onto the bus and waiting for everyone else to get kicked out of their hotel a few hours later. Then we’ll depart around 5PM. It’s only about a 2- or 3-hour drive, so we’ll be in our new hotel at a reasonable hour.

Our time at the Guthrie has been comfortable and productive as usual. I’m going to miss everybody. And my awesome apartment! But Minneapolis has lots of other great theatre (including our across-the-hall neighbors, The Winter’s Tale, who started previews this weekend), and there are other communities waiting for us, so tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone!

January 21, 2011

Back to Verona

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:45 pm

Tonight was our first performance of Romeo and Juliet since finishing our fall tour in mid-November, and beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors. After five weeks of rehearsing and teching Comedy and two weeks of performing it, R&J came in like a one-nighter on the road: we finished Comedy yesterday afternoon and the crew had basically one day to prepare for tonight’s show (there was even a completely unrelated event scheduled in our theatre last night, which cut short the changeover!!).

We came in today, and most people had the reaction I did: coming onto the stage and stepping through the masking and exclaiming “ACK!” to see the R&J set standing there. It looks great, though. Although the logistics of its run here are very tour-like, the fact remains that of all the dozens of theatres this show has played in the last year, it was this very stage that it was designed for, and it looks fantastic, as it did then.

We had several R&J rehearsals since Comedy opened, which made the transition gradual. Still, despite our easy afternoon checking spacing and practicing quickchanges with the local wardrobe crew, there was a lot of nervous energy around the theatre. The fact that everything had gone smoothly and we weren’t rushing almost made the suspense worse!

For my part, I was glad I got to call the fireworks (which is the only really challenging part of calling the show). Actually I SCREAMED the fireworks, to my board ops who were in their respective booths and listening over the monitors. That was a new experience. And I did surprisingly well, so that made me feel better. Actually calling the show was relaxing, because of the 102 performances I’ve called before, more of them were here than anywhere else, and when I picture the show, I still picture the view from this booth, where I learned it. I also have my same two board ops, which is fun.

Meaghan had extra responsibility today, since none of our backstage touring crew is here. It was her and the Guthrie prop/carp and wardrobe crew, some of whom ran the show before, but not necessarily in the same tracks — and it was, after all, a year ago. So she was the sole person backstage from the show crew, without a rehearsal. Everyone did a great job — all the changes were made quickly, and the show looked very polished. It was good practice for getting back into the touring mentality!

January 8, 2011

An Invited Dress

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:14 am

Tonight was our invited dress of The Comedy of Errors at the Guthrie. Over 300 students attending the Minnesota Thespian Society’s conference were in attendance. They also came to R&J‘s invited dress last year, and were probably our best audience of the entire tour, so those of us who experienced last year have been greatly looking forward to having such a warm group to be the first outsiders to see our Comedy and let us know if they thought it was funny.

We had five hours of rehearsal in the afternoon, a relatively tech-light day, as we fixed little staging things here and there. Last night we did an almost-run of the show (which could have been considered a relatively smooth run, but we ran out of time about five minutes before the end of the play) — but for all intents and purposes, we had already done a complete run before tonight.

I was nervous, but not really about calling the show. More about going from our 5:00 end of rehearsal to eating, re-typing sections of my calling script with things we changed that day (that were too convoluted to read without being re-typed), getting the stage prepared, our cast to their warmup, bringing my stuff up to the booth for the first time and making sure nothing is wrong up there while there’s still time to fix it, getting fight call done in the allotted 15 minutes (which never happens on the first couple tries), getting blackout check done, and opening the house in some manner of timeliness that doesn’t leave the Guthrie house staff thinking I’m incompetent. Then pacing around for a half hour (I only made it 15 minutes before I radioed Meaghan that I was going up to the booth), hoping none of our actors run into a costume or wig delay that requires holding the curtain, then going through the places procedures, coordinating Ian’s preshow curtain speech, remembering to leave time for Ian to get back to his seat before beginning the show, and finally starting the show. Everything after that point, I wasn’t really nervous about.

As I arrived in the balcony, I was anxious to just sit in the booth for 15 minutes putting the re-typed pages in my script and checking cue-by-cue that there were no errors, but before unlocking the door, I was compelled to pause for a moment to take a picture.

So the time came, I got the house right on time. Ian was with Meaghan backstage, waiting to hear word from me that we could begin. He came out and gave a brief speech welcoming the Thespians, telling them that he too had been a Thespian, and gave the usual director-at-invited-dress speech that basically goes, “this is a rehearsal, if something goes wrong you may hear my voice or someone else’s [i.e. mine] saying ‘hold’ and we’ll have to fix something.” I vaguely remember the kids either laughing or outright clapping at this.

Let me tell ye: all this week I’ve been hearing it from people. I have literally been stopped in the halls by Guthrie staff telling me how excited the Thespians are to come see the show. And I, in turn have said how excited we are to have them, since a comedy especially needs an audience to get its bearings. And I would be told, how the Thespians are so excited to be able to be the first to see it, and they don’t mind that it’s a rehearsal, and the thing they want more than anything in the world is to see the show stop!

Now, I was a young technical theatre person at that age (and a Thespian), and I felt the same way too — whenever I met someone who worked on Broadway, all I wanted to hear about were stories of things going wrong. So I didn’t take any offense to the fact that 300 kids desperately wanted to see me experience the ultimate disgrace a stage manager can suffer. So I would just laugh and say that I understood how they felt, but I hoped they would not get their wish!


Ian gives his speech, and as foretold, the kids titter at even the possibility of seeing the show stop.

I remember to hold for Ian to come back. When I see the side house door swing open, I call:
“Electrics 2, Go” (which also takes the house to half)

I wait a little while longer for Ian to get up to the production row.

I’m about to call Electrics 3 (which is a fade to black) when I realize I hadn’t given a formal warning to our prop man Craig, who is also our flyman for the house curtain.

“I’m sorry, Craig, are you standing by?”


“Craig? Craig? Meaghan? Hello?”

This is not the first, not the second, not the third, and probably not the fourth time in my career I’ve lost contact between the booth and everyone on wireless comm just before or just after a performance has started. So it was more of a “here we go again” than anything else.

By this point people on the electrics and sound channels are chiming in that they can hear me, and our sound engineer, Brandon, is starting to talk me through troubleshooting my console (which is not the same one from the tech table, so I haven’t used it since last year, and haven’t had a chance to familiarize myself with any of the buttons beyond the three channels — and the conveniently labeled “God Mic” button, which I only knew about because when Ian mentioned it in his speech, Brandon was like, “hey have you found your God mic button yet?”).

So Brandon and I are making sure that I’ve got all my listen buttons and talk buttons lit, but I had successfully been communicating with Meaghan up until just before Ian’s speech, so it seemed unlikely that something was set wrong. Then Susan, our wardrobe supervisor, calls in from her office that she can hear me. This is also interesting, as she’s on the same channel as the deck crew, but not wireless. So it looks like we’ve lost the wireless. The whole time this trouble-shooting process is going on, I’m glancing from time to time at the red-labled “God Mic” button, deciding when to use it. I know the kids want nothing more in the world, so I’m not dreading it, just deciding based on the information coming in when to formally admit defeat.

Some time after the delay had gotten obvious, Michael (lighting designer) had said, “maybe we should go back to Cue 1,” which sounded like a good idea. Ian, sitting near the tech tables, had by this time been informed of what the problem was, and it was he who invoked the God mic (which was probably nice because the kids had a pre-existing relationship with him by now). He said something like, “I told you we might have to stop!” and the kids went wild. I also felt I was now off the hook about providing them with their desired train wreck, and thankfully in a way that didn’t disrupt the show at all.

Ian explained that we were having a communication problem (which surprised me momentarily at how he would know that, until I realized he was sitting with four people who were on headset), and that we would begin soon.

I was getting frustrated, and had just picked up my radio to see if Meaghan had maybe turned hers on by now, when suddenly the voices of Meaghan and Craig popped on headset! A split-second later my phone received a text message from Meaghan, which I no longer needed to bother reading. We rejoiced for a moment, and they told me they could hear me the whole time. We conferred that none of us had touched anything at the time the comm suddenly started working again, so we were at a loss to explain why it had broken or what could be done to prevent it again. It was a mystery, without any hint of an immediate explanation, so all of us, across all channels, agreed that the only course of action was to press forward and cross our fingers. There aren’t very many cues that pass between me and the deck crew (“unless there’s a problem!” we said uneasily), but Meaghan and I agreed to keep our radios on for an emergency.

Ian had something else he had wanted to say to the students, so he requested to be the one to speak when we were ready. Once we all agreed to employ the solution of “hope that doesn’t happen again,” I passed word to Ian, and he made his announcement, and off we went!

From that point things went very smoothly. This show, especially being a comedy, moves fast, and has lots of intricate parts that go from hysterical to “meh” pretty quickly if they’re not timed perfectly, so while we knew we could go through the motions safely and more-or-less correctly, we had only run once, and this was going to be a big test for us to not just do our jobs correctly, but to do them like a well-oiled machine. I think we all exceeded our own expectations. Things came together really well, and the audience was with us the whole way.

The big excitement for me was the curtain call. We didn’t have one. We hadn’t even run the last moments of the play in two days. So word was passed around to the cast to get in a line behind the curtain and take a simple bow.

I had a bunch of cues scrawled on the last page of my script that I had never called. We had only ever teched up until the curtain fell. Thankfully the cues existed, but I have a thing where curtain calls make me nervous. I don’t know why, they don’t even really “count” in the same way as the rest of the show, normally. I just always get all up in my head about doing the sequence of events properly.

I’ve been calling Phantom for six years, and the curtain call still gives me butterflies every time. To be fair, it’s actually pretty crazy, involves catching the Phantom’s mask from one person, handing it off to someone else while listening for clears, checking for open traps and cueing a bunch of automation. Like, “really? I have to do all this other stuff, and in the middle of it I have to have this mask in my hand?” Actually the way I do it is more like
1) remember to stick hand out
2) close hand when mask is felt
3) open hand when someone tugs on mask
and then the rest of my energy is focused on what’s happening onstage (which you can barely see because scenery is being struck right next to you).

So anyway, curtain calls freak me out. And here’s one I’ve never actually tried. Who knows that any of these cues actually do what they allegedly do? So I spent a good chunk of the last scene reading and re-reading the sequence so I could smoothly move from one cue to the next, knowing what was coming. It went flawlessly, thankfully! I won’t say I called a perfect show, but it wasn’t bad, and my crew backed me up when I gave them short preps on a couple occasions.

Everybody was in a celebratory mood afterward. Our production meeting was short and sweet, like our show is, and was done by 9:40, which was amazing after a couple of post-midnight nights this week. Pretty much the entire Comedy team went to Sea Change, the in-Guthrie restaurant/bar and most convenient source of post-show beverages. The mood was incredibly festive. We remarked several times how everyone was toasting and congratulating as if it was opening night. In a way, I think it was. We proved to ourselves that we could do it, and I think that’s far more important than whether the audience paid for their tickets or whether we’re having a formal party afterwards. I’m looking forward to building our confidence even more in our remaining rehearsals, so we have a really solid show to play in Minneapolis, to be ready for whatever the road throws at us.

December 12, 2010

SNOMFG: The Minneapolis Blizzard of 2010

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:09 pm

We found out Friday during rehearsal that there was a storm a-comin’. Some people thought it would be the storm of the decade. Some people were like, “it’s Minneapolis, they’re not afraid of snow.” We devised our rehearsal schedule for Saturday in such a way that if the people who weren’t staying within walking distance of the Guthrie got snowed in, we wouldn’t be totally screwed. Then we went to bed.

The storm began around midnight Saturday. Before I left the house at about 8:30AM, I looked out the window and could barely see the Guthrie. I live about two diagonal blocks away.

Out the Window

Here’s my typical view:

Here’s the view on Saturday morning (the camera is panned a little more to the right):

When I left the house there seemed to be about 6-8″ already on the ground. We began our rehearsal day, occasionally peeking out the window (we keep the blinds down usually) to see that our usual view of the Mississippi and the factories across the river was a view of total whiteness. You couldn’t see the river at all. One of the bridges was the faintest shadow. Then we decided this needed to be seen from the Endless Bridge (which I spoke about a bit at the end of my last post).

The Endless Bridge

On our lunch, I walked out to the end of the bridge.

Here’s a picture of me in 2008, also during a snowstorm apparently.

Note that you can see the snow-covered river, the bridge, and buildings on the other side.

Here’s the view on Saturday. I didn’t go outside because the snow was about a foot high in front of the door, so I had to take a picture out the blue window. The bench in the foreground is the one I’m standing against in the above picture. The whiteish spots are the reflections of the other windows on the bridge.

We finished rehearsal at 3:30, with the snow forecasted to continue until midnight. By the time we left rehearsal the snow was over a foot. I walked home through sidewalks completely covered in a foot of soft snow, that had had barely any covering them when I walked them in the morning. That was exhausting. Around the same time the city/county stopped bus service and recalled the plows from the roads. I think this is when people started to realize how screwed we were. I was just glad all our actors could get home.

This morning we woke up and had to make it back in for another 9:30 rehearsal, with the city covered in snow and temperatures now hovering around zero. Meaghan called me just as I was about to leave the house to report that her car was stuck in an unplowed driveway to the Guthrie’s parking garage. I joined her — thankfully she had a shovel in her car, and I cleared a neater path as she guided her car between the snowbanks.

One of our actors’ car was snowed in at home, but he couldn’t take public transportation as he did the day before, because bus service wasn’t resuming until 10AM. He eventually managed to get a cab, and was miraculously only about 15 minutes late.

After getting my morning workout shoveling the parking garage, we finally got to the rehearsal room, where our director told us about the Metrodome roof caving in overnight. I was staring right at it while shoveling snow, and didn’t notice. So before rehearsal I took a quick trip up to the 9th floor lobby, which provides a perfect view out its crazy yellow windows.

The Metrodome

Here it is last year, just before the final Vikings playoff game:

And today, as one of my actors described it, “Like a souffle that couldn’t.”

Also, there’s a crazy video of the inside as the roof came down:

All in all I believe it was recorded as 17″ of snow. The streets seem pretty clear, at least around here, but the sidewalks have taken all of the snow that was plowed off the street, and are still piled up several feet high on some blocks, especially at the corners. I will have to be more selective about which streets to walk down. Getting home today was a bit of a mountain-climbing adventure.

Towards the end of rehearsal today I got creative with my water bottle, which seemed to sum up what this weekend has been like:

December 8, 2010

First Rehearsal, Minneapolis

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:10 am

Today we began rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors, the second of the shows we’ll be touring with this year. After our successful remount and fall tour of last year’s Romeo and Juliet, we’re starting from scratch with a new and very different production.

As is the custom in recent years, it’s co-produced with the Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, who invite us to use their amazing facility and staff to rehearse and premiere one of our shows.

I got into town on Sunday, and yesterday Meaghan and I spent the day at the theatre, meeting with people and setting up our rehearsal room.

In the lobby I got my first look at our new posters. The Guthrie did their own logo for R&J last year, and now we have a Comedy logo to match!

This morning we had the great pleasure of having our truck show up bright and early to unload part of the Comedy set, which consists of a series of curtains suspended by towers at varying depths across the stage. Because of the very specific design of the curtains and the intricate uses they’re expected to have, we have taken the rather ambitious step of having the actual scenery in our rehearsal room for almost the entire process (from day 1 until the day they’re needed to go upstairs to the stage). The arrival of the truck also allows us to have some of our road boxes in the building, namely the much-appreciated stage management workbox, and some other boxes which contain useful items, and things of a fragile nature that would not benefit from spending a month in a frozen trailer parked in a field in St. Paul (such as wigs).

The Guthrie crew set up the towers and curtains this morning, under the direction of our TD and set designer, who are also in for a few days to oversee the beginning of the process.

At noon-ish, Meaghan and I went up to one of the classrooms in the building, where we conducted the Equity meeting, to allow the crew time to finish in our rehearsal room. It was a casual and fun-filled meeting (it’s quite easy when the whole company has already been working together for months), the highlight of which was one of our actors who had clipped an article from the Equity newsletter by union president Nick Wyman, and read aloud this very funny and accurate piece about what usually happens when it comes time to elect a deputy, and encouraging members not to dread this duty.

With the meeting done, we returned downstairs to our rehearsal room for the meet & greet, which at the Guthrie is a big production involving the whole community of staff, not just those involved in a specific production. Artistic director Joe Dowling introduced Acting Company artistic director Margot Harley, and both spoke about the continuing collaboration between the two companies. Our director, Ian Belknap was introduced, and he spoke a bit about the play and his ideas for it, before introducing brief design presentations from scenery and costumes. It was really cool that in addition to the set model, the gathered audience was actually sitting within most of the actual set in 1:1 scale. The cast and the rest of the creative team were introduced, and then there was some time for mingling, before we were left to begin rehearsal.

It was a good day of table work. I find it really interesting to start a process with a bunch of people who pretty much all know each other intimately already. The whole cast, stage management team, and our staff repertory director have been through a 4-week rehearsal process together, followed by weeks of touring, so it’s already very much a family. Ian hasn’t been our director, but as associate artistic director of the company, he’s been very much a part of our lives throughout the process, so there’s not that usual weirdness of everybody feeling out the director’s personality. The majority of us have worked at the Guthrie before, so there’s a familiarity with many of our “new” collaborators already. I definitely feel the difference that it makes in the early hours of rehearsal when everyone already feels safe and has nothing to prove in the rehearsal room.

Most of our costume fittings were done in New York during the R&J rehearsal process, and tomorrow and Thursday we’ll finish them up. It was a huge pain trying to get everyone into the shop outside of R&J rehearsal time, but the payoff is that we don’t have to deal with it now. We have some wig fittings later this week, and then hopefully that should pretty much be it.

All-in-all it was a very smooth first day. It was a lot of fun to see everybody at the Guthrie. It definitely feels like coming home. We don’t have a stage management intern to guide us through the Guthrie system this year, but between Meaghan’s experience spending a full year as intern and ASM (including the initial Acting Company/Guthrie collaboration on Henry V), and my two previous shows as PSM, we have pretty much learned all the procedures and people that need to be known to stage manage here.

As much as I generally find it frustrating to go back into rehearsal when we’ve already rehearsed, teched, opened and toured a show, I’m actually looking forward to this process. So many of my collaborators are old friends by this point that I’m just excited to work on it. Also, this is the first comedy I’ve done with the company, and it’s short, so that’s a nice change from the 3-hour tragedies and histories we’ve done before!

I think Comedy and R&J are such polar opposites that this tour will be incredibly fun to perform in rep. One show will be easy to load in, funny, short, but probably more hectic and stressful to run. The other will be hard to load in, emotionally intense, long, but more easy and slow-paced to run. There will be things to look forward to every time we switch shows, and I think that will keep us always looking forward to whichever one we’re doing.

And I’m once again staying in what I have come to call my “winter apartment,” which I will have lived in for six months of my life by the time we leave for the road. Sometimes I think a change of scenery might be interesting, but I had loads of fun getting dropped off at the garage door with my suitcase and my groceries, and just busting in and unpacking everything in about 10 minutes. Everything already has its place, its shelf, its drawer, which outlet it gets plugged into, as comfortably as if I’ve lived here all my life. Almost every time I come home to my NY apartment (which I moved into in 2006) I fumble around for the lightswitch on the wrong wall. So I feel at least as comfortable here. It’s nice to have some consistency in my rather inconsistent domestic life.

I think I’ve said before that I believe that when you tour a certain part of your brain gets set aside solely for remembering your hotel room number and which way to turn when you get out of the elevator. Usually, for me at least, this works surprisingly well, even when you have to memorize a new 3- or 4-digit number every day or two. I think it’s somewhat related to keeping a mental picture of what the hallway looks like and that somehow helps you to remember the room number. Very seldom do I experience something that happened to me in Tucson a few weeks ago, where I went to the front desk for something, and they said, “what’s your room number?” and I went, “…uhhhhh….” (what city are we in? Tucson. 8th floor, turn left, turn left, turn right, turn left…802!). So being in an apartment that’s familiar for two straight months might as well be like owning a house.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something about the weather. I was afraid that coming from California and Arizona, this would just be torture. The temperature has been in the teens since we got here, but so far it doesn’t bother me. I think it’s some kind of sense memory, that when I see these streets and buildings, my body just expects to be frozen solid, and 15 degrees feels warm, because it is, relatively speaking. I love this city, and I swear some day I will see it not covered in a sheet of snow and ice, and it will be awesome.

The underside of the Endless Bridge, as seen from the rear of the lobby. I love the Endless Bridge. It’s just ridiculous. It’s one of the longest cantilevered structures in the world (this photo actually makes it look much shorter than it is), and it doesn’t really have a purpose other than to be cool. Working here for the first time was a big culture shock in terms of theatre architecture. Broadway houses are so much about efficient use of space and maximizing seating capacity, that they don’t even allow room for things like an elevator, or adequate restrooms. And then there’s the Guthrie, that has a 178-foot-long, 30-foot-wide, two-storey-high bridge to nowhere, just because. It definitely makes you feel like you’re working someplace special, and by extension, your work must be important because this impossibly flamboyant building exists just to house it. Working here is kind of intoxicating. Everything is a heightened experience because the building itself is so weird and intriguing. You just go to a meeting and you’re like, “Why does this room have diagonal yellow windows?!?” It makes working anyplace else seem incredibly dreary.

January 31, 2010

Goodbye to the Guthrie

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:27 pm

The day has come — after spending our entire process here, since Dec. 1, it’s time for us to leave the Guthrie and go out into the wide world.

It’s been even more fun for me to be here for the second time. I didn’t have to spend as much time figuring out what I need to do, and who I need to talk to in all the many departments that keep this place running. Also, being on one of the mainstages was a change, and brought a lot of new experiences we didn’t have last year.

I’ve seen many cool pictures of the Guthrie, as there are many cool things to take pictures of, but this is my absolute favorite, that I found on Flickr (click to visit the photographer’s page).

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis Minnesota

There’s so much I could say about this place, I wouldn’t really know where to start or end. If you’ve been reading through my “On the Road Again” posts from this year or last year, I’ve said a lot of it along the way. What stick with me most of all are three things:

1. The kind, talented, and fun people who work here and care deeply about the work that is put on here

2. The blessing of having a facility like this to work in, that’s thoughtfully designed to assist in production, but also inspires the creative process with its beautiful architecture and sunlit spaces.

3. The intelligence, sophistication and generosity of Minneapolis audiences. The pride that the people here take in their many theatres is really amazing, and it has always been a pleasure to give performances and talkbacks here.

I’m very grateful to have been able to work here twice, and I hope to be back again soon!

And now, placing tongue in cheek a bit, I have devised a graphic that captures what the experience of working here has been like for Nick and I, who spend most of our time in the ragtag world of New York Off-Off- and lesser Off-Broadway theatre, where if you have internet and enough room to tape out your set in the rehearsal room, you’re living like a king.

Working in a regional theatre that operates year-round with the same staff has been a bit of a culture shock, because everything is so specifically organized and every little thing happens exactly the same way on every show, so everyone knows what to expect. We’ve come in like a very small bull in a very large China shop, and especially this year with our previous experience, we’ve been working hard to knock over as little as possible while fitting our process into the way things are done here.

Whenever I talk about the Guthrie, being a geek, it tends to come out in Star Trek metaphors. Last year I was fond of saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the Guthrie lifted off from the bank of the Mississippi into space, as a fully self-sufficient traveling intergalactic theatre platform.

The more specific Star Trek metaphor that I often find myself using is the Borg — in the most loving possible way something can resemble the Borg — mostly because of the system of paperwork that has to be done with certain forms, and only on Guthrie-supplied computers. If you are to do a show here, you will be assimilated. Nick and I didn’t have to get any implants, thankfully we had a Guthrie Intern Interface which handled most of the translation for us. But I think especially this year we’ve learned to become one mind with the Guthrie Collective, and I hope our hosts have not found us to be too disruptive to the normal routine here.

And so, I have created this image in honor of our assimilation:

For anyone who has worked here it will be self-explanatory, but the flashing thing is the ubiquitous door lock that prevents access from pretty much everywhere to anywhere else, unless you have your magical Guthrie badge on you.

December 2, 2009

(Waves to Guthrie Fans)

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:48 pm

i_heart_mnGreetings to new readers from the Guthrie website!

As you probably know because you’re here, I’m the Production Stage Manager for the Acting Company / Guthrie production of Romeo and Juliet, opening in January.

First I’ve got a little backstory for you: I’ve been writing a blog/website about stage management, and the application of technology to enhance theatre management for about two-and-a-half years.

So last year, making my debut with The Acting Company as PSM of Henry V, I hired this guy Nick to be my assistant. Nick decided to create a blog about his experiences on tour, too. And one morning we came to rehearsal and discovered that Nick’s blog was all over the front page of the Guthrie website, and suddenly everybody was reading it! Our actors’ parents would come to the show and be more excited to meet Nick than to see their kids perform! Well Nick thought this was awesome, and indeed it was.

So the other day as we were waiting at JFK for our flight to Minneapolis, we somehow got on the subject of our blogging rivalry. Nick declared that once again he was sure to be the darling of the Guthrie homepage. Having significantly expanded my blog and website since last year, I retorted that I was just as likely, if not more so, to attract their attention. So we began googling terms like, “Romeo and Juliet Guthrie” to see what came up. Unfortunately we got through about 100 results and neither of us was listed. That put a temporary stop to the discussion.

Today as we were locking up our rehearsal room, we heard someone at the other end of the hall exclaim, “It’s Karen and Nick!” We didn’t recognize these people, so we were a little surprised. As they came closer, I think the first thing the young lady said was, to Nick, “I read your blog!” Which sent Nick up and down the halls doing a happy dance, of course! Once Nick had contained himself and returned, they introduced themselves as James Scott, the General Manager, and his assistant Lauren. After much continued discussion about how popular Nick’s blog is with the Guthrie staff, I asked what the hell a webmaster has to do to get some love around here. Nick will characterize this as begging. Perhaps it was. But you must understand, I’m desperate at this point. Lauren took down the name of my website, and then we talked a bit about some work stuff she needed to tell me.

Nick and I were on our way upstairs to see Faith Healer, and by intermission I had an email from Lauren saying that both our blogs were now linked on the website, under the title “Blogging Stage Managers Return to Minneapolis!” which I think is an awesome title. I also submit Blogging Stage Managers for your consideration should you be looking for a band name.

So welcome, and now you know how much it means to me to be acknowledged as the other half of the Blogging Stage Managers! Look for us to continue our tales of Romeo and Juliet as we create it here in Minneapolis and tour it around the country.

And if you’re interested in stage management or technical theatre, or computers, I especially encourage you to take a look at the rest of the site as well!

Day 1 of Preproduction at the “G”

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:18 pm

Checking In

First day of work at the Guthrie (yesterday). We arrived a little before our announced arrival time of 11am, to get our security badges, and hopefully have our pictures retaken, because we arrived last year unaware that there would be pictures, and coming off our travel, looked a little rough. Well of course in typical Guthrie efficiency, they just typed in our names and reprinted our badges from last year. So so much for that. I didn’t really mind. I’ve taken worse pictures, it might not have been worth the gamble. Nick also discovered when they couldn’t find him in the computer, that his name was misspelled on his badge all last year. That was pretty funny.

The important thing about the badge is that there are electronic sensors all over the building, and without one you won’t get very far before a door or an elevator blocks your passage to the non-public parts of the building. So with our access granted, we then proceeded upstairs to the 2nd floor production office.

In the Office

We were there to see Russell, who is the Guthrie’s PSM, and our direct liaison to our host theatre. Russell had stepped out, but in poking our heads into his office, we were noticed by Trevor, the Assistant Production Director, who was also very helpful to us going into our tech last year.

We learned a lot last year about the challenges of creating a show with creative and production people sprawled out between New York and Minneapolis. The collaboration begun last year between The Acting Company and the Guthrie was very successful, but behind the scenes there is also a lot of planning that goes into figuring out how the two sets of personnel work together and where the handoff of responsibility occurs for each of the countless tasks that have to be accomplished to put on a show. This year my goal, and I assume everyone’s, is to use what we learned last year to build a tighter, more efficient collaboration between the two companies. I, for one, feel so much more prepared, knowing how things work here, and how to integrate our process into it smoothly.

So with that in mind, we immediately went into Trevor’s office and began looking over calendars, schedules, and ground plans, and shared as much information as we had, until Russell arrived. Then we hopped over to his office, and met our new intern (absolute best thing about working here — a 3-person stage management team is actually not 1.5 times better than a 2-person team, it’s like a billion times better, believe me, I’ve done the math!). We were very glad to learn we would have the help of this year’s stage management intern, after our fantastic experience with Meghan last year. This year we have Ashley, who is also fantastic! And the only thing better than an extra person on your team is an extra highly qualified person on your team! While waiting for our flight the day before, we had been exchanging emails with Russell and Ashley, so we had made our introductions, and had asked for her help to set up the rehearsal room on our first day.

But before that, we sat in Russell’s office for a while having some really productive discussions. I can’t even remember all that was said, but we covered a variety of topics, from our plans for rehearsal hours, to the availability of other studios, to how the new production of A Christmas Carol was doing. We also made plans to see Faith Healer together, which inhabits our future theatre until the end of this week, so that we could get a feel for the space as an audience member, and to see Artistic Director Joe Dowling live on stage! Having just returned from that outing, it was a very helpful experience, and a great show to boot!

The Theatre

Anyway, after our meeting I was most of all anxious to get an opportunity to tour our theatre. I knew a little bit about the backstage layout of the main stages, but had never been in either theatre, mostly because last year was so jam-packed with shows, there was always a show performing or in tech. So Russell, Trevor and Ashley took us to the theatre, where we walked around the cavernous wingspace, and spent a long time on stage. We had some discussions about the orchestra pit, whether it would be raised or lowered, or used as a playing space or not. This brought up some lingering questions, and by morning things had been bounced around between all the parties and a new drawing was waiting for us when we got in today. So that alone was a productive visit.

I asked if there was a possibility of calling from backstage. I’m not convinced I want to, just because once we get on the road it will be my responsibility to make sure the show looks the same in each venue as it does here. Staring at the show every night for a month will lock that in. If I call from backstage, I will be working only from dim memories of the tech process, and whatever it looks like on a video monitor. Later in the tour it would be fun to call from backstage (which I did get to do last year in New York), but our goal as a touring company, from a technical perspective, is that every audience should see the show exactly as it will be set by our designers here, to the best of our ability given the time, equipment, and facilities available at each venue. And although I won’t have to hang a light, lay down the show deck, or play a sound cue, I’m the one who’s supposed to know when it’s right, and I’d like to be as familiar with it as possible.

Continuing on, we left the stage and got another tour through the backstage hallways. We saw most of this on the grand tour of the building on the day we arrived last year, but back then it was more in the context of, “And over here are the dressing rooms where the grown-ups put on plays.” This year we’re all grown up and now we’re being asked to think about how we want to assign those dressing rooms.

My favorite part of this tour was visiting the third floor star dressing rooms. As we walked, Russell told us that they only hold four, but if we really needed the extra space we might be able to use them. So he opens one of them, and we step into the largest four-person dressing room I’ve ever seen. I said, “Yeah, see we would call this a 10.” Seriously. If that’s their four, I can only imagine that the six-person room we didn’t get to see probably would hold all 10 of our guys! I don’t think we’ll have any problems!

On our travels we passed the wardrobe and hair area, which has giant windows overlooking the main entrance. We ran into our old friend Susan, who’s the wardrobe supervisor for the theatre, and was instrumental in making sense of the wardrobe tracks as they wrangled the amazing zipping, transforming costumes we had last year in Henry V. Susan explained that this is the area where everybody hangs out at half hour. I said, “I know, I used to see them when I’d pass by here before a show or at intermission, on my way to slink back to the 9th floor. They always had candy.” That area in a theatre, wherever it may be, where everybody hangs out is always a magical place. I must admit I was a little jealous of not being a part of that camaraderie last year. It will be very nice to be in the middle of the action this time!

Anyway, our tour was pretty much at an end, so we returned to the production office to pick up the dilapidated box of our supplies that had made its way from New York (and from the looks of it, might have traveled around the world a few times underneath a FedEx truck!). We carted the box down to our rehearsal room, where we were happy to discover that nothing was broken, not even our printer/scanner.

Setting up the Room

We set about getting some tables up, approximating where the director and staff director would sit, with the director’s chair on the centerline, and then made a very long table for us. My spot, across the aisle from the director, followed by Nick, and then closest to the door, Ashley will have the second table, which holds the printer and I anticipate will be used for displaying things for the actors to pick up (new paperwork, for instance) or to put a plate of cookies somebody’s grandmother sent. We distributed basic supplies across the tables — pencils, staplers, tissues and sanitizer.

Then we really got down to business and flattened out our groundplan on one of the tables. I took the measurements on it before we left New York, so I had a basic idea of how we would tape the floor. We took our time choosing where we would mark the edge of the stage, because the last thing I wanted was to decide after we were done that it should have moved a little bit. So we made some careful measurements and considerations of how we might use the space, and then placed our downstage center mark. It didn’t take all that long to tape out the set, at least not considering that there are quite a few stairs. Stairs are the worst!

Here’s a picture of our room with the floor taped out. It’s a panorama, so the perspective is a little weird. I assure you the walls are flat!


We spent the remaining time making a list of supplies we still needed, which Ashley was able to procure from the Guthrie’s supply, and then Ashley took my reformatted script file and went to make 25 copies for our first rehearsal scripts. By default they bind them with these nice simple black covers, which we liked a lot, and once they were done, proceeded to decorate them as we did last year. This was Nick’s idea, and very successful, I think — we took our postcard and with black gaff tape, affixed one to the cover of each script, and then wrote the actors’ name on it with silver pen. We actually packed a handful of postcards in our hapless box before we left the office just for that purpose.

We selected a wall of the studio to use to display design images. We put up the ground plan and another drawing showing the main wall of the set. I printed the photograph of the set model, and hung that up as well. Before the first rehearsal we’ll also be getting costume sketches to go up there.

While we were doing that, Scott Edwards, our sound designer, came in to set up some instruments that will be used by our composer, Victor Zupanc, to explore what kind of music will go into the show. Last year I had a great time seeing how Victor works — I had never been part of a process where the composer was truly a member of the everyday rehearsal team. He was there all the time, playing with various instruments and improvised items, accompanying each time we worked a scene, and I think it was evident in the final product how closely tied he was to the rehearsal process. I got a lot of questions from people who saw the show wanting to know how the sound was developed, because it really stood out for feeling like an integral part of the show. From my perspective, it was also really fun to call the show, because Victor had such a crystal-clear idea of how each sound reflected the action of the play, so the bar was set very high for me, to translate that into telling a guy to push the spacebar on a laptop, and to hopefully get exactly the artistic impact that the composer and designer intended. I’ve met lots of great collaborators here, so I’m very excited to get to continue working with them.

That pretty much concluded our first day. We accomplished basically everything we needed to do in the studio before the first rehearsal. We will need to set up the tables for the first read-through, but I want to talk to Penny about how she would prefer them to be arranged.


Besides the on-site stuff, the number of emails and phone calls has been increasing this week. I’m working with our costume designer, Matt Lefebvre, to find time in the schedule for actors’ measurements to be taken and for a flurry of costume fittings for our ladies. The costumes are being built by a shop in Pittsburg this year, not at the Guthrie, so the scheduling will need to be a bit tighter to accommodate people coming in from out of town.

I am still very much at work on our new stage management database, which should make our lives much easier, after it’s done keeping me up all night! Nick and I are planning to have a working dinner and/or drinks tonight with our prop master, Scotty, who has just arrived in town. It will be great to see him again, too!

January 7, 2009

Tech Day 2

I call this: On the Road Again — Posted by KP @ 4:58 pm

Our first 10-out-of-12 hour day. We are making very good progress, and everyone is pleased with how smoothly it’s going. The picture above is one I have entitled “Henry Cast and Crew in Repose.” There are several more like it on my Flickr page, linked in the sidebar. This was taken while a light cue was being written.

The set is rather complicated as it’s got lots of little doors that open and things that can be climbed on, which were bound to require time to get used to that just can’t be prepared for in the rehearsal room. We’ve had to restage some things, but we have also discovered new ways to play with the set that we didn’t imagine before, and none of it is taking too long. We’re at our dinner break, only 9 working hours since we began tech from the top, and are through the majority of Act I. We’re shooting for a run (perhaps an invited dress with some students who will be at the Guthrie) in two days, then our first preview the following night.

Most of our touring crew are here this week (some are going back to New York for a while before rejoining us for the tour), so that has been a nice reunion. Our two local backstage crew are great, and the large and valiant wardrobe crew have done a great job tracking a ridiculous number of costume changes, with the assistance of Nick’s paperwork. When we’re on the road, we’ll have Nick, our TD, wardrobe and props supervisors, as well as a local crew of two stagehands and two wardrobe people backstage. This tech will be the final test to make sure the shows can be run by the number of people we are budgeted for.

Today we were treated to the Guthrie’s traditional tech dinner, which is a homecooked buffet provided by volunteers. By some fluke of scheduling, the Guthrie is teching two shows at exactly the same time — A Delicate Balance also started tech yesterday, so the two companies shared the enormous meal in one of the rehearsal studios. I don’t think any of us have ever seen so much food. With the rest of my two hour break, I am letting my food coma wear off by sitting with my laptop in a nook of the 9th floor lobby of our theatre. It’s this crazy room surrounded in yellow glass, that is cantilevered out from the side of the building — it even has a glass floor in one spot. I have a thing for colored glass in architecture, so this has been my favorite place in the building even before I got here, when I saw it on the photo tour on the Guthrie website. You can see it from the outside in this picture, which is also my current desktop wallpaper.

At night the yellow glass casts a tint on all the lights of the cars and buildings below. It’s quite cool. This picture doesn’t do it justice at all. At some later time I must try to do better.

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