January 6, 2020

Stage Management Podcast – Hold Please!

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

You guys, I have to blog because my friend Spencer Clouse has just done what I always intended to, but never took the time to pull together: he’s launched a podcast where he interviews stage managers. It’s called “Hold Please!” which is an amazing title, first of all.

Hold Please logo

I’m so honored that he shared his idea with me way back almost a year ago now, and asked me to be his first guest. We recorded two episodes back then, the first of which has just been released conveniently for the beginning of 2020 — the Year of the Stage Manager. I can’t wait to hear how it develops.

In this first episode we talk about general philosophies of stage management, early-career advice, show stops, and more.

You can take a listen and subscribe at the usual places, for which you can find all the links at holdpleasepodcast.com.

August 13, 2010

Hairspray Reading Material and the Joy of Live Theatre

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:09 pm

Just wanted to share a link about my current production of Hairspray at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston.

The Globe ran an interview with Marissa Perry, who is our amazing Tracy Turnblad. Her story of how she got to Broadway is really inspiring, and actually involved many more twists and turns than described in the article. I described her yesterday during the show as a “quadruple-threat” — acting, singing and dancing, of course, but the threat that’s important to stage managers — she’s really smart and aware on stage, and can recognize and solve problems (like picking up a prop that’s been dropped on the floor, or figuring out how to casually set a brake on a set piece that’s sliding around).

The thing about live theatre that’s tricky is that you can’t always control what will happen on stage, and once it’s in view of the audience, there’s often nothing the crew can directly do to fix it, especially in a show like Hairspray that only has one or two blackouts. Things that get out of place or left on the floor create hazards for dancers, or can cause scenery to get stuck on them. An actor who can be counted on to notice these things and quickly remedy them before they become a problem is incredibly valuable for the smooth operation of the performance. To have a star with that ability, especially one who is almost never offstage, is a great blessing for me.

And I would add to my “quadruple-threat” comment from last night, that she is also a “quintuple-threat,” because on top of everything else, she’s everything you want a performer to be on stage, and she’s nice! It really doesn’t get any better than that.

On the subject of technically-aware actors:
I’ve also been kind of surprised to work with a few directors lately who have specifically taken a moment in rehearsal to talk about the importance of this, by saying things like, “If a prop falls on the floor, don’t ignore it, stay in character and find a way to pick it up. There are other things that need to happen besides your performance, and it’s important that that prop be where it’s supposed to be. You bending down to pick up the prop will not look as bad to the audience as any later problems it might cause.” So I’m grateful for that.

And I will share a story of the best case of an actor saving the day I’ve ever seen:
When I was in college I was the merchandising manager for Jane Eyre on Broadway. There was this scene where Rochester takes Jane out to the garden to propose to her, where there’s a bench on the turntable, and the bench turns off left while Rochester and Jane are kind of walking alongside it, and a scrim flies out revealing the garden. Well on this particular day in previews, I guess maybe the bench had gotten knocked out of place a little on the turntable, and as it spun and the scrim flew, the bottom pipe of the scrim went under the arm of the bench and began lifting it up off the floor by one end. James Barbour, walking slowly past the bench, arm-in-arm with Marla Schaffel, reaches out with his free hand, and casually lifts the arm of the bench off the pipe and deposits it back down on the floor, without missing a step. The combination of reaction time, calmness, and willingness to interact with something (flying benches in his backyard) that was completely out of the realm of the reality of the scene was really amazing.

And finally, if something goes wrong and you can’t fix it, at least come up with a good ad lib, like our Edna, Dan Dowling, did last night:
Somehow he lost a shoe during “Big Dollhouse,” and somehow the shoe ended up in the pit. At the end of the scene, when everybody is released from jail, Dan says his line to the Matron, “You touch one hair on my little girl’s head and I’ll be back to teach you a whole new meaning for split ends,” and then adds, “…and you can mail me my other shoe!” I’m not sure how much the audience laughed because I couldn’t hear anything over the laughter on headset, but suffice it to say, there was laughter all around. He also referenced it again in the next scene where he has an ad-lib spot in the phone call with Mr. Pinky. I think he said something like, “I’ll be right over. But I’ll be minus one shoe” (in that scene he’s wearing slippers). Of course not every show affords such opportunities, but we are lucky to have a show that was intended to have certain spots for ad-libs, and more importantly — a brilliant cast that spends time thinking up good ones, and can also come up with new ones on their feet. It definitely keeps things interesting instead of watching exactly the same show over and over.