June 11, 2015

The God Mic as Gunshot

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:03 pm

sm58Yesterday’s matinee began like many others — not much going on. With a full and efficient crew, my preshow basically consists of making coffee and pouring myself a cup or two and sipping it from the wings, spending the next hour socializing and watching other people mop, before I do the half-hour stuff (calling half hour, announcements, checking the sign-in sheet, and opening the house), doing pushups and planking at our Crew Workout between 20 and 15, and then generally getting ready to start a show. The purpose of being there for most of that time is that if something goes wrong or anyone arrives with a question, I’m there to handle it.

Not much happened. I got the daily report on which moving light was misbehaving for the day. I don’t really need to know details, but I always joke that if I know the moving lights’ names, it’s a bad sign, so I started learning. Today it was 12, which, of the usual suspects, was the one I knew by name but still couldn’t point to. I recalled it was on the SR box boom somewhere. Since I can’t see it from my calling position in SR2, or on the monitor, its failures are more of a mystery to me. Our AME pointed in its general direction, and shielding my eyes from the other lights on, I found the one mover over there, and now I know who 12 is. In case I had any doubt, it immediately started making an angry mechanical noise.

A group of us had driven up to Maine State Music Theater the night before to see their production of The Full Monty, because it starred two of the actors from Mary Poppins, as well as Kingsley Leggs from the Broadway Sister Act (who had come to visit his former castmates in our show the week before), plus an assortment of other individuals that people in our company knew from other shows. So we got home a little after 1AM, and were kind of tired, and that, along with continued discussion of the show we saw, constituted most of our preshow concerns.

Because we’d had a long weekend, and an outside event in the space over the days off, I started my check-in 4 minutes before curtain time, just to catch any issues a few minutes early, such as unplugged cue lights or broken comm. Our conductor was still booting up his keyboard and computer, which was normal, especially given that I was checking in early. Then something was weird and our A1 (Ashley) suggested rebooting. Which was also within the bounds of normal. Our A2 (Parker) begins the show next to me, ready to hand off the handheld mic to the preshow speaker, and together we watched on the conductor monitor with only mild concern.

When the computer rebooted and still there was no sound, Parker handed me the mic and took off for the pit. Which is also still within the general boundaries of normal. A minute or two of checking cables and whatnot, and maybe we start a few minutes late. I won’t bore you with an account of the next 20 minutes, but eventually Ashley joined him at the pit, and nary a keyboard was to be heard. Except the other one. Which thankfully was Keys 1.

Eventually they had to give up, and Ashley comes offstage to report the situation. We’ll have to do the show without that keyboard. I don’t know all the details of which parts of the orchestration we’ll lose, but I know the other keyboard is the primary one, and I figure they know what they’re doing down there and will make it work. The one thing I know is that Keys 2 has all the special effects. Church bell gongs, and most importantly, gunshots. There are two types of gunshot cues in our show: ones triggered with Qlab at the sound board, which I call, and ones which happen on specific musical beats in the middle of the two chase sequences in the show, which are played on the keyboard. It’s the ones during the chases that we’ll be missing.

Back in the day, we didn’t know for sure if our keyboard would be fancy-shmancy enough to trigger sound effects, so I started learning the gunshots. And I had to yell “bang!” in the rehearsal room, so I’m well acquainted with the chase scores. I still call the first chase off the score because I didn’t know it that well when we teched. It’s only 2 pages. The 2nd chase is very pared down in my book to allow me to spend more time watching the stage and less time flipping pages of the score (it’s loooooong). It’s just got the few lines of dialogue and there are only counts right before cues. The gunshots aren’t indicated at all. But because I’ve been doing this long enough to know better, the full score for the 2nd chase has been sitting at the very back of my calling script the whole time. For what, I had no idea. But it’s always been there ready to be flipped to in the middle of the scene if necessary. And those are the only two things in my book: the calling script itself, and the score for the 2nd chase.

As we’ve gotten more comfortable with the show, and closer to our transfer to Gateway, I’ve started asking myself, “What if something changes and I have to call the gunshots at Gateway?” Last week I put a little pencil bracket around where the three gunshot cues would be called in the first chase. At the last show of the week I tapped my finger on the desk where I would be calling them, with a little up-finger for each rewarn. It’s busy, but I did it, and that made me feel better. I was planning to start thinking about the 2nd chase this week.

Anyway that’s the deal with the gunshots, cut back to yesterday:

It’s now about 23 minutes past curtain time, and we’re about to start the show without our gunshots. I was like, “Um… I could hit the God mic.” Ashley says, “Yeah, we thought about that possibility.” So I shrugged and said, “I’ll try it. What else are we gonna do?” And then we started the show.

I was lucky that I was in a perfect frame of mind for this kind of thing to happen. The show has been running 3 weeks, and I’ve been feeling more and more free to pay attention to things other than my cues and the things I have to watch. Maybe it was getting out to see Full Monty the night before that opened me up to doing something new, but I just so happened to be in the mood that someone could have come up to me and told me to change anything about my performance and I would have welcomed the challenge. If they’d said, “today you have to call all the light cue numbers backwards” (like 321 is 123) I’d have been like, “Oh, fun!” It was just that kind of day, and that was a wonderful thing.

Once we got up and running through the opening number, I used the two pages of dialogue in the first scene to flip ahead to the first chase and put a triangle over the beats with the gunshots (as opposed to the brackets, which are on the beats before, for where I’d be calling the cues).

I assigned our stage right PA, Erin, to guard the mic during that sequence — to keep people away from it, and shush anyone who was talking offstage near it while it was live. I warned our board op that I would be calling the cues in the chase as quietly as possible. When the chase started I flipped the switch on the mic, and on the first gunshot gave the mic a fairly light smack with my hand. It was almost inaudible. For the last two shots I gave it a hard smack, which made a noticeable sound, but over the yelling and music playing, was hardly impressive, or at all suggestive of a gunshot. Somewhat dejected, I turned the mic off. My always droll ASM, Daniel, said it sounded like the gun was farting. I wasn’t looking forward to Act II. I started wondering if Ashley would have time to program more gunshots into Qlab at intermission, or if she even had enough time while mixing to take the cues.

During my slower moments of Act I, I flipped to the back of my script and started studying the 2nd chase. I put two of the gunshots that were near other cues into my regular script pages, but the first one I didn’t know all that well, so I marked up the score very clearly with counts and using a series of post-its, made a giant tab that would allow me to flip from the page I was on, to the relevant starting page in the score, and then back.

At intermission, Ashley came down and said they’d be working on the keyboard and maybe could get it working. By the end of intermission they gave up, having eliminated some troubleshooting steps, but not all the way there. Before heading back to front-of-house, Ashley said, “Just go ahead and really bang the mic on the desk.” I was hoping she had some advice of how to improve the sound, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so violent to her gear. But I was desperate to make these gunshots sound good, and she seemed confident that it would give us the sound we were looking for, so I tried to do exactly as she said and not chicken out. Before we started I adjusted the cable to get enough slack to get the mic comfortably in front of me with room to swing it freely, and away we went.

During the 2nd act I started figuring out where on the desk I was going to bang the mic. Originally I was picturing banging it on the script, since the script takes up the whole desk. But I imagined that, while being kinder on the mic, it would have a very muffled sound. I needed to hit something solid. I also needed to have the mic in my hand, and have my other hand free for cue lights, while still being able to see my script. I thought about the wooden lip that holds the script on the desk, but it was very solid and didn’t seem all that resonant either. The main plywood surface of the desk seemed like it would make the best noise, so I decided on moving my script to my left a little, opening up a narrow strip of the desk on my right-hand side. Quietly and gently, during other scenes, I practiced banging the mic like a drumstick on the desk. When the metal ring around the windscreen hit the desk it made a nice sharp sound. I decided that’s what I was aiming for. I liked having the mic in my hand, since it meant I could turn it on right before the shot and off right after, and be mostly clear to not have to worry about cues or offstage singing/speaking/screaming getting in it.

Proper mic-gunshot striking position:

I spent the whole 2nd act just wanting to get to the chase, not because I was nervous about it, but because I was so excited that the rest of the show just seemed to be in the way of this once-in-a-career opportunity. I was going to get to bang a live mic on a desk to music. In a professional stage production at a highly-respected summer theatre. And I had no idea what it was going to sound like, and I had never even tried to think about the gunshots while calling the show before. The sheer ridiculousness of it made it completely stress-free. There was no better solution, and no time to be more prepared, so whatever happened would be the best we could do under the circumstances.

Just before the chase began I took the mic from its holder and pulled all the slack towards me, and held it in my lap until we got closer. Luckily the first shot happens in a section with no cues nearby. I flipped to the score and followed along towards the shot. Since this was the one I didn’t confidently know, I was a little more nervous. But it went fine, and more than that, it made a sound that, from backstage at least, didn’t sound very much different than the normal gunshots! This might actually work! The mic didn’t break, or squeal, or do anything bad, and I could tell I could hit it a little harder for even better effect.

I flipped back to the regular calling pages, and tore my post-it page-flip contraption apart with my one free hand and threw it somewhere into a dark corner behind the desk. My next gunshot was coming up fast. For this one, I call a cue that lands on the shot, so it was easy: “GO, thwack!” I gave it a hard, confident bang, and it sounded like a gunshot! One of the guys ran by me and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up on his way out to his own gunshot.

The third one happens shortly before a cue, so I was very familiar with it musically because I’m waiting for the little gliss a few counts after it. At this point I was completely enjoying myself and wanted to keep going. But sadly that was my last one. The final shot of the chase, when Curtis comes in, is triggered from the sound board, and I had a cue light lit and waiting for that. I turned the mic off and put it on my lap, and once the chase was over, reluctantly hung it back up on its hook.

I’m hesitant to say this was the most fun I’ve ever had while calling a show, because some crazy stuff has happened in my life, but I can’t actually remember having more fun calling a show right now. It was just the right mix of things being crazy, but not so crazy that we weren’t delivering a high-quality show. I called my usual show and had all the elements I normally have working properly, and on top of that, I got to bang a mic on a desk.

Things were fixed for the evening show, and although we were all exhausted, it was a little bit of a letdown after all that excitement to go back to a normal show. We missed watching our conductor get to conduct, like we were on the Broad way. And I missed the greatest opportunity for permissible audio equipment abuse since Audra dropped the mic on the Tonys.

May 17, 2014

iOS App Review: SMBox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 9, 2011

The Calling Case

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:35 pm

This is a little something I like to call The Calling Case. It’s a handy little box that sits with me when I’m calling a show. The need for a convenient, easily-transported box comes mostly from touring, where I might spend four hours or less at a given calling desk before packing it all in again. Especially on the road, I found it very handy because I could take off for the desk with nothing but this, my script, and my computer and know I have everything I will need during the show.

Find Your Own

As you can see from the ArtBin label on it, this is presumably supposed to be a case for artists to carry their tools. I think it’s probable that I found it at a Hobby Lobby, but I’m not 100% sure. It could also have been a Walmart. The exact case doesn’t really matter, although this size is sufficient, just barely, for what I need to carry. If it could fit a LittleLite, it would be even better. But the key is, it’s sturdy, closes securely, has a slim profile, and a nice big handle.

The Contents

  • My headset – that’s a Telex PH-88 with some modifications I’ve made. The most important function the calling case serves is to protect my headset. Everything else that happens to fit in the case is just a bonus.
  • Pen/pencil case – that’s a Mont Blanc case, but they’re not Mont Blanc writing implements. My primary pen and pencil are made by Sensa. I generally call every performance with a pencil in my hand, or very close by. The pen just kind of tags along because it’s in the case with the pencil.
  • Snackage – I try to have a Nutri-grain bar or similar healthy and filling snack on hand in case I get hungry during the show, or end up missing a meal if things get crazy approaching curtain time.
  • Binoculars – this is my little luxury inclusion because my calling case travels in a road box that weighs hundreds of pounds, so the weight of the binoculars is negligible. If I had to cart it everywhere myself I might think the weight was unnecesary. I’d estimate maybe once a week something will happen onstage where a pair of binoculars comes in handy — maybe to check what a foreign object is on the floor, or to see if an actor is bleeding. My actors don’t bleed once a week, I swear. I used it on Comedy of Errors a lot to see if things were on spike, because we performed in a lot of different-shaped venues where proportions sometimes looked weird, and often I had the best perspective to see if it was just a trick of the venue, or if the actors/crew missed their marks.
  • Flags – I throw a miscellaneous packet of post-it flags in, which can be used to very quickly mark a page of the script for later examination. This is mostly useful in tech or early in a run, when changes are happening and errors are still being discovered.
  • Occasional inclusion: LED USB keyboard light (not shown) – sometimes I include a USB keyboard light, which I can use as a script light powered by my computer. On the Acting Company tour I always have a LittleLite, but on shows where I have to be more self-sufficient sometimes it ends up being my keyboard light, and when that’s the case, it goes in the box.

April 11, 2011

The New York Run

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:19 pm

The tour is almost over. Actually the tour is over, except for the people who don’t live in New York. We finish our contract with a few weeks at home, performing our one-hour Romeo and Juliet at Baruch College, and The Comedy of Errors in its New York premiere at Pace University.

Last night was our official New York opening (we had one preview), which culminated in a wonderful party at South Street Seaport. It was lots of fun to have a formal party, at home where we could dress up in our fancy-clothes that we would never bother bringing on the road.

So far we’ve been performing at Pace for two days, and it’s been anything but uneventful.

Load-in was on Friday for a Saturday night show. We had a 5-hour rehearsal scheduled to check tech elements and spacing, and any other brush-ups we needed. One of our actors (one of the leads, actually) had been sick a week earlier and suddenly had no voice. We began our rehearsal not knowing if it might have to be converted to a put-in. Thankfully he was well enough to perform and the show ran perfectly, with great energy. It was actually one of the most feel-good performances I’ve had in my career.

The next morning, before our two-show day, I got the phone call I had feared the night before: our sick actor couldn’t go on. Emergency put-in! Stage management phone tree! Everything went really well, everyone was totally supportive, and while we delayed the curtain time by 6 minutes (which was well under what we assumed it would have to be), we ended up holding 12 minutes for the house anyway!

By evening our sick actor was rested enough to go on (and it was, after all, opening night), so the show went on as usual, again with great energy. Every show we’ve done so far has been totally adrenaline-fueled. I think it will probably (hopefully!) settle down this week, but there is something very fun about everyone having to spring into action to make the show go on.

Today is my last day off, and then we have seven shows this week. I just booked two jobs today — a reading next week, and a day of subbing for the ASM on a show in rehearsal tomorrow. Nothing that will pay the rent, but it’s only Monday, and I still have one more week of full-time employment. This is probably a good sign that my crazy plan to find work in town isn’t so bad, and I haven’t even been looking for a job yet. Honestly I expect to be unemployed and blow through all my savings in a few months. If I can do that while working with big-name musical theatre people, I will consider it a success. Finding work weeks hasn’t been my problem in recent years, it’s that I’m too far away from the people I want to keep and make connections with. I’m also looking forward to doing the types of jobs that I haven’t done in a few years, i.e. every other type of show besides summer stock and tours of Shakespeare.

When not at the theatre, I’ve just been enjoying being home. I think at some point I might continue my project from May of 2006, to furnish my apartment. But that goes back to the thing about blowing through my savings in a couple months. I think that should wait until I have a job, or at least have some massive windfall of subbing. But just adjusting to not treating my apartment like a hotel room has been fun.

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 18, 2011

Student Audience Psychology

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:44 pm

Today I learned something new.

We had our first student matinee of Comedy of Errors. Now I’ve certainly done enough student matinees in my career, and have learned a bit about how student audiences react to shows. But we have an interesting start to our show that makes it different.

I think this show has the most badass opening of any show I’ve done in my career for one reason: it has no preshow announcement. Not only that, but the opening sequence has no music or anything else to provide a segue before the text starts.

House to half
House out
Curtain rises
Actor begins speaking

It’s without a doubt my favorite 15 seconds of my day.

I recall the days when Broadway shows didn’t have preshow announcements, though I never really got to stage manage in that era. I’ve probably done a couple shows without announcements, but they would have been small off-off-Broadway shows, which feel much different in a 99-seat theatre. I’m not particularly opposed to announcements, I actually enjoy doing them a little, but I think it’s fabulously old-school to dim the house lights and jump right into a show.

So anyway, this is what I have to work with when we start the show. The timing of the whole thing is at my discretion — when the audience has settled enough to go to black, and when they have fully settled before taking the curtain out. Here’s where 11 performances for adult audiences have led me astray: I have become accustomed to waiting until the moment the house is completely silent before bringing the curtain up.

There is a well-known characteristic of student audiences: they really like blackouts. More often than not, when the lights fade to black they will scream. They will scream for the duration of the blackout. I’ve had many discussions trying to figure out exactly why this is, without much success, but it is so.

So I made the fatal mistake, when there was still a little bit of settling and rustling as the lights hit black, of holding and waiting for it to stop, as I would do for an evening performance. Well of course it didn’t stop. It transitioned from rustling of programs to laughing and screaming, and well, I put a stop to that by taking the curtain out while it was just a few kids before it could spread to all 461 of them.

So, stage managers, life lesson: if your instructions are to hold in a blackout until the house is quiet, do NOT do this at a student performance. Get the hell out of the blackout as soon as you can, it will only get worse the longer you sit in it. I should have known this before, but was just going through my usual show and forgot about the dreaded blackout scream. Let my folly be a lesson to you.

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.

November 6, 2010

Surprise Blackout

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:31 pm

This afternoon we were having a leisurely Saturday matinee, maybe two-thirds of the way through our first act, when suddenly we had an OMG Surprise Blackout!

Artist’s rendering of the event:

Surprise blackouts are never fun, although they definitely help to pass the time!

The basic story is that the house’s light board crashed. We have kind of an interesting lighting situation here. Our board sends its cues to a submaster on the house board, which then sends the signal on to the lights. The house has a backup board, but because the cues are coming from our board, their backup board is kind of out of the loop. The house ME, Greta, is totally awesome, and as I have learned, decided to make the backup board somewhat useful by taking two of our well-lit cues (a daytime and nighttime look) and saving them on submasters on the backup board so we would have appropriate looks we could use in the event of a crash. We were in the blackout for about two seconds before the daytime cue came up.

Greta and I talked for a few seconds, during which time I learned of this rather impressive backup plan we were witnessing. The cue that was chosen was a very good stand-in for most of our daylight cues, that would not seem out of place in any of the remaining scenes in the act. Greta wasn’t sure exactly what would happen if she tried to unplug our board and put it into their backup board, and once she said the magic words, “I’ve never had to do this before…” I decided that this lovely daytime cue was perfectly fine for the rest of the act, rather than risking another blackout while the boards were swapped.

So I got to call the last 20 minutes or so of the act without having to call light cues, except for a manual fade to black at the end of the act. At intermission our board was plugged into the backup board and all was well in a few seconds. The main board couldn’t be reset because it would have taken out the house lights, so we didn’t have a backup for Act II. Which is OK cause usually you don’t have a backup at all, although the very fact that the venue has a backup board in such a state of readiness is perhaps not the most encouraging sign of the reliability of the main board. It’s a Strand, I’m not sure exactly what kind (ours is an ETC Express 250).

Thankfully all was well for the rest of the show! Hopefully that will be the last surprise blackout we encounter!

August 15, 2010

Crazy Sunday Afternoon

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:38 pm

All we had to do today was a Sunday matinee. After that we have no show until next Thursday. Things have been running smoothly, audiences have been leaping to their feet. When the sun rose this morning, all that stood between us and three-and-a-half days off was two-and-a-half hours of awesome musical theatre.


I’ve already been awake for a while, because somehow I’ve become an early bird like that. My phone rings, and it’s our star. She’s not calling me at 9:30 on a matinee day just to say hi. As I suspected, she wasn’t feeling well. She was calling me to get our producer’s home number to see if she could be rushed in to see a doctor so she could get a prescription before the show. Much to my relief, that was the extent of my involvement, and she was indeed able to see the doctor, and was feeling OK for the show.


I’m about to leave the house. Like packing my stuff. And I get a call from one of the Dynamites. It’s obvious right away it’s train trouble. A large portion of our actors commute on the red line from Boston, and need rides from Alewife, which is the last and nearest station to the theatre. There are two regular pickups: an hour-and-a-half before the show is the Ednamobile, which is driven by our “Edna,” Dan. 15 minutes later is the scheduled departure of the Musicmobile, driven by our music director and keyboard player, also Dan (which is why the two cars have names, instead of “Dan is driving me.”) Anyway, I find out that it’s not just the usual Sunday delays on the red line. Apparently the entire T has been shut down for about 40 minutes due to a power outage. Part of my dismay is that, not being from the area, I really don’t know how to help people when they have train trouble. But I do know that somebody even being slightly delayed on the train can really mess up my day, so all the trains in Boston being shut down less than two hours before a show doesn’t sound good.

I decided that getting to the theatre was not important at the moment, and stayed on my computer trying to reach people who could potentially offer rides, while checking Twitter to see what other Bostonians were reporting about the outage (the MBTA website showed all trains happily running with a green checkmark. Thanks!) Shortly after that, the trains started running again, and our actors (and one of our other keyboard players) made it on, and slowly towards Waltham. The Musicmobile would stay behind for them.

Act I

So finally everybody arrived and the show started without incident. Marissa wasn’t having problems, and I soon stopped worrying about her completely. We had almost gotten through act I when everyone kind of noticed at once that there was something in the air in front of the house right light tree. With all the fake hairspray hanging in the air, seeing particles in the beams of light isn’t anything unusual, but as our board op, Jess, pointed out, there hasn’t been any hairspray sprayed in that area in a really long time. So then the only explanation is that something is burning.

Thankfully this happened at the single point in the show where we have lots of time, during the last scene of the act. There was definitely steady smoke, but even with people looking from all possible angles, nobody was able to tell which instrument it was coming from. The light trees are just in front of the front row on either side and probably contain about 12 instruments each, from about 15-30 feet in the air. We spent the last 10 minutes of the act trying to narrow down the offending equipment, and praying it wouldn’t set off the fire alarm before we could examine it more closely at intermission.

We made it, and soon a good portion of the crew had gathered with flashlights to look at it, and saw nothing. After some debate, we decided it was time to take the inelegant step of bringing a ladder out into the audience. Taking a chance, we got the 16ft. ladder, which was much less disruptive than the A-frame, but wouldn’t be able to reach the top rows of lights, if that’s where the problem was. Basically we just wanted to figure out which light it was so we could unplug it or turn it off at the board.

Most of intermission went by and still no luck. We had our deck electrician on the top of the ladder checking all the connections. We brought all the lights up at 20 percent and he saw no sign of smoke. Finally I said that if we couldn’t find anything we’d have to give up, and suggested we put everything on that tree at full in the hopes that the offending light would show itself. Soon after, the smoke began again. After more looking with multiple sets of eyes on the ground and on the ladder, they found it was coming from a damaged connector. Jess quickly took all the lights out, and the connector was unplugged, and traced to the lights it controlled. That channel was parked out on the board, and soon the ladder was being spirited away backstage.

After the Show

We were pretty exhausted by the time the second act started, but everything went very smoothly for the rest of the show. Then as soon as the show ended, or perhaps as it was ending, the stage right toilet started flooding. Not like kind of backing up, or leaking a little bit. It was gushing water like Niagara Falls. By the time I got there there was at least an inch of water on the bathroom floor, so I wasn’t going in to see exactly what was happening. Two of our stagehands were inside trying to do something, and succeeding mostly in getting soaking wet. Wardrobe, who are based in the room next to the bathroom, and props, who have their tables set up just outside in the hall, produced several tubs filled with towels and we began laying barriers to contain and direct the water away from the props and costumes. The janitor arrived from the lobby, and splashed bravely into the bathroom. Soon we heard cries of, “Leatherman! Leatherman!” coming from inside. I dug into my bag and passed my Leatherman forward. Several seconds later, the sound of rushing water stopped, and the three intrepid plumbers emerged from the bathroom, mission accomplished.

Remarking that in one day the theatre had been attacked by both fire and water, I was getting out of there before the plague of locusts showed up.

I did, however, make a movie about the end of our harrowing day.

June 24, 2010

Pop Quiz at 7:30

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:03 pm

Today is the Thursday of the second week of the run of Into the Woods. Let me explain how things work at Reagle: we rehearse for a week. Then we have a day off. Then we go back to work (usually just around the time we start work on Act II), and from that point on, we don’t have another day off until two weeks later, when the show has already done 4 or 5 performances. We go from barely having staged Act I to a finished, polished product, while living, breathing and sleeping nothing but the show for two weeks. Then we have a luxurious three-and-a-half consecutive days off. It’s actually a really awesome schedule, once the hard stuff is done.

But coming back after that time off is always rather interesting. It’s sort of like cramming for an exam. You work so hard to learn everything there is to know in a short time, but then when you step away for a while you get to see how much of it you actually retained. I feel pretty good about my comfort level with this show, but it’s always a little weird to come back and feel like you’ve been away forever.

…And it looks like we’re about to have a flash thunderstorm just as I need to leave the house. So I’m going to try to get to the car before it starts pouring. Wish me luck!

Edit: made it to the car. Got about 3 mins down the road and it was raining so hard I literally could not see through the windshield with the wipers going full speed. Since I’m not getting out in this anyway, I pulled over the first place I could. It’ll be done in 5 mins anyway. It’s already pretty good. Oops, it just stopped. See? Crazy New England weather.