June 9, 2017

Phantom Journey 360

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:33 pm

POTO360Hi. It’s been a while. But you need to see this. I hope this link stays functional for as long as the internet exists, because it’s important to what we’re all doing here.

I had no idea this happened until a friend sent me the link, but apparently the good folks at Phantom Broadway stuck a 360-degree camera on the stage (in several locations) and filmed the journey. And then CNN put it on Facebook (I’m sorry if you can’t access Facebook, I’m not sure if it is or will be posted anywhere else).

So yeah, you can sit in the middle of one of the most famous moments of stagecraft in musical theatre history and drag your view all around and look at whatever you want. I knew this was cool when I instinctively panned up to watch the portcullis start to move. I wish I could share this page of the calling script, because this is a fun little toy for stage managers.

It’s probably actually a more useful simulation of the deck:

  • flashlight the boat driver as he moves from the upstage wing to left 2
  • make sure the candles go down in front of the boat
  • watch the portcullis come down
  • make sure the boat generally doesn’t crash into anything as it turns around
  • make sure the organ and mirror are coming on in 1
  • make sure the boat is parked reasonably center, and not too close to the portcullis (enough room for a body to get through)
  • watch the Phantom throw his hat into L2 (maybe it’s just my connection, but I can’t actually see where it goes here)
  • if you’re me, stare into space at the FOH monitor, until the sound guy stands next to you as if to say, “can I turn this thing off now, or are you looking at something important?” and then go, “Oh! Yeah, we’re good. Thanks.” (That monitor is only on for the boat sequences, to help the driver and deck SM check position.)

I immediately thanked the press rep for making this possible for all the lucky 12-year-old stage managers who get to grow up with internet access and virtual recreations of their favorite scene shifts (do 12-year-old stage managers still obsess about this one? I hope so.)

February 29, 2012

20 Years Ago Today

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:41 pm

I just happened to notice, because today is leap-year day, that this is also the date of the first time I saw Phantom on Broadway, which was also the occasion that led me to pursue a career in theatre. So naturally, I’m like, “how many years has it been?”

20 years.

Holy crap.

Last year was 15 years since I started working on the show, and I made a really long page basically as a love letter to the show, recounting some of my fondest memories and sharing some old photos. I direct you there for further illumination of how this date in history changed the course of my life.

December 19, 2010

Video Proof I Miss All the Fun

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

OK, I haven’t gotten the backstory on this yet, but it has come to my attention on Facebook that a video has been placed on YouTube featuring… pretty much everyone at the Majestic Theatre dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”

I’m sorry I can’t embed it, but please follow the link.

Yeah rehearsal is going well, I paid the rent and my credit card bill on time again this month… but I am not making an ass of myself on this video, and that makes me very sad. The closest I’ve come is orchestrating Ye Olde Tyme Romeo and Juliet Crewe, and that isn’t even remotely in the same league as this for elaborate backstage shenanigans. I don’t know what the hell is going on back at the ranch, but I’m glad to see that it continues to defy its old reputation as “the House of Hate.”

I’m having a great time on the tour, but I really hope that my life works out to give me some quality time with the Phantom phamily this year.

July 29, 2010

Backstage at the Vegas Phantom

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:55 pm

A reader sent me a link to an article in which one of Vegas’ ballerinas describes a two-show day (because they’re on the casino schedule their shows are shorter and much closer together than on Broadway).

It’s really well written. She perfectly captures the spirit of the little rituals and jokes that develop over the course of a run.

I hope when I get back home I can do one of my own, from my perspective.

June 3, 2010

15 Years at Phantom

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:58 pm

Epic blog fail. My net was misbehaving as I was rushing to leave for work this morning, and never published this post. This day that is just about to pass, June 3, I celebrated 15 years working on Phantom on Broadway. I’m celebrating by being a hundred-something miles away and having not called the show in like 8 months, but by golly, I’m celebrating anyway. I was available to call the show until a few days ago, at least.

I have been preparing a special page on the site for a while, to compile my history with the show and some photos and memories. Please check it out.

January 26, 2010

Happy 22nd Anniversary, Phantom!

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:13 pm

Tonight is the 22nd anniversary of the Broadway opening of Phantom. And for the second year in a row, I’m stuck in Minneapolis while it’s being celebrated. Until last year I had been to every anniversary party since the 8th year.

There are lots of exciting things going on in my life and career right now, but Phantom has been the greatest constant in my life — I have worked there longer than I’ve known any of my friends, longer than I have lived in any home. So while I’m having a great time here, this one particular day of the year is the day when I feel like I should be at the Majestic to connect with something that has been so much a part of my life, and to share in celebrating its success with the people past and present who I have experienced it with.

I have a couple friends texting me from the party at the “Travelator Bar and Grill,” which is the traditional name for a party on stage, with the travelator bridge brought down to waist height, with the railings folded down, which makes for a handy automated buffet table. I had made a habit of taking blurry camera-phone pictures of the cake every year for the last few years, and I was just sent a picture of tonight’s (albeit half-eaten) cake:

Also, in my reflections on this historic event while I was in the shower this morning (where all great reflections come from), I did some math and realized that this coming June will mark my 15th year with the show, and surely that deserves some kind of huge retrospective on this site. As many of the photos of my early years are in non-digital format, this will require digging around for pictures and memorabilia during the relatively narrow windows when I’m at home. Preparations must begin soon. The real celebration I’ve been aware of for probably more than a decade will be the following year, when I will have worked on the show for half my life. I remember doing the math on that many years ago, and wondering if it was possible that the show could run that long. I’m not in the slightest bit concerned now. Who would have ever thought?

Anyway, a very happy anniversary to all my friends, and all members of the Phantom Phamily, past and present, and those who are no longer with us, who have been such a source of support and inspiration to me throughout my life.

November 15, 2009

Joke of the Day

I call this: random,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:20 am

The other night I was at Phantom, and in preparing the day’s in/out sheet was “in charge of comedy,” which is the technical term for flipping through old issues of The New Yorker and picking a funny cartoon, which will be pasted on the bottom of the sheet, copied and distributed, along with vital performance information, throughout the building in the hour-and-a-half prior to the show.

As soon as I found the below cartoon, I knew it was the one for me. I didn’t even finish looking through the issue in my hand. I was pleased to see several people specifically stop at the callboard to read the joke, and comment on it being funny.


If you really must know, I blog in running shoes. Sometimes in socks.

For a few more tales of the Joke of the Day, see this post about the decorations in my Phantom calling script.

September 3, 2009

Thoughts on the Deck

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:16 am

Late this afternoon I was doing some crap on my computer when the phone rang. My reaction was something like, “Oh what now?” for about 2 seconds until I actually looked at the phone and saw the happy little mask and text saying “Phantom SM Office.” Cautiously optimistic, I answered. At 4:00 I was put on hold for possibly doing the show tonight. I immediately started getting ready because I haven’t called the show in six months, and haven’t done the deck in probably a year, and had no idea where I might find black pants, black shoes, flashlights, deck notes, etc. A half hour later I got the confirmation call that I would be going in, though no specifics if I would be decking or calling. I decided to assume that I would be decking, as I felt more prepared to call.

I spent the remaining time at home walking through the deck track in my head (while I review periodically to remain ready to call at all times when I’m in town, I tend to completely ignore the deck until the day I get booked and then do a quick refresher).

I arrived at the theatre and found out I would be decking, which was good. Craig suggested I look around. I made a meandering path around the stage and trap room, saying hello to the stagehands doing their preset, making sure nothing had been moved since I’d been gone. Everything looked exactly the same. The same, but really, really clean. I don’t remember the place being a mess in the past, but I was really struck by how clean everything was. The white walls backstage were white, not white and covered in 20 years of grime. They looked like they had been washed last week. As I was mentioning how tidy everything looked to the head carp, he said they were due for a paint call on the deck soon. Now the deck has been painted every 3 months for the last 22 years. When it’s just been painted, it looks like a glossy black mirror. When it needs a painting it looks like a dull gray pitted mess, with large sweeping scrape marks showing where all the scenery gets rolled across it, where chandeliers crash on it, etc. It looked like it had been painted maybe a week or two earlier. I was very impressed.

Anyway, doing the show was a lot of fun. No one can quite remember when the last time I decked was (though we have a database to answer questions just like that, and nobody thought to look it up), but it’s possibly been over a year. Whenever it was, I haven’t decked any other show since then either, so it was kind of a weird experience.

Since then, I’ve been very used to sitting at my comfy calling desk (including at Phantom) and just watching a show happen around me. Being away so long has reminded me of the differences of doing the deck.

First of all, by intermission I was getting kind of claustrophobic. The Phantom stage management office is always crammed with way more people than it should be, but even doing the show itself, there were just so many people everywhere. Tons of stagehands, dressers, hairdressers, a decent number of actors, there are just people everywhere. Personal space is often very strictly regulated, like your track is allotted this square foot-and-a-half for this scene change and that’s where you go. People often say that the backstage traffic on the show is far more complex and exact than the onstage choreography, and it’s true. It’s the main reason I worry about doing the deck. Calling the show is kind of a solitary pursuit in some ways. You interact with other people, but basically you know what you’re trying to do, which is to put on this show, and you have all these cues to work with, and you react to what other people are doing, but basically your butt is in a chair and you make things happen with your voice and flipping some switches that turn 10-watt light bulbs on and off elsewhere in the theatre.

Doing the deck is kind of like the difference between playing a video game on your TV or computer, and playing paintball or laser tag. You are IN the game, and you’re right there, on stage, above the stage, just off stage (Monsieur Reyer pointed and screamed at me tonight, “This is a disgrace! Who is this!? She’s back!” during the chaos in Hannibal). You have to fit yourself in and out of the backstage ballet, and even if it’s been a year and you don’t know half of the people around you, you need to hit your allotted spot, not have your elbow sticking out, or be a half-step out of your track, because that’s probably somebody else’s space.

Calling the show, my focus is ultimately on what the audience sees. I feel I’m responsible for reproducing the stagecraft that people have traveled from across the world to see. I am also concerned about supporting the actors with a well-paced show, and keeping everyone safe, but ultimately all of that is a subset of calling a perfect show for the audience.

Backstage, I don’t really care what the audience sees. I mean I care that we don’t screw up, but I don’t think about it during the show. I’m not really aware of them, or of the story being told, or who cries when the Phantom is left alone. All I can see is that we are all like little hamsters in a giant machine, and I am for some reason tasked with being ultimately responsible that all the hamsters get where they are going, and nobody gets crushed by the machine, and the machine doesn’t get jammed up, and performs its functions perfectly. It’s really quite a responsibility when you step back and look at it from an outside perspective, as I have from being away so long. Just being ready to do an average performance is not that big of a deal. Having the level of comfort that I could make the right decisions in the event of a serious problem is what causes most of the stress. Everything that happens, I am thinking about the worst thing that could possibly happen and have my responses planned.

The one thing I enjoy about the deck is the idea of traveling around and seeing everyone. It’s a much more social way to do the show, especially if you’ve been gone a while. As you do your track you pass by and interact with various actors and crew, and have either a few seconds or a few minutes to say hello and catch up. Sometimes it means you meet new people. Tonight I reached the point in Hannibal that is generally “the spot where you say hello to Madame Giry.” Except we had never met. So we shook hands and introduced ourselves.

Then there are the other random things that I never thought too much about — like you’re on stage, in the dark, and five actors are about to climb down 20ft on a giant metal fence. They attach their safety cables in the dark. You check their cables — twice — in the dark, using only the sense of touch. Once a year.

The general idea of darkness is something I had lost appreciation for. The story goes that when the show was in tech Hal Prince had a policy that the stagehands were not to use any flashlights. The show is very dark, and he didn’t want any spill from offstage breaking the illusion. Nowadays flashlights are used occasionally, but the general theme remains that most of the time, people have just adapted to doing everything they need to do with very little light. I was looking around during Music of the Night, and realized, what I always knew but had never thought of — there are no running lights backstage. The prop tables have the teeniest, tiniest accent lighting (which is fairly new) highlighting just a few items, mostly the detailed ones like the letters.

The only thing that might be considered light for the purposes of seeing where you’re going are the ropelights that run up the ladders on each side of the travelator, the ropelight on the sides of the bridge that spans the traproom, allowing a crossover through the basement (which is good because the bridge has a little ramp at either end), and the ropelight on the angel bridge which is really dark, really narrow, and really high in the air. There’s a little bit of glow from other areas that are lit with normal lighting, like the hallways and the fly floor, against which you can see more things, and during much of Act II there are full-blown worklights on upstage for the big transformation from the Masquerade stairs to the mausoleum, but for much of the show, the only backstage light is spill from the stage. Some edges of things not visible from the audience are painted bright white, but even that is fairly recent.

It’s quite impressive how well everyone gets around in such a crowded environment, in the dark. Which maybe is why I tend to be incredulous when people ask for more running lights on other shows. I was brought up to learn where things are in the light, and to use that knowledge not to run into them in the dark. Anyway, I have a newfound appreciation of the special navigational skills of the Phantom cast and crew.

And P.S. watching Raoul jump in that trap when there’s so much fog that I can’t see the trap myself is always the most stomach-churning thing ever! I mean I know he won’t jump if he can’t see all the landing lights, but I always like to catch a glimpse of the hole myself and verify that it’s fully open.

Well thanks for reading. I know this post is kind of rambling, but I was filled with many random moments of discovery tonight and just wanted to share, cause if I waited to make a really carefully constructed post I would completely lose the point.

August 29, 2009

Tales from the Left-Hand Page: Phantom Edition

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:25 pm

UPDATED! Now featuring images of the cartoons and photos mentioned, by reader request!

Most stage managers like to jot down funny things that happen in their calling scripts — usually funny quotes or a particularly hysterical mis-reading of a line. I realized that some of these are worth sharing.
I can’t decide if this deserves to be its own page on the website or just a blog post. Maybe when I collect some more it will be upgraded.

Names changed or omitted where necessary to protect the guilty.

First, let’s start with a complete set, from my Phantom calling script:


On the title page of the script (which is I think the only script I’ve ever used where I bothered to keep the title page), I have written some wise words of wisdom, from one of Phantom’s long-time stage managers:

“‘Oh shit!’ means it’s going to cost money.”

This arose out of a discussion we were having about stage managers who have a habit of making exclamations on headset for simple things like missed light cues that tended to freak out the crew unnecessarily. I thought this was a very succinct way of summing up at what level of mistake it’s appropriate to say, “Oh shit!”


The script begins with a cartoon. ¬†Phantom has a long history of displaying a cartoon (almost always from The New Yorker) on the In/Out sheet for every performance, in the hopes that it will attract more people to actually read the callboard, and the In/Out sheet in particular. ¬†It seems to work, because the cartoon is kind of a big deal. ¬†It’s the first thing most people see when they show up at the theatre, and the relative funniness or not-funniness of the cartoon will be debated and commented on for the rest of the performance. Being the stage manager who gets to choose the cartoon for the day is an honor and a responsibility that I always take very seriously. ¬† The first cartoon in my book is on the page facing the first page of the actual script, next to all the check-in lists. ¬† It depicts a rather serious-looking gentleman sitting behind a window labled “Complaints,” holding a violin and bow, obviously ready to play for anyone who should come to him with a complaint. ¬†This cartoon holds a place of honor on the main page because I chose it for In/Out sheet sometime back in early 2004, and when the show was over, presented it to Barbara-Mae Phillips, who was at the time the ASM, and had a dry sense of humor that seemed perfect for that cartoon. ¬†When Barbara-Mae passed away later that year, I found the cartoon as we were clearing off her bulletin board in the office, and decided it deserved to be kept alive in my script, on the first page where everyone could see it. ¬†To this day it still gets a chuckle or a comment from actors waiting next to me at places.

The next entry in the book is also a cartoon. ¬†This one is located in the “Hannibal” section. ¬†It shows a fearsome army of elephant-mounted soldiers facing a decidedly less-fearsome army who appear to be riding ostriches. ¬†In between the armies, their leaders are obviously having a conference. ¬†One of the ostrich-riders in the foreground says to the other, “I sure hope the negotiations go well.” ¬†I was pleased to discover this one one day while picking out the cartoon of the day, as it’s always nice to find one that in some way references the show.

OK, now we have a show quote. ¬†Later in the Hannibal scene, Madame Giry is talking about the Phantom’s demands for a salary, and is supposed to say, “Monsieur le Vicomte paid him twenty thousand francs a month.”

Well one night, a certain Madame Giry said:
“Monsieur le Vicomte… gave to him… twenty..five….. ¬†thousand…. dollars..a year.”

It was one of those things where every single person onstage had to turn upstage to hide their reaction.  I was very fortunate to have been out in the house with a notepad, and started writing before she was even done, so I got it down word-for-word.


Later on the same page I have a stage management quote.  This comes from a performance that was given during the Republican National Convention in August 2004.  The RNC bought out a performance of Phantom, and throughout the week we had other delegates coming to the show.  The whole thing was surrounded by increased security and other preparations that just made it a big stressful event everyone wanted to be over.  Early in the big RNC performance, the calling stage manager said,

“Warning Electrics 28 through Thursday”

It’s supposed to be 28 through 30, but clearly everybody subconsciously wanted to get to Thursday, when everything would be over! ¬†So there was a great laugh about that on headset.


At the end of the Journey (the title song), I have a quote from the PSM, Craig Jacobs:

“You call a great show. ¬†You call lousy fog.”

I don’t remember the particulars, but I think Craig was returning backstage after watching the Journey from the house, and we must have had an especially noticeable lack of dry ice coverage that night. The joke, of course, is that although there are techniques, in 22 years nobody has been able to come up with a reliable way to make the fog look good every night, so it’s the one aspect of the show nobody can really control.


On the next page, in the middle of “Music of the Night,” I have pasted a picture that used to be in the Playbill, of Howard McGillin and Rebecca Pitcher, in the traditional “Music of the Night” pose, except that Howard’s hand is a little lower than usual, over Rebecca’s nether regions. ¬†When someone of great authority came to the show and noticed it, it was promptly pulled from the Playbill. ¬†Naturally I grabbed one of the last Playbills and pasted it in my book with the word “HOO-HA!!!” written over it in bubble letters, as that was the technical term that was used when the problem was described to me.
Incidentally, this shot takes a really, really long time to take at a photo call. I suppose partially it’s due to the fact that it’s one of the more iconic images and probably most likely to be published, so extra care is given to it, but also the quality of the fog in the background is very hard to get just right, the height of the candelabras in the back can be adjusted in small increments depending on the height and exact pose of the actors, etc. I once worked a photo call where this shot alone took 2 hours and the theatre had to have all the exit doors and emergency vents in the roof opened to clear all the smoke before the show that night. In fact, it’s entirely possible it was the very photo above, as I do recall it being Howard and Rebecca. After the ordeal we went through to get the atmosphere just right, I’m not really surprised no one noticed his hand was over her hoo-ha.


Now we have a couple Manager quotes:

“A disaster beyond your exaggeration will recur.”
(instead of “a disaster beyond your imagination will occur.”)

“Miss Daae will be playing the playboy!”
(instead of pageboy)


In the section known as “Il Muto Panic” which leads from the Il Muto ballet into the rooftop scene, I have this quote, from one of our stage managers:

“The absence of disaster is a success.”

It’s dated from early on in my time calling the show, and at first I assumed I must have made a slight delay in Il Muto panic, as I struggled a bit with the timing the first couple times I called the show. ¬†Then I pulled out my handy printout from the database of all the performances I’ve called (which is really handy to have around when someone says, “I saw the show on _____” or some video turns up on YouTube with the date it was recorded). ¬†The date of that quote was my fourth performance, which is one in which we had a big automation problem earlier in the show, which looked less pretty than usual, but avoided crashing any scenery into anything or anyone. ¬† I can only imagine that quote came from a later discussion about what had happened earlier, but I have no idea why I would have written it on a page where I would normally be so busy.


This one is from just the other night, from the mausoleum scene:

“You can’t make her love by winning her your prisoner!”
(the line is, “You can’t win her love by making her your prisoner.”)


This one is written during “Point of No Return,” but is labled thusly:

Me: “Are the [reverse] tabs working?”
Bethe: “…Yes. Good luck!”

I’m sure they worked fine, as I’ve only done that sequence without them once, and we knew in advance they were broken. But clearly something was up that night that led to the less-than-certainty of an uneventful Don Juan Panic.


March 13, 2009

Sort of Week Off in New York

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:16 pm

Well I ended up being sick for almost all of our time off between the New York run and the continuation of the tour. ¬†It was really sad, but on the other hand I survived two months in Minneapolis, many load-outs in freezing temperatures without a jacket, and never got sick when it mattered, so I couldn’t complain too much about losing my free time.

I had planned to do two performances of Phantom during the four days off — one to deck and one to call. ¬†Since I was sick, I was only able to do the Thursday one, which I called. ¬†It was very nice to be back. ¬†The funny thing was that I kept getting similar reactions from many people when they would be told, “Karen’s calling the show tonight.”

2nd ASM: (maniacal laughter)

1st ASM: “Are you serious?”

Conductor: “You’re kidding!”

Automation Carpenter: “They’re letting you call the show?” (this doesn’t really count because he says this in response to my check-in every single time I call)

I was fully confident that I was ready to call, but yes I did have some butterflies.  Most of all, I wanted to stretch different stage management muscles than are required on Henry.

I once asked a sound man friend if his show was difficult to mix, and his response was, “it’s three hours long, it doesn’t matter if it’s an easy show, three hours of concentrating on anything makes it a hard show.” I find the same to be true of Henry. It’s not hard to call at all, and it’s not so boring that you can lose your place entirely, it’s just hard to have the stamina to care about every cue, and stay interested and engaged. ¬†So I found it funny at Phantom when I reached intermission after a first act that clocked in at 1:13:45, and felt more exhausted than I ever have after all three hours of Henry, with almost half the show left to go. ¬†By the end I was wiped out, but it felt good, like after a hard workout. ¬† It was a good show, and thoroughly uneventful, ¬†except for a report from the cast of conspicuous picture-takers in the fourth row, which I relayed to the house manager. ¬† Then the next morning I got on a plane to continue our tour.

Older Posts »