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February 24, 2012

Day -44: Production Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first thing I did was send Brian my notes.

Calendar

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

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

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

Contacts

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

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

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

Props

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

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

Script

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

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

The Cloud

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

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

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


August 11, 2011

First Production Meeting

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:34 pm

So yesterday, as I said, we had our first production meeting for Ain’t Misbehavin’. Brian, my good friend and PSM, is out of town so I attended the meeting on his behalf and took enough notes to pretty much summarize anything a PSM could possibly want to know about what was said in a room for two hours.

The time I spent last night watching the YouTube videos of the ’80s television special paid off. Despite being at a table with five people who clearly have spent a lot more time thinking about the show than I have, I never felt like I didn’t know what everybody was talking about.

We met in a private room at a restaurant (my favorite restaurant from my Frankenstein days, actually), which gave the meeting a nice casual environment. It was just me, our producer, set/lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, and director (original cast member Andr√© De Shields). Andr√© brought a vintage windowcard from the original production, which we propped up at the end of the table for inspiration. Actually it became very effective for discussions throughout the meeting because it has a large color photo of the cast and set, so we referenced it throughout the meeting when talking about costumes, hair, design motifs and scenic construction. Of course having spent 13 years as a Broadway merchandiser, what I noticed most about it was the incredibly thick cardstock they used for windowcards back then. Today’s windowcards would not stand upright on a table. I tried to find a picture of the windowcard online to use for this post, and I can’t find one. That’s a rare poster, there.

The designers also brought in their research photos — books of ’20s/’30s-era paintings and architecture, and costume photos from several rental houses that are being considered. I don’t always get to attend these early design meetings, but I always enjoy it when I do. I spent way too many years being taught how to do this in directing school to go through my career without seeing it done in the real world. It always comforts me somehow to know that what I recall as a rather tedious part of my education is really exactly how it’s done at every level. It seems much more important when you know it’s actually going to be used to put on a real show for real people, and not just for a theoretical classroom project.

As far as the structure of the meeting, we basically went around by department, in great detail, and then called it a day. Well, no, then we spent about another hour afterwards having sushi and talking more casually about the show and getting to know one another on a personal level. It was a lot of fun. I had been a little worried about stepping into this meeting with a bunch of people I didn’t know (I worked with Andr√© as an actor a couple months ago, but just for a day), and having to fill the role of PSM when I wasn’t entirely sure the whole production team even knew I existed. But everybody made me feel totally welcome and like a legitimate member of the team.

When I got home, I typed up my notes. People who know me may be surprised to learn that I took them using a technology known as “pen” and “paper”, but I often will go to a meeting like this prepared for both laptop- and notepad-based note-taking, and determine the method based on what everybody else is doing, and how much room is on the table. It was pretty much an even mix of iPads, MacBooks, and paper, but I decided that there is still something about taking notes on paper that gives more of an impression of attentiveness (which kinda sucks, considering how much better notes you can take electronically), so I went with paper.

At home, I went through my notes and typed them into Evernote, arranged them into a logical order, and expanded them into coherent thoughts for Brian. It’s a little different taking notes for somebody who wasn’t there, versus taking notes for yourself, or to be distributed to the production team by email. Basically I tried to attend the meeting as a PSM and document every thought I had, so that Brian has the full context for what was decided and why, as well as where the various people involved stand on these decisions. After I got everything into Evernote for myself, I made a Word document and tidied it up a bit so it’s easier to read in outline form, and sent it off to Brian.

We start rehearsal a month from tomorrow. I don’t know when my next obligation to the show is, so for now I’m going back to finishing Season 4 of CSI.