April 23, 2012

Eating Crow on Straight Fives

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:54 pm

It is April 23rd, and as promised, I have returned to tell you what ended up happening with the rehearsal schedule for Marry Harry. In this post, I described a little of our first production meeting, and the fact that we were planning to do straight 5-hour rehearsals, which made me really happy. To which I said:

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 promised to return once we were in tech, to answer whether as predicted, we ended up extending the rehearsal day. Let me tell ye, we did not. Nor did we deviate from our 11:30-4:30 schedule, once it was decided on during the pre-pro week. As I said, I was very happy to be proven wrong, and to stick to a nice predictable schedule.

I should also mention, lest you think straight fives are a cakewalk, that Brian and I have gone home totally exhausted every day, much to our amazement. As is typical in our profession, five or ten-minute breaks usually contain somewhere between zero and two minutes of actual not-having-to-work, and it’s hard doing that for five hours straight without a meal break to rest, eat, and catch up on paperwork or prop maintenance so that you’re not rushing to keep up in rehearsal. That being said, it was awesome and well worth it to get up long after sunrise, and get home long before sunset every day.

Honestly, once we got down to the last couple days, I almost wished we had done one or two long days, only because five hours is not long when you have a show in development and the writers come in with new material which needs to be rehearsed, scenes and musical numbers need polish, and then you want to get through a run. Once you’re running the show, the benefit of working for a longer period of time at a stretch becomes more important. However, this being a fairly easy contract, we were limited to six-out-of-seven hour days, in which you gain an extra hour of rehearsal, but sacrifice the loss of focus that comes with breaking for lunch. So it’s really not much overall gain over the straight five.

In addition to our awesome schedule, things have been going really well. I haven’t been saying much, but I have a backlog of some things I’ve been saving to talk about, especially how my iPad has been faring in its first production.

April 13, 2010

Week from Hell, Part 2

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:56 pm

We are in the middle of our infamous overnight load-in. We had a show in Wallingford, CT this morning at 10AM. Immediately after load-out we began driving to Keene, NH. After a stop for some fast food, we got to Keene with about 15 minutes to spare.

The Colonial Theatre is very small, but really cool. Everything is really old but beautifully maintained, which is fun. There are even wooden catwalks up in the flies. I’d really like to get to go up there. The theatre is so small that Nick and I have evacuated to the bus just to get out of everybody’s way.

We had a bit of negotiating to do when we arrived, as the measurement we decided on for the placement of the set would have prevented the entrances from being used the usual way. Since Florida, we have an option for getting actors from our “hobbit hole” entrance to the up-right door without any room upstage of the set, but it involves building the hobbit hole backwards, which does weird things to lighting, as well as just plain not being the way the set was designed. It is nice, though, to have gathered an established set of options along the way that we can quickly consider when we encounter challenges. In the end, we placed the set another six inches downstage, which makes lighting a little more difficult downstage, but it was already way farther down than it should be, and with much less frontlight than usual, so gaining a few more inches upstage that allows us to move around the set properly was the better deal.

Nick and I are blogging while watching an old episode of Star Trek: TNG, as I wait by my radio for Devon to call me in to start focus. Nick is done, having put up the signage with his new Tactical Signage Deployment Unit. You may recall that he has a Signage Purse. Well we didn’t pick the Signage Purse, it belonged to the previous stage managers, so the fact that it was pink wasn’t really a choice. But Nick has wanted to have a more manly signage folder for a long time, and in light of certain jokes I’ve played on him, I felt it was my duty to provide him with the manliest signage folder imaginable before the tour was over, and that he could take with him to future jobs. I’ve been working on it for about a week, and here is the result:

It has some advanced practical features like a clip on the side for a dry-erase marker, but the best part about it is that it’s got little army men glued to the front cover. Nick seems very happy.

March 18, 2010

iDisk Syncing for Stage Management Files

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:59 am

Naturally being on tour I have a lot of documents to take care of. A lot of them have to do with schedules — there’s the cast schedule, the crew schedule, and the city sheets. Somebody always wants to know something, and there are a number of individual, constantly updated, documents which contain that information. I was finding it really hard to keep up with having the latest documents immediately accessible on my phone. I found myself saying, “I have that, but it’s on my computer,” way too often.

What I came up with is a solution using MobileMe’s iDisk, though I’m sure you could cobble together some other method if you’re not a MobileMe subscriber.

I have turned on iDisk syncing from System Preferences, which I’ve never really liked because frankly MobileMe / .Mac has always been really slow, and I don’t want it to spend any more time syncing than it needs to. However, I’ve never really bothered to use my iDisk to store files that I need frequent access to, so now it seems to be more worthwhile.

For a while I’ve had an alias folder on my desktop that links to a folder in my Acting Company folder, where all the schedules and city sheets were laid out in chronological order. This gives me easy access on my desktop — using OS X’s QuickLook feature, I don’t even need to open the files to read them. But it wasn’t helping me to have access to the latest copies of those documents on the go.

I moved that folder to my iDisk, and turned on iDisk syncing. Now I have access to the iDisk-hosted folder if I’m offline, which then syncs back to the online copy when I’m connected to the internet, and I can access the files using the rather nice (and free) iDisk app that Apple provides for the iPhone.

Here’s a picture of how I have the folder arranged:

I have the available city sheets on top, followed by the cast schedules (with the yellow labels), and the corresponding crew schedules (in green) underneath. This allows me to flip back and forth at a glance and see visually what the relationship is between them.

You can’t edit documents on the iPhone using this technique, but mostly I just use this folder to reference other people’s schedules when making my own. When I get an email with an updated version of the schedule, it takes about 3 seconds to drag it to this folder and overwrite the old one, and then I’m updated everywhere!

December 28, 2009

Fittings and Haircuts

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:12 pm

One of the things I hate most about my job is coordinating costume fittings, wig fittings, and haircuts. The schedules and needs of the director and costume designer, drapers, wig designers and hairdressers often conflict, and negotiating the actors through a very tight schedule without screwing anybody’s plans up can be very difficult, and usually gets screwed up by things you can’t control (a.k.a. Friar Laurence Syndrome).

With a ton of fittings and haircuts to be accomplished in a short span of time this week, each with their own particular criteria of when they could be accomplished, I felt that any method of organization short of moving solid objects around on a physical representation of the week would fall short or be prone to error. I literally cut up a cardboard box and made a calendar and individual pieces for each fitting that needed to happen, and taped them in order on the appropriate day.

It’s actually working quite well for us.

This was the schedule from yesterday.

December 16, 2009

Homework & Coffee

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:35 am

Step 1: Coffee

photoI’m kinda tired, and I still have some work to do tonight. So I decided to experiment with an area of domesticity that I don’t generally dabble in: making coffee at home. I don’t generally make coffee. I’m a far better stage manager than a PA. To me, coffee is something you pay $4 for, and a barista makes it using some mathematical formula of beans, water, milk and sugar that I don’t need to be involved in.

When we started rehearsal I brought my travel mug that I bought in New Mexico during the tour last year, and threw together some concoction of ingredients that tasted OK. I was kind of excited by this experiment. Our awesome intern Ashley makes the coffee every morning, and sometimes when I ask, “Is the coffee ready?” I am directed to take note of the freshly made coffee that is already in my mug and on my desk, formed of some combination of creamer and sugar that we have landed upon as “the way I like my coffee”, but that I don’t know how to make myself!

So suffice it to say, I consume a lot of coffee, but the act of putting water in a coffee maker and passing it through a filter filled with coffee grinds into a pot isn’t generally something I do on a regular basis. When I do, it’s because it’s part of my job (which it isn’t, technically, but that’s another story). On tour last year making coffee was usually my job, because on load-in day the crew would be working hard for about 8 hours while I took a nap and played on the internet. The tradeoff for this was that they could call me on the radio about 10 minutes before a break, and I would have fresh coffee waiting on the bus when they arrived.

Anyway, I bought some coffee in the supermarket (for possibly the first time in my life, for my own consumption at least), for reasons I don’t actually remember. I guess I decided that since my apartment is furnished with a coffee maker, I could use it, maybe to save money on energy drinks. And since the day we arrived, the coffee has sat on the kitchen counter unopened. Tonight I was tired and cold, so I actually attempted to make some to solve both problems. I did OK, as seen above.

Step 2: Homework

Now properly caffeinated, I turn to the main bulk of my homework for the night: our company manager, Joseph, has created weekly schedules for the entire tour. These need to be submitted to Equity to be checked for rule violations in terms of travel and performance hours. So my job is to check them for accuracy and any violations before they go to Equity. I’m kind of excited to see.

As many rules as there are about rehearsal hours, there are almost as many about travel. The reason I find it a little more difficult is that I never travel with the cast, so the whole thing is kind of a theoretical math puzzle as opposed to something remembered instinctively after having done it so many times.

After a refresher course through the LORT rulebook section on tours, and transferring the basic rules into a Google Wave that Nick and I (and anyone else we might need to include) can use for reference, I began looking over the schedule, checking each performance time against my database to make sure they all match up.

After having spent 3 hours doing this, I feel like I’ve gone through our entire tour, picturing a chronological trip through what our daily life (or more accurately, what the cast’s daily life) will be like on the road. What time the show will end, what time the bus call is the next day, how long the rest period is, how many hours of travel there are in a day vs. how many performances that day. Also checking to make sure there’s a day free of performances in each week, and a full day off from travel and performances every two weeks.

Joseph sent me the schedules in PDF, which would have been great if I had thought to print them while I was at the theatre. But in absence of a hard copy, I marked up the PDFs in Preview.app, and made notes of rest periods, overtime, and possible problem points if the show runs too long. As I went, I composed an email to Joseph listing my concerns (sometimes just correcting a typo) by date.

Some things may be tweaked a bit to avoid overtime, and sometimes there’s nothing that can be done, and it’s an expense the company just has to pay in order to make the next show. I’m sure the OT is small potatoes compared to the advantages of fitting in an extra performance in the schedule.

I’m just glad there are people at Equity whose job it is to approve this for real. It’s just one really long math problem, and I hate math.

A bus containing the cast of Romeo and Juliet leaves Baton Rouge at 10AM…

March 7, 2008

It’s 29 Hours. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:57 pm

My Views on Small Gigs

After several weeks of unemployment, I have a little job. Actually, even Equity admits that a stage reading does not constitute “employment.” What they mean by that is, if you’re doing a show that allows you to miss rehearsal due to other employment in the industry, this is not a good enough excuse. But also, a week of work for $100 isn’t really a job. Still, I much prefer doing a reading to a showcase, as I recently turned down a 6-week showcase, even though it would have paid $600. My philosophy about jobs in theatre that don’t pay actual money is that if I’m not doing anything, I can dedicate a week of my life to meeting some new collaborators, learning a new show that might have a future, working with well-known actors I admire, and putting my full effort into making a 1-page contact sheet, putting together 29 hours of schedule, and helping them to coordinate the moving of music stands and chairs around a bare stage. I might even take the house lights up and down for the actual readings.

Contrast that to a showcase, which despite its name and original intentions, is a full production with a full design team, essentially a full-time job for usually six weeks, culminating in an actual production which needs to be loaded in, teched, and loaded out. And it still usually pays only $100 a week (if you can get it — that’s seldom the original offer). Not to mention for someone like me who subs on Broadway and Off-, I could lose far more money in lost sub work than I make doing the entire run of the Showcase. It’s happened to me several times. And lest that sound like it’s all about the money, let’s remember that if I’m taking a Showcase it means I don’t have a job. So yes, at least until the rent is accounted for, it has to be at least partially about the money. Personally I feel I’m making more art in the 8,125th running of the Phantom Overture than in many showcases I’ve done, so I actually feel no guilt about the art either.

But back to the reading. I don’t mean the title to sound like it’s going badly. It’s not at all. It’s actually something I’ve said many times, in fact to the director of this one when we first met for coffee. It really is my philosophy about doing readings. When you take a show, you don’t know if it’s going to be a good experience or a bad one, if it will go somewhere or be forgotten about forever, or if the people you meet will lead you to bigger jobs, or never call you again. In my opinion, if the show turns out to be a bad experience, there are two ways to rationalize getting out of bed in the morning: either they’re paying you a fair wage, or it will all be over soon. This is why showcases are bad — they satisfy neither criteria, so if you’re not having fun, you’re screwed.

I truly believe the process of putting eleven actors standing at music stands for 29 hours can’t possibly create the kind of unpleasantness that would make it not worth the risk. Thus, I took the job, no questions asked. We start rehearsal tomorrow, and so far I like the director, who I’ve met, I like the composer and musical director who I’ve gotten to know quite well via e-mail, and I like the cast — one of whom I’ve worked with and am thrilled to be working with again, one of whom I’ve spoken to on the phone, and the rest through e-mail. I’m excited to start meeting people and get to work.

The other great thing about this job is, as I said in an earlier post, I’ve missed being a PSM for the last six months or so. A reading doesn’t allow for the full use of PSM skills, but I’m hoping it will be enough to tide me over until summer, when I will have more responsibility than anyone could ever want, as PSM of a summer stock season.

I will share one other thing I’ve learned from being unemployed for the first time in about a year. Having a week or more to myself has reminded me how valuable my time is. I am an only child, I learned at an early age how to entertain myself. I am not bored at all. If I could be paid to do nothing forever, I would never leave my apartment. So I feel no desire to take a so-called “job” just for the sake of having one, if the money offered is not remotely worth the value of my time. I believe I provide Broadway-quality stage management to every show I do, big or small. That doesn’t mean I expect every employer to be able to pay me $1,500 a week, or anywhere near that. I know how much money I need to live, which is not much by New York standards, and I need health insurance, and I will never turn down work that meets those two requirements. But for anything below that I realize now that the only reason to take such a job would be if I wanted to. For whatever reason — believe in the show, want to work with one of the actors, like the director, trying to get in with the producer. There has to be a reason I want it, so badly that I’d rather do the show than sit comfortably at home doing something else. And in the last month I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with saying no to working your ass off when there’s little or nothing to be gained. In no other industry would anyone be made to feel guilty over such a decision. Should I call up an accountant and ask him to do my taxes for $5 in his spare time at night? If he tells me he’s actually quite busy watching American Idol, do I have a right to question his devotion to developing his accounting skills?

Now that I’m spending some time back at the bottom of the industry, just wanted to share the view. It’s easy to forget when you get used to a weekly paycheck.

June 26, 2007

Schedules and Calendars

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

Another thing I did today during music rehearsal was preparing the calendar to be distributed to the cast tonight. Bob Eagle is directing this show himself, and he’s had his breakdown of the rehearsal schedule pretty much done since last week. We made some adjustments and clarifications to the tech schedule at the production meeting in the morning, and with that I went about creating a calendar to outline the entire production in brief for our cast.

In preparing the calendar, it was the first real opportunity I had to examine Bob’s schedule in depth. I don’t really advise doing this five hours before distributing the schedule, but better late than never. What I’m looking for is two things:

1. Most importantly, is anything scheduled that’s a violation of Equity rules? The first thing I look at is span of day. Our contract allows for either an 8.5 hr day with a 1.5 hr meal break, or an 8 hr day with a 1 hr meal break. I make sure it’s not over that amount, and that the proper meal break is applied depending on the span of day. The next question is whether the meal break is spaced properly in the day. There is a decent amount of flexibility in this, but there can’t be more than 5 working hours on either end of the meal break. The final question is the 12-hour rest period between rehearsals. If rehearsal ends at 10:30PM, the next day’s rehearsal can’t start until 10:30AM. This is something to keep an eye on at Reagle because rehearsals are late in the day during the week and early on the weekends, to accommodate our cast members with “real jobs.” It’s an easy mistake to accidentally infringe on the 12 hours between Friday night and Saturday morning.

2. Once I know the schedule is legal, the next question is, does it make sense? One of the greater challenges of stage management is that you’re supposed to think of absolutely everything and fix everyone’s problems before they occur. Thinking through the schedule and looking for trouble spots or areas that could obviously be improved is part of that. In my perusal of the schedule today, I discovered that we had a 1.5 hr lunch break for an 8 hr rehearsal on the weekend of the first week. As much as I hated to give up that nice long lunch, the fact is we don’t need that long of a break if we’re taking the shorter day, and were losing a half hour of productive time each day as a result. So we fixed that. I also suggested a time change on the two days before tech to shift an extra hour to the evening so we would have more time for our scheduled runs of the show.

I hate math, and I hate math with time, but it’s very helpful to be able to work quickly in your head with common time-usage situations that one might encounter in rehearsal. Part of this is knowing your contract’s specific rehearsal rules inside out (or having a copy of the rulebook handy for those really obscure questions, like how many hours can you rehearse on a 1-show day after the week of the first public performance — I always have to look those up). Equity’s web site has all the rule books in PDF format in the Document Library. The beauty of this is that a) they take up no physical space or weight in digital format, and b) you can easily search them for whatever term you’re looking for. I was lucky in my early career to have spent most of my non-Equity years working on Equity Showcases (unless you don’t count working for like $0.25 /hr lucky), where I had to enforce all the Equity rules even though I wasn’t covered by them myself. By the time I got my card I was completely comfortable with all the basic rules. The numbers change (in general as the minimum salary goes up, so does the number of hours you work), but for the most part the concepts are the same. If you can afford to work for very little, I recommend it to aspiring Equity stage managers, as it will allow you to already know what you’re doing if you suddenly get your first Equity contract as a PSM and everyone expects you to know what you’re doing.

It took me a long time in my career (oh, about five-and-a-half years) to find a format for a calendar that I liked. Any calendar creation software was too restrictive, and in fact I think they’ve stopped making any kind of apps to do that, they assume everyone uses Outlook or iCal or something. Well I like to have complete control over the layout, and I don’t need to sync it to anything, so I couldn’t deal with that. When I was production coordinator of Bingo in Florida, the company manager had a rather nice calendar she made in Excel, I decided that was the way to go from now on. I came up with a layout I liked, and have used it as a template ever since. It’s very blank, which I like because you can really set it up however you want. You could make Wednesday the first day of the week if you really felt like it. You can also see in my example above how I have made a calendar for “June/July.” Since our whole process only takes four weeks there’s no reason to waste space and confuse people with a whole calendar for each month. I can start and end it wherever is most useful for the period of time I’m dealing with. Want to play with it? Have fun.

While I’m sharing files, here’s something else I had to print out today. The two-foot marks in the dance studio are starting to fall off, and we’re going to need to replace them before starting dance rehearsals tomorrow. As a result of the occasional need to rehearse down the street at the Studio of Creative Movement, where we need to bring our own numbers and remove them when we’re done, two years ago I created this PDF, which consists of three pages of fairly large numbers, from zero (center) to 18, which is as high as the numbers go on the Reagle stage. Since I pretty much always have my trusty Canon i70 printer in rehearsal, if somehow I wind up somewhere in life needing to put down numbers for dancers, I can print them out in a couple minutes. Having a tape measure can sometimes be the bigger problem, but in a pinch I have used the 11-inch side of a regular piece of paper, adding the extra inch by sight for every foot. Not the ideal way to do it, but it works. When I’m really prepared, I have in my kit a set of these already cut out and held together with a big binder clip, so they’re ready to be taped down right away, instead of taking all that time to set up the printer and cut out the numbers. It’s a real lifesaver at those horrifying moments when you realize 5 minutes before rehearsal that the room doesn’t have numbers, or somebody ripped yours up overnight. Of course if I was really slick, I’d have some pre-made, sturdy numbers like those you’d use to put the street number on the outside of your house. But that would assume I was prepared and planned to put down the numbers. The whole point of this PDF is that it’s there when you’re caught unprepared.