Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Little Sample

Billy, Kim and Tim rehearse for Pete 'n' Keely... doesn't it just give you feve-ah? I cut the clip juuust before Billy started filling in vocals. Oh well.

Show # 2

Lots to catch up on! This will be a long entry, broken up into easy, aesthetically pleasing chunks for your reading ease.
First things first...
The End (of the Full Monty)

No pun intended. You'll all be happy to know that we wrapped up this production with all actors and most of the scenery intact. In fact we suffered only a couple of injuries worth mentioning, since my last entry.
For those of you who saw the show, you know that one of the scenes features a real live (if comically small) car onstage. We had gutted and tweaked this machine into a fine piece of mobile scenery for our purpose, but apparently missed one jagged piece of metal on the inside passenger door. One of our actors, through the course of the scene, punctured his hand on this piece of metal and bled profusely. He continued with the scene, using another actor's extra costume piece (flannel shirt wrapped around the waist) to stop the blood flow. Once he was offstage, my intrepid ASM patched him up and sent him on his way.
Interestingly enough, there was a doctor in the house who was able to look at the actor's hand during intermission. He required stitches and a tetanus shot. I took my Leatherman pliers to the car after the show and tamed the sharp metal, but needless to say no one was happy. Don't let anyone tell you this profession is particularly easy or safe. Without any sarcasm at all, I will say that I think actors and stage hands are some of the most courageous people out there - and if you look at big shows like The Full Monty and things they have to work around, you must agree.
After that it was smooth sailing for the final night. Scene changes were a little rough. Matinees will do that to you. We held our closing night party at a fancy lodge at Iron Horse, passed around many hugs and congratulations and... the time has flown. It took such force and momentum to get the show up, I think we were all surprised how quickly it passed.
Definitely a case of 'What didn't destroy us made us stronger.' To say the least.


Pete 'n' Keely

The second show hasn't garnered much attention here a) because I haven't been writing and b) because it has simply been toiling quietly on without the drama and struggle of Monty. A two person musical comedy, PK features smaller but still way-snazzy scenery, fewer changes, a smaller stage, and overall a smoother, more cocktail-lounge and soft music kind of feel than the hard-pressed, rough steel of Show # 1.

We're going into techs today and the atmosphere is mostly calm. Calmer. My ASM and I are swapping roles for this one and she will be calling the light and sound cues while I handle things backstage on deck. She reads music better than I do... okay, let's be honest. She reads music. That's right. I've skated by doing musicals for years and I don't read music. It doesn't help so much anyway. You can assign a count or a beat that a light cue is supposed to go on, but it's really a gut process. You get the show in your body as much as an actor gets a dance move, and you feel it.

Either way, I'll be getting a sort of break, and also be appearing onstage. That's right. PK features an onstage Stage Manager's console as part of the set dressing, and that's where I'll be for much of the show. Go figure.

Wish us many broken legs!
Show #3

I have to say that doing straight stock all summer takes some kind of stamina, and I still don't know if I prefer it over doing show in rep. That way, you get all your shows open and basically have the daytime free. This way, you're always busy, but part of me has such a lazy streak, it's hard to say which is better.
While digging down into techs for P & K, we must already be thinking about rehearsals for Olympia Dukakis' Another Side of the Island, which begins rehearsals next Wednesday. I'm thrilled to be working on this project, but also a little out of sorts. I'm the Production Stage Manager and that big title makes a shiny impressive impression, but there are still some questions like..
"Olympia.." Oh wait, should I say,.. "Mrs. Dukakis.." Or.. "Ms. Dukakis..?"
Time for that 'Attitude is Everything' advice I've always lived on.
I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, hope to see you all at the next show.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Climb Every Mountain

Okay, wrong musical.
I've been negligent with good excuse this time. We didn't so much climb mountains as move them in order to get The Full Monty up on its feet. Or shove them out of the way, cursing and crying.

This show is a spectacular bit of eye candy as far as grandeur of set, lights, and movement. Every bit of that requires Time and Energy. Anyone in the corporate world knows those words. There comes a point in the theatre world, when you run out of time, energy, and supplies, that you have to make things work. Our mighty scenic crew, bless them from on high, put in twenty hour days to get this giant up and running. Our actors, crew, myself and the designers put in fourteen hour days doing "Cue to Cue" which involves rehearsing every technical element of the show before we run it in sequence. Generally that takes one or two days. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which might have been my own lack of momentum...ours took five days.

Generally you have three dress rehearsals before you open a show, with maybe some invited audience members to watch the final dress.

The first time we ran this show in its entirety with all costume and technical elements in place was Tuesday afternoon - six hours before we opened. Not a lot of room for error. The set still had touch ups, as did the costumes. The crew didn't have time to finesse scene changes. I certainly was not entirely comfortable with the 300-odd light and sound cues I would be calling during the show. The cast was nervous. The crew was nervous. The director was, understandably nervous.
I was terrified.
But there are very few things that will prompt a theatrical producer to cancel a show. 'The show must go on,' may be an old, dusty, cheesy phrase tossed around these days like a discount bumper sticker, but it is also an iron clad credo.
The show must go on. The show will go on. It always does. I have known of shows that went on, and very soon after, the death of company members. Shows go on when scenery is incomplete and actors may or may not know their lines and entrances.
Why? It's like breaking a promise if it doesn't. You have paid for your tickets, and been looking at our posters and reading press releases. Our promise is, "We will be there for you, if you're there for us." We know you will be, so there we are.

There is something powerful that happens inside when you stare into the face of the inevitable. Once we have dragged ourselves battered and exhausted over the hurdle of of Final Dress (or first dress, in the case of this show), there is an odd release. The show will open. What will be. Stay on your toes and forge ahead.
So our show went on.

And only one piece of scenery fell off and broke.

What did we do? Well, no one was hurt. The show went on.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I don't envy the heads of theatre companies. We've all heard the time honored saying that no one gets into the business for the money, and if they do, they've chosen the wrong profession. Some people strike gold (or oil, as it were,) but most are in it for the love and fun of the process, making art, being artists, creating and, at the end of the day, a little acknowledgement. We love putting on shows.

But somehow, when you're at the top of pyramid, all these other things sneak in. I see the heads of our theatre not only directing, acting, producing and promoting the shows, but looking through boxes of merchandise, appearing at PR events and checking boxes of postcards, napkins for concessions and worrying over what kind of treats we can serve at rehearsals.

Greg, one of my mentors and bosses, is not only the Artistic Director of the Montana Rep, but directs one of the touring shows now and then and serves as the head of the acting/directing department at U of M. Last year as we were in the throes of putting together Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, we were on a brief break and a young man who was putting together the Benefit Party came into Greg's office in a worry over finding coat racks for the party.
There is a larger lesson to be learned about the chain of command and delegation here, but the bottom line being: Greg didn't get a break. In the midst of directing our great American Drama, he was answering emails about phone interviews, photos, bookings, artistic statements, issues with the following semester - and coat racks.
He came back to rehearsal bemused, and told the story. Coat racks..?

I suppose it's a lesson to be learned for all of the midst of creating art, drama, comedy, having big visions and dreams and big, big fun, there are minutiae to be considered. The kind of things that nobody notices unless they aren't done.

I hope the artistic heads of our army of art will be able to reach a point when they don't have to worry about the extras and can focus on the art - but then again, as it all ties together, I suppose the little things can have an impact that pushes a company up from 'neat' to 'Great.' Still, all those extras shouldn't be what keep them awake at night, should it?

Coat racks.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Tradeoff

Some days I think that a life in the arts requires too much caring. There's a certain kind of job that lets you really detach at the end of the day (you know, like retail), and really not think about work until you walk through the door the next morning. Theatre isn't like that.
I've become a big fan of a TV show that aired awhile back in Canada, called Slings & Arrows. It follows a group of performers in a Shakespeare company, and profiles so many of the hysterical...and heartbreaking truths about the industry. One of the biggest is most artist's inability to 'compartmentalize.' You can't leave your work onstage. As one of the characters says, "My work is thinking. How can you stop thinking?"
And it's so true. So many of the challenges and problems get solved as you mull over them at the end of the day, seeking solutions, lying awake, or over coffee when you're trying to rev up for the day ahead. Stop that process, and nothing will get solved.

On the other hand...

When does it stop? When are you allowed to let it go and be a human being for awhile, eating ice cream, listening to music (that's not from your current show), diving in the lake, not thinking about your character or this scene change or how everything will fit backstage? There are brief moments I'm at work and I start to think that a job I can let go of at 6:00 sounds really good. I have other creative interests to pursue. I have a life (or at least, I want one...), and nothing is worth the compounding stress of putting together a blockbuster show.

On the other hand...

The reward of seeing the transformation from day one when they're sitting around a table reading, through music rehearsals, singing over and over again, repeating dance moves over and over again until they're sharp and really say something...truly understanding the work and struggle that goes into 'finding' a show... seeing it up onstage under lights, moving like magic, and hearing the audience laugh - hearing the audience know that they're sharing it with you, finally seeing what all the weeks of struggle have been for, all the stress, the drama, the juggling, compacted into two hours of sweat onstage, and that maybe they'll walk out of the theatre singing or thinking about something new - and know that they love it?

I guess you don't get that in retail.