Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Its A Hard Knock Life For Us!

It is over.

Months and months of planning and rehearsal culminating in a brief week of furious activity and four performances.

Throughout this glorious week I wore a number of hats. I was still responsible for costumes and, in particular, finishing the infamous Annie 'red dress' but I was also stage manager which meant I 'ran' the show from a position in the wings, co-ordinating the lights, spots, sound, orchestra and backstage crews. A perfect job for a control freak :-D

We moved into the theatre last Monday in a process known as 'bumping in'. It is well named. It is rarely a smooth process. There was a truck and several trips back and forwards to bring all the sets, props and costumes from the school. There was a trailer and another trip to bring instruments. There was the whole 'costume rack falling over on the way and all costumes falling onto the floor of the truck and losing their labels' to deal with. There was the problem with the staircases.

These monoliths, our main set, were produced for us by the Tech Department at school. They had been fitted with carpet squares underneath so that they sat flush with the ground and slid along the polished floor of our rehearsal room. Of course, as the best laid plans of mice and men flew frantically awry, we discovered that the stage in the theatre had been painted with a slightly textured paint to prevent actors slipping. Unfortunately, this also applied to staircases. There was some intense consultation and experimentation. It was evident that we would need double the number of crew members to move these things in anything close to an acceptable time frame for set changes. Quick rethink. Trolley trucks were provided and with much groaning and sweating the ends of the stairs were hefted aboard. Still too slow. And too noisy! Eventually the Tech boys were brought in from school and fitted both sets of stairs with multiple castors. They no longer sat flush to the ground but at least we could move them.

There was also the problem with the dressing rooms. Two were provided, one for men and one for women. They were of approximately the same size. In our production there were approximately 40 girls and 6 boys. I made a snap decision; the girls were spread between the two woefully inadequate dressing rooms

and the boys were relegated to the loading dock at the back of the stage.

The strange looking table in the foreground here is the mic table. We used 10 radio mics which were swapped between cast members as they came and went from the stage. This grid formation was essential for keeping things under control.

Tuesday was the Tech rehearsal, a tedious process involving; setting lights, practicing set changes and running sound cues. Microphone levels needed to be checked and the orchestra practised with fold back. Our young cast were remarkably patient and co-operative and our backstage crew phenomonally organised and committed. If a little inexperienced.

I asked the prop girls if they had prepared the props table with labels for each item (rather like the grid for the mikes). "Sure," they reassured me and indicated a table marked with two strips of masking tape. One said 'orphanage' and one said 'mansion'.

Me: OK, that's a good start but it's a little bit vague.

Crew: What do you mean?

Me: Weeeeell, you would be better off dividing the table up into a grid and giving each prop a particular space and a label.

Crew: But we are the only ones taking things off, we'll know where they are and where they go.

Me: Uh-huh but in the excitement of the live run you're gonna find that you are working under huge pressure and things will just get put down where-ever. It all looks simple there now, but if I took one item away, would you know which item it was? You should be able to look at your table and know immediately if anything is missing. If you have a space for everything, the gaps will be obvious.

Crew: Hmmm (unconvinced)

Me: Well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist on this one. Just trust me.

They grumbled and made faces but they did what they were asked (a blessed change from my normal classes).

I asked them about it again after the run and they looked at me like I was stupid to suggest it could occur any other way!

On Tuesday, 'Annie' once again asked me if her red dress was ready. Once again I answered 'no'.
That night I went home to complete it. OK, actually I went home to cut it out first! The problem was that patterns suitable for adapting to make the 'red dress' were in sizes 2yrs-8yrs. Our Annie was a very well developed 15. I had managed to work with one of our more talented staff members to draft a pattern for the red dress but it was all guesswork. On Tuesday night I crashed onto the sofa for a few hours before waking at 1am and starting to cut and sew. When the BA got up at 6am, I was still there. The machine had decided to play up and was constantly jamming. Trying to sew two veeeeery long gathering lines for the sleeves was proving impossible and anyway, I needed to know whether what I had done so far actually fitted the girl in question.

I went into the theatre on Wednesday having worked through from 1am. The dress was still not finished. Once in the theatre I had to stop sewing and start stage managing. Annie wore her dress that afternoon for dress rehearsal complete with pins and no sleeves. I took it home Wednesday night and tried to finish it but my exhaustion defeated me. I got up at 7am and took the unfinished monstrosity into the theatre to complete. The machine continued to play up and the final stitches were put into the dress in the interval before it was worn on stage. Nothing like cutting it fine.You can see the offending, incomplete article in the mirror in this shot.

And so the show got underway.

This is my favourite story.
My lighting 'boys' were two very sweet seventh graders . They had been shown how the desk worked and which buttons to press and we had explained that I 'called' the cues for them to execute. As we worked through the dress rehearsals and the first two live performances, there were a few hiccups in the timing of the lights. Some were my fault but some just seemed to be a general slowness in response from the lighting room. But come on, they are only year sevens!

There was one cue in particular which we had consistently messed up. At the end of the cabinet scene where FDR and his cronies are all singing 'Tomorrow' we had consistently blacked them out too early. By the third performance I was determined to get the timing right. I held off, I called the 'stand-by', I watched intently....and to my horror, the lighting boys blacked the stage out with NO CUE FROM ME!!!!!!!! The cabinet once again finished singing in the dark and after my string of invectives I determined to find out how this had gone wrong.

I fronted my little lighting friends.

Me: So what happened with that black out?
Boy 1: Well, I gave a hand signal to Him and he thought I meant something else so he just 'went'.
Me: hang on........what do you mean you gave a hand signal to him and he 'went'....??????????????
Boy 2: (guilelessly) Well we decided to share the job so in one half he wears the headset and I press the buttons and in the other half I wear the headset and HE presses the buttons!

My carefully timed lighting cues were being passed from one set of ears across the room to another set before being implemented.
No wonder my cues were slow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Me: Did you never think of sharing the job by ONE of you wearing the headset AND pressing the buttons in the first act and the other doing it in the second??????????
Boys: Er...no.
Me: Well that is what we will be doing for the last show!

And the lighting was perfect.


A Free Man said...

Congratulations on a job(s) well done. Now relax. That is an order.

Laine Moore said...

I second AFM's orders! How do you do it all woman?!

Stacy said...

Congratulations on a well executed, but exhausting show! Wow, you took a lot on yourself to get that done, but sounds like it all went off fairly well (lighting boys and red dress aside!). I can only imagine how exhausting it all was, but I'm sure it was fun, too. :)

carrie said...

totally makes me miss the stage. i may need to find some community theater to help out with! it is so fun to look BACK on, now that you are out of the midst of it, though huh?

well done!

Golightly said...

Wow, takes me back to my theater years. congratulations. I love the first shot and the shot of the sewing machine. A job well done. The lighting boys cracked me up.

Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

Oh goodness! Sounds exciting but exhausting! Apparently I'm going to have to reread the whole props thing, because my gal's in a high school play now and the expectations of the parents are WAY different than when she was in the plays at the community center. I'm supposed to be more involved than just helping carry snacks to the cast party, it turns out...

Dottie C. said...

Hi there, I don't know if this blog is still up and running, but if it is, I'd love to use a photo from your blog. The backstage curtain rope from this particular post is really beautiful, and I'd like to include it in a background slide for a presentation on theatre. If you still check this blog, could you please let me know if that's OK? Thanks!