Letters to Holly

Monday, November 12

Last Show

Much like the play itself, one is left wondering who the real bad guy is and to what degree either party had dirty hands.

Here's what I could piece together through backstage conversations and emails: The videographer was brought in by the back-seat director. He's worked with this theatre before, but this is his first time taping at the courthouse. He allegedly told the back-seat director that the 3-foot lightstands on the edges of the attorney tables were creating hotspots. They didn't have the oomph to cover a wide area, and the close foot traffic made them too apparent. When the attorneys stood near them, we apparently lit up dramatically. The videographer had to tape the show twice because of sound issues and wondered if the second taping could be done without lights. The back-seat director then told the stage managers about the concern. The director wasn't at those shows if I remember right, so she wasn't consulted.

Tradition and good manners dictate that the director hand over the keys to the show once the show opens. Actors trade stories of those occasional directors who insist on making notes and changes for each performance, including after the last show. It would be abnormal to call up the director at this point regarding the lights. The stage managers got the comment about the light and had to make a decision. They surveyed the actors as to what effect removing the lights might have, but it wasn't worded that way. I got the question as "what do you think of the lights." I wanted to take care in answering, because while I didn't know about the video problem, I remembered that the stage managers built the light stands. I didn't want to knock their handiwork, but I did say I had problems with the lights, although I could and had work around them. Enough people answered similarly, and the managers shelved the lights. The camera guy didn't like them, and the actors wouldn't miss them.

When the director came to see the show again on the second weekend, she noticed the lights and asked about them. Unfortunately because the videographer talked to the back-seat director, she took it as another of his ploys to undermine her and became convinced the managers had been turned against her. She confronted the husband before the Friday show and then the wife in a between the first and second acts. The wife manager claims the director also noticed a Kleenex box on the witness stand, claimed it didn't belong, accused the manager of making yet another change behind her back, and threw it at her. This would have happened in front of the audience. That box belonged to the courtroom and had been in that position since we started rehearsing almost two weeks before. I nudge it toward the crying widow in Act One. She never mentioned it during that time. The lights were brought back in.

Sunday morning (more than 24 hours later and seemingly after the dust had settled) , the director sends out an email excoriating the managers, defining their roles in comparison to hers and accused the back-seat director of sabotaging the lights to both screw her over and, honest to God, getting rid of the lights so all the actors would appear as ugly as him. She repeated her "phantom voter" term to refer to actors who, as she saw it, didn't have the courage to approach her with concerns and thus had no place in "show business." I didn't know to what degree my comments about lights may have been mentioned, and she went to great lengths to personally insult the managers, and I had to respond.

Theatre is an outlet and conduit for experimentation and artistry, and the success of those efforts bloom in a structure of discipline and professionalism. And one of the absolutes of theatre is you don't screw with crew. When wronged and ornery, they can ruin you onstage and backstage. They are the field generals and the wardens. I have stage managed once, and before that I already had respect for that particular office. And it extends to the make-up folks, costumers, tech folks, ushers -- all the people who make the show work but don't get a curtain call.

I've seen this director handle the back-seat guy badly, and I've seen her juggle a production stung by chaos almost every day: Cast changes, absences, diva behavior, lack of access to the performance space and props, etc. But nothing excuses such an outburst -- intentional and public -- toward stage managers when they were doing exactly what they are supposed to: make decisions when the director is away. So I emailed everyone as I responded to her.

She replied that there were private messages from the back-seat director that proved that he had made all this up in an effort to belittle her, and my comments proved that no one would stand up for her. She would not be there for the last performance nor for the cast party. And she added that he "had won after all." I almost pulled a muscle rolling my eyes. "Paranoid" doesn't begin to cover it. I don't care why she'd rather be patted on the head then on the back, but if she doesn't care to exert her proper directorial authority in a professional way, I have no reason to stand up for her in any argument.

And I still had a show to do. There was obvious comment on the emails backstage before the show and during the cast party. People were happy with what I had said and how. The stripper said she knew things had gotten bad if I were responding to the accusations. I've bitten my tongue during this production. I have this venue to vent if I have to, and as I always said, this isn't my sandbox to clean up. But, again, you don't fuck with crew. The defendant is determined to write the board of the theatre with all the war stories. She used to be on the board, and she might have some weight to her comments. But even if the director isn't asked back, the back-seat guy would still be there to badger another director for potentially the fourth consecutive show. He may not have been the problem in this last specific scrum, but he's no angel either. I do make sure to hide the book I bought for the director so no one is tempted to scribble in anything mean-spirited. I did ask her to email me her mailing address so I can at least send her this gift. If she doesn't, I'll keep it. I'm tempted to refund the money for everyone who pitched in $2.

The housekeeper and I run lines before Act One so she wouldn't miss any lines. She also organized a cast party after the show and lines up the dishes and directions. She keeps a kosher house and wants to approve the dishes we offer to bring. I make my roasted potato and onion dish (chop them up, add oregano, basil, coriander, bake for 25 minutes at 450), and she OKs it. This is a short run for a show; we're all used to nine or 15 performances, and we have plenty of energy for this last go. No senioritis here. We do it well. We have a good crowd, and they pick up on the details early. No one nods off in the jury this time thankfully (I didn't mind; it gives me fewer eyes to lock onto during my arguments). The Swedish housekeeper blanks but I steer her back on course quickly enough. The first housekeeper gets all her lines in. I'm aware that I each line I deliver is the last time I have that scene or moment, and I try to give them a proper send-off. I feel good about the closing argument, but again get no "guilty" verdict. It's a clean sweep for Doc.

The cast party goes well, and we slowly peel off for the evening and say our good byes and congratulations. I'll miss this cast. They gelled very well despite the hiccups. We had game actors digging into their roles, determined to do the lines justice without hamming it up or carrying a method-acting air. It was a good atmosphere backstage, and the focus was on presenting a strong show. I don't fault this ensemble for bad management, and I intend to see them in subsequent shows as a sign of community-level acting efforts. I'm happy with what I did, even if I can't bring myself to watch the whole DVD just yet (I'm hypnotized by my lack of chin). The two months seems to have flown by, and now I have to become accustomed to free evenings again. But there are projects here and there to tackle, and I'm not soured enough on theatre to ignore audition listings for other companies. There is a musical I might try in the spring: School House Rock. I've worked up the nerve to sing onstage.

Official play website

Fifth Show
Fourth Show
Rehearsal Party
Third Show
Second Show

First Show
Biding Time
The Last Rehearsals
Countdown: Two Rehearsals
Extra Drama
Countdown: Three Rehearsals
Countdown: Four Rehearsals
Countdown: Five Rehearsals
Countdown: Six Rehearsals
Countdown: Seven Rehearsals

Clock is Ticking
My Big Speech
Punching a Cop Is Bad, Right?

Act Two Redux
Friday Through Sunday
Getting Serious
Our First Friday
Act Three Lines
Dusting Off Act One
Line Trouble
End of Second Week
'Go and Do Likewise, Gents'
Script Work
Walking and Talking
Marking the Floor


First Night
Second Night
Third Night
Fourth Night

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