Letters to Holly

Saturday, July 18

First Show

Mom called me a few hours before the show. Her gall bladder will need to be removed but not now. What she has now is an ulcerated stomach. I'm not surprised. Her diet went to hell once Dad died; she ate rarely and badly. I had stomach ulcers as a child, and we all lived through that bland diet. She has medicine now and a diet sheet, and once this is over, they'll tackle the gall bladder.

I'm relieved for many reasons. But right now it means I don't have to add a long drive and visit to my play schedule.

I arrive a half hour before the actors are scheduled to. I thought the light guy and I would clean up the hall, but it's already done. The tables are arranged to welcome the audience and a concession table is decked out in summer props. The extra time isn't empty though, as I'm suddenly running around with things I haven't had to tackle before. The box-office table can't figure out why their equipment isn't getting power from the wall outlet. The sound guy and I spend ten minutes playing with the circuit breaker before we discover the box-office ladies didn't plug in their gear.

The sound guy hooks up a second mic for the ailing actor. His co-star in the third play doesn't arrive until half an hour after the actors are scheduled to show up. She's the newest face for me, and I never get an explanation for her absence. I remind her to call us next time. She doesn't go on for 90 minutes into the show, but I can't spend that 90 minutes hoping she shows up.

The light guy, the sound lady, and I debate a backstage light to help us work walk around to open the curtains. The light lady says its distracting to the audience. I say I prefer that to us knocking over the set pieces with our knees. We compromise by taking the light down to half. Why did everyone want a stage manager if they're gonna argue my decisions?

My liaison gives the curtain speech (after we quickly delineate the sequence of light changes with the light guy), and we're off. The sound lady blows her first cue; apparently the darkness and curtain speech didn't inform her that the show was starting. I'm screaming into the headset to hit the first sound. Finally it comes. We're a minute into the show, and I'm ready to kill. The actor with the mic didn't connect it properly, and his arm movements cause hi mic to cut out during his play. I have no chance to fix this; he doesn't leave the stage after the walks on.

The actress with the mic has now gotten so lazy with her voice that the mic isn't picking her up properly. To my shock, instead of telling her to talk above a mumble, the liaison and sound guy adjust the stage mics and give me new settings for just her play. I don't like getting more technical stuff to juggle.

It's still dead-air hot during the show, but now the Legionnaires are throwing a party on the other side of the wall. The cast and crew can hear them from the stage. What, the theatre folks didn't bother to remind them we're doing a show this weekend? Why am I not surprised?

I have a book to read backstage (Sons and Lovers), but my nervous energy keeps me tiptoeing backstage and checking the show's progress. The audience is 40-strong and vocal. They enjoy my cast, but my mom actress is slow. It sounds like she's unsure about the lines, and she in fact blows a couple. The others recover well. I ask her during the second play if she realizes what's she's doing. She says no. She then tries to dissect the line trouble, and I tell her to relax, enjoy the audience reaction and pick up her cues quicker. She's taking this way too seriously, and I regret saying anything. I don't want to be one of those directors who give notes after each performance. I won't do it again unless it's solicited.

We wrap up right on time at 10:20, and a free food reception encourages conversation. Some actors have stuck around for the food. The mumbling actress and the sound lady are conspiring to ad more music between plays. I don't care as long as they run it past the directors first. And then tell me. If I hear new music while moving sets, I'll freak out a bit. We don't add new stuff once the show opens. That's a practical rule.

I lock up at 11:20, a full five hours after I showed up, and I am beat. My feet are burgers. My clothes are chalky from dust and sweat.

The next morning, I have to convince my brain that we only do this twice more this week. I'm so accustomed to seeing the play as an endless tunnel stretching months into the future. We've actually trudged forward, and this patchwork A-Team hang glider is airborne. My ailing actor called to say his voice is better, and I assured him we can adjust his mic as need be.

I should point out the compliments I'm getting from everyone. It's mixture of relief that someone is doing the work, and that I'm so far not biting off heads.

Your Sis is safely in the hinterlands and enjoying doing nothing.

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