Letters to Holly

Friday, July 24


Late in last week's shows, some one asked about a cast party. That was quickly corrected to a "production party" to highlight that the backstage crew would take part as well. I thought that was understood. Semantics. But again, no one would step up and say "I'll make this work like a champ." So I'm doing it.

The theatre liaison called me before Friday's show to see how rehearsal went and to to ask if the set is holding up and oh-by-the-way who's doing the cast party? Guess that's me. Again. One of the actresses is also working with the concession booth, and I'm hoping she can wrangle us some leftover drinks. This party will be after the last show, and we'll hold it at the performance hall. What hasn't been sold might be available to us. Otherwise I'll have to collect money from everyone and buy the drinks. What I'd like to see happen is to use that actress to get the food (probably pizza) and the drinks during the second half of the show. I'll be stage managing, and her work will be done in the first half. But this is the complaining actress I'm relying on. Will she step up? Who knows?

I was also asked to help take apart the set during the cast/production/whoever else party, and I'm OK with that if it goes quickly. I plan to also go quickly. Of course the size of the party will depend on how many people stay once their play is over. Most everyone takes off when they leave the stage.

I'm surprised that the theatre hasn't made arrangements with a local pizza place: the production parties use their business and the pizzeria gets a deal on playbill advertising. The company can't do big-cast plays so each show will have a dozen people tops. That's, what, five large pizzas for cast and crew and invited families. Maybe seven large pizzas. Let's say the theatre does eight shows a year: winter, spring, July 4 weekend, summer, broadway revue, kid's musical, and two fall shows. That's 60 pizzas a year guaranteed for a reduced advertising rate. That's gotta be worth a deal. And yet there's none in place. At least as far as anyone has told me yet, and it's possible someone will confirm such an arrangement as soon as the purchased pizzas arrive.

I'm a liberal-arts major. Why am I coming up with small-business deals that a board of directors made with local shop owners and lawyers hasn't put in place? There's probably a pizzeria owner on the board, for crying out loud.


I'm now typing this after the performance, and I almost killed the sound woman. She consistently plays a song earlier and earlier each night. Tonight she was way too early. Then she cut the song off entirely during the set change. As my back was turned to the audience to turn the set towers, I called her to start the song again. Eventually, it faded back in. Maybe an odd night, I thought.

No, she fucked up all night long. Songs were too quiet or too early or barely in time. During the intermission, I walked to the table and reminded her when the song is to start in the first play.

"I know," she said. "I heard you." She was dismissing the comment. We both knew it.

"Good," I said. "It shouldn't happen again tomorrow." I walked off, and she was giving me the eye. Except her "eye" is to smile while she's cursing me mentally. She thinks this fools people.

As I wanted to start the second half, I stood right behind the curtain and said "music off" into the walkie. The music continued. "Music off." Still nothing. Repeat and repeat. Then I say "turn the damn music off" loudly enough for the audience to hear through the stage mics. They chuckled. I threatened, like a parent, to go out to the sound table to say face-to-face to turn the music off. As I approached the stage door, I couldn't hear the song. I stopped. I thought it was over. I walked back to the curtain. Then I heard it again. As I marched to the door again, the light guy called "the music's off" over the walkie. We opened the curtain, the play started, and I darted into the green room to cool off.

But as I described what happened to the actors, I got more angry. They were surprised to hear me talk this way. You know, vulgar. They never hear that. I'm even-keeled in this office. But this was intentional. She was getting back at me for confronting her about the song. I know this. One of the actresses who is also a director asked why she is repeatedly asked to do this gig when this happens every show. She's a warm body pushing a button, that's all. That's the criteria for the theatre. I fumed backstage and made a deal with myself that, when I confront her about this after the show tonight, I'm prepared to fire her, as much as one can fire a volunteer. I would do sound if I had to. I had decided.

I stayed backstage as she fumbled more cues through the show. When the show was over, I stood at the stage door and counted to ten. The last two actors left the stage and thanked me. They listened to me rant aloud before their play, and they knew I was losing it. I wanted to be calm. Another actor had earlier argued that she couldn't be doing it on purpose, that it would be too petty. He's a kind man. He doesn't want to accept that. I told him I'd rather believe she was incompetent, but after two weeks, this kind of screw up has to be intentional.

"I know she was here Wednesday."

"She was here last weekend," the actress/director said.

So I stopped counting and opened the door. I bee-lined to the tech table.

"Can you hear me through the handset," I asked. The tech people use one walkie sitting on the table. The light guy controls it because he knows how to use it.

"I can hear you when you talk into it." That's a yes.

I won't transcribe the whole conversation, but here's the gist: She's bored, and she's fiddling with the cues to amuse herself. I told her that she would get her own handset, sitting right in front of her for the last shows. She would clearly hear me, and this would remove her alibi for not following the cues. She asked again to explain the cues throughout the show. I did.

"Oh, so I'll see you onstage, changing the set?"

"Yes, as you have for two weeks." Playing dumb wasn't working, she realized. So she fell back to the bitch mode last seen when she directed the courtroom show and went mental.

"I will follow the cues you say if they're given in a civil tone. An uncivil tone makes me angry." There was the smile again.

"And inconsistency makes me angry." The smile went away. "We have two nights left. We've done this for two weeks. Let's get through this and be done with it."

She started to pack her items up, and now she was fuming. I wanted to end this in the civil tone she just asked for.

"Let's start over tomorrow night. We'll come in and go from scratch."I smiled. She smiled back. And she left quickly.

I told the light guy about our conversation in case she acts funny tomorrow. He sighed and told me some things she did tonight, all of them squirrely as hell. I again think she's bored. The light guy gave a soft defense that the sound program has acted up, and she has more to keep track of. I blocked that excuse, saying she has plenty of time between sound cues. This is why I can believe she is bored. But she volunteered. Even the diva actress apologized for her tonight as I was Hulking out. The light guy agreed about the sound lady, and said, "you know, it's always someone else's fault with her." Yep.

Let's see how she is tomorrow.

Not that this was the only problem. The set frames are about to die on us, and tonight we had to adjust the top halves so they would accept the cloud panels we attach to them for the third play. As I fixed one, I knocked over the Coke can for that play and spilled water on the stage. I was mad at that too; they should wait for us to fix the set towers before bringing out their set stuff. The set towers will have larger gaps from now on. Their contact is destroying them.

When the show was about to begin, the mom actress spilled her coffee on the green-room staircase. I cleaned that up too. There is a standard rule that you can only drink water backstage. That way it can't stain if it's spilled on costumes. I should have presented that rule earlier, but then she should have remembered that too. Not that the coffee helped. She and the play were dragging tonight. I wasn't going to give any notes, but I was asked, and I told them the play was slow. But I congratulated them on certain lines.

Maybe this was our worst night, the nadir every show goes through. Maybe we cruise through the last two performances. Maybe maybe.

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