Letters to Holly

Sunday, July 12

Someone Had to Do It

Tech rehearsal is always a blur, and I'll try to recall what I can (and what is worth the memory), but the top story is this: I'm the stage manager.

I don't want to. Nobody wanted to. That was the problem. I saw a rehearsal where no one was in charge, and I've never seen that before. I've seen directors lose their authority through incompetence or bitterness. I hadn't before entered a rehearsal with no ringleader. My liaison was a default mutual contact. He constructed the set and served as a hub for communication because he led the artistic committee, and this one-act anthology was arguably his creation. But he had also no interest in shepherding the show.

We were halfway through the first rehearsal of the entire show when he approached me sand said, in essence, if I didn't do this, the entire show would be a shambles. I could understand why. For three hours, I saw tech people, actors, and directors ask each other how the anthology would be stitched together, and the constant answer of "someone needs to ______" drifted through the legion hall. We had to organize the transitions between the one-acts, we had to catalog the props for the shows, we had to manage the progression of the rehearsal.

The incident that sparked my decision was this: a theatre stalwart threw a tantrum. Oh, I hear you. "What a rarity." And I can excuse her behavior as stemming from exhaustion. She took on too much. Two elements worked against her: her decision to act in a one-act she directed; and the desire of other actors to provide feedback. I don't like directors appearing in their shows. They need to stay removed to manage the production. Her show is very weak. It's 45 minutes of two people sitting and talking. It's lifeless. It's written badly, and I suspect it has no stage direction. Because of that probable flaw, the director has an immobile interaction. But that's not the worst part.

She doesn't project. She never has. She has a thin voice with a prominent accent and only total immersion allows you to grok her speaking style. When the first rehearsal was over, the major feedback (from too many eager helpers) was that she was inaudible. It was the truth, and she took it personally. Again, I think her schedule has left her weak and defenseless. I also think she too quickly pulls the martyr trigger. It's true the sound quality in not great in this old building. We all struggle with it. We have stage mics to help, but we all must project more than in other venues. It's a chore for us all. She reacted badly and threatened to quit. That was when my liaison had enough and asked me to step up. Not because I could win her over, but because this could incite a fatal spiral for the whole show.

So I said yes. The news spread quickly without a formal announcement. I could feel the relief. They just wanted someone at the wheel. We still had two one-acts to rehearse for the first of two times. We had been there for three hours already, and my first thought was to get this shit moving.

Let me go back to the beginning of the day. I went to the local charity furniture shop and officially picked out the table for my one-act. We'll use it free in exchange for a sponsor listing in the playbill. Turns out I had a painting class with the woman behind the counter. It's very small town.

I went to the legion hall to drop off my sound effects CD for the show. There I learned of the sound person, and it's the director from the courtroom play. The director who had a dramatic long-running argument with an actor and the same woman who had such trouble with the sound board for Scrooge. The theatre must be in dire, horrible straits if they must rely on this person to push the buttons. You might also remember that she called me to take the mom part in my one-act. I took her number, promised to keep her abreast, and blew her off. So here she is. Great. She never mentioned the part, to my relief.

The theatre soundmaster copied my files and adjusted files for the other shows. I watched the set construction and listened to concerns about the lack of coordinator. I again deferred. I needed first to see what how complicated the other shows were. The effort to get backstage help failed; there would be no extra people to move sets. It would be the actors and whoever was dumb enough to agree to be stage manager. I went back home.

At two o'clock, I met with my cast for a linethrough at the warehouse. It went OK. They're getting more lines straight as I bestow memory tricks. ("Your line is 'sit in your place of honor and put on your crown.' You have Place and Put. Two Ps. Use that.") We gathered up the props for this show and the other featuring two of my actors. This is the departure from the rehearsal space that underscores that we're creeping closer to opening night.

There was confusion about the time the rehearsal started. Some said 3, some said four. I had told my guys three for a long time, and I stuck by that. We had a regular volunteer who wanted to photograph the rehearsals for the newspaper, and she spent the first runthrough of shows snapping pics from a respectful distance. We couldn't start right away because the table set hadn't arrived yet. I had warned the actors that we'd adjust to the stage size and the new table and the presence of the rotating backdrops. It's a pinched space, and our first runthrough was awkward. There was a lot to adjust to, and they had no energy. As the second play started their rehearsal, I pulled my guys aside for notes.

The second play is what led to the tantrum and my decision. The third one-act is about fifteen minutes long, and the director of that play had to read for an actress who couldn't make it. That's inexcusable. We already had to bump our open rehearsal on Wednesday because someone won't be there. And it was here that I mentally made the distinction for my responsibility. I can't make the sound guys improve their competence, and I won't brush aside the directors for my own notes. I will help the one-acts take and leave the stage. I will cue the tech guys when the actors are ready for to go onstage. I won't micromanage.

I started taking notes of the other plays' props and sets and began mapping the backstage area. They won't require as much floorspace as I feared. My play clearly has to most props and furniture. The fourth play only needs a park bench, and it's the only piece not from my play that will sit on that side of the backstage area.

Now my understanding of a double-tech is different than what the tech guys expected. In my notion, you move only through the sound and lights cues for the first go-round, and then you rehearse the full plays. We didn't. We did the entire show twice. That didn't help the day end quicker, and if I had stepped up sooner, that would have been my first decree. Instead, I took the stage after the fourth play ended, asked for attention, and announced we were going to start again immediately, and that if actors weren't in that one-act, they could take half an hour to eat. We'd be through in 45 minutes, and the next show (featuring the crying actress) would start.

I showed my guys how I had arranged the play's furniture backstage and told them this is where it would return when we were through. They learned it, and we began. My demeanor had changed. I wasn't counting the seconds until I could go home. I was taking notes, walking throughout the hall, and talking louder. I was declaring and asking if people were ready. I was managing. I did it years ago for a musical with a ton of props and small set pieces. But I sat in on that show from the auditions. I didn't even have scripts for the other three shows. I relied on the actors/directors to tell me when they tech people missed a cue.

We started the second round of rehearsals at 7-something and ended at 10. Most of that delay was when the crying actress issued an ultimatum. If she was going to do the rehearsal without a body mic (which no one else was using) AND someone said she wasn't loud enough, she was quitting. Before I could tell her to go home, the sound guy worked up a body mic and spent that play's rehearsal adjusting the speakers. He was pissed, and he should have been. She did the show, and she refused to talk above her normal Southern mumble. So she'll have a mic and remain barely audible, and her interminable, inaudible one-act will be the dog of the shows. It's a shame. She and the younger actress have learned a shitload of lines.

I also decided that another such ultimatum will remove her one-act, and we'll do the entire show without an intermission. I don't intend to address this Monday unless she pulls this stunt again.

When I addressed everyone about eating, I asked them to ask the tech crew what they wanted to eat and grab it for them. The theatre would reimburse them. I had no idea if this was how it worked, but the crew gotta eat. They can't leave like the offstage actors can. Well, that request didn't happen. They didn't eat. I didn't eat. If you're keeping score, that's seven hours without a meal. So if someone tries to relive the diva fit Monday for some sort of cathartic confrontation, I'll remind him or her that they abandoned the crew. So we'll let Saturday stay in the past.

I continued to make tech notes as the one-acts continued, and I gave the fourth play some feedback only because they asked for it. They took it very well. They also have the best projection, and we'll need them to use their clear voice to wake up the audience.

The soundmaster showed me how to close up the hall, and I got home to find Your Sister waiting with a pizza and a 40 of Smirnoff Ice. I love Your Sister. I ranted and apologized for the late supper and crashed heavy for the night.

Your Sister said accepting the manager position makes me Jack from Lost. I shall now cry every other sentence.

On Sunday, I met with my liaison, the guy who gave me the hard sell about managing, and we exchanged notes. I told him of my notion to cut the second-one-act if the actress makes the ultimatum again. He wasn't happy.

"What about the posters? We promised four plays."
"What about the other actors," I said. "What about the people who showed up on time, ready to rehearse? I can't let them sit while she decides IF she wants to rehearse. I can't reward that behavior."

If they don't like the way I stage-manage, they can find someone else. They wanted me. They got me. This play is on my schedule now. And that's when I realized my new role is a thrill. I GET to be stage manager. I get to make the decisions. I get to spank divas and reward hard workers.

My priority is to ensure these actors don't feel they wasted their time. I can't make the show perfect in less than a week. I won't try. But I can help the actors get through it.

My liaison said he'd call the actress, play dumb, and hear her side of the story. He'd also remind her to be a professional. I hope it works. Again, tech rehearsals are never fun, and I'd love to keep Saturday behind us.

On Sunday, Your Parents came over to fix the dry wall when it was damaged from last year's water-heater explosion. We fed them for their trouble, but I was distracted by mental organizing for the show. I even dreamed about it. I don't want to reinvent the wheel. I just want to make it run smoothly.

But, secretly, honestly, I hope the diva says something. I've got my speech ready.

Starting tonight, we assemble ten times, including the performances. Ten times, and we're through. I've been in shows that had more performances than that. This is do-able.

Oh, speaking of ultimatums (ultimatae?), I told Your Sister she is not seeing this show. She'll be gone most of it for a vacation, but still. I never issue decrees like this, but it's for the best. We need to minimize exposure to it within the house.

Remember, they asked her to stage manage this show too. What if the diva had pulled that shit with Your Sister? I would have to hide the body in the forest.

Picture of the Day
Did someone say House?

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