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.


Until you buy something new, you have no idea how many variations there are. For instance, nails. I wanted to reattach the baseboards to the walls. These were pried off when the water heater died and leaked. I checked the nail remnants, and it looked like a simple matter to replace them. Until I went to Lowe's and discovered a quarter of an aisle devoted only to nails. Dozens of types and lengths.

This is good. Carpenters and contractors need a variety of them. But Lowe's should have a simplified store section for people like me. One can go to the regular aisle to get exterior galvanized 3 and 1/4 inch nails with countersink heads. Or one can go to the simplified section where you find hundreds of one box style marked NAILS. That's what I wanted. What I bought seemed to work OK, but we're missing some baseboards. I reattached what I could. Then I ran for two miles.

Your Sis called last night to affirm she is still alive, but she would spill no beans of what I suspect are multiple adventures featuring bears and platinum mines and handsome lumberjack colonies. She's having a fantastic time, and I'll see her after the show on Saturday.

This weekend is the annual Comic Con, North America's biggest and most important pop-culture convention with news of future events spilling about like marbles. Somewhere in the midst of it is a comic story I made. That's heady stuff.

The last three shows begin tonight. Hard to believe I'm finally at this point. The local paper ran our "review," which uses the default newspaper template of simply naming all the performers. We have brought in more people than the three-act debut play in May, and plans are afoot to buy a new curtain set for the stage. Deck chairs and Titanic and all that.

Picture of the Day
One such revelation is the teaser poster for a remake of the Elm Street franchise. I dressed up as Freddy one Halloween while in high school. I had never seen the movies so my costume was very wrong. I'm not as annoyed as others my age by all the remakes. I like the idea of franchise cycles, and I fully expect to see a Star Wars remake before I'm twice this age.

Thursday, July 23

Mid-Week Rehearsal

It doesn't feel like much of a break from the show, and I suppose that's by design. We can't forget anything if we're only away for a few days. I told the gang to ignore costumes as I'm focusing on tech and lines. I pre-set the stage after Sunday's show so we could start immediately. My cast arrives on time, but the mom actress wants to discuss her character. Uh oh.

I dislike changes this deep into a production. We're halfway done. She wants to add layers to the character. That's fine. She wants to moderate the character's tone. That's fine too. I'm concerned about those changes in delivery throwing off the other actors. She's concerned the audience doesn't like her character and won't invest in the show. I argue they have invested. We get good reactions. They laugh. That's what we want. I also tell her we can't make the play something it isn't. It's a thin sitcom. Nothing more. It has many weaknesses, and we can't reconstruct the script with three performances left. She said she knew I'd say that. Well, sure, it's what I've been saying all along.

I suspect that she's spending too much time reading the play. This sounds counter intuitive. I believe that once the lines and stage business are set in memory, you chuck the script. Looking at it will confuse you. At this point in a show, the script and the onstage material are distinct. Going back to the script once an audience has reacted to you throws you off and leads to just this overthinking. She now seees her script as an audience representative instead of as a theatre representative. Of course we have to consider the audience when doing a show. Sure. But we do that in rehearsal. If we do it now, we invite chaos.

The play goes breezily, and the actors enjoy the relaxed mood. The mom is kinder onstage, and I don't mind the change so long, again, as it doesn't throw off the actors who are accustomed to weeks of the previous delivery style. I tell them afterward that the quick, light style is funny, and funny is what we want. I pat them on the heads and send them on they're way. I still call them "my guys" to the otehr actors. I explain that I've worked with them longer. I love my foundlings, but these are my firstborn, and I'm prejudiced. I don't love them more; I love them more often.

The rest of the show doesn't get the same degree of attention from me. I keep an ear out for sound and light cues, and they go fine. We skip the intermission and finish about 15 minutes early. A third-play actress decides to sneak backstage, and she clobbers our set. I try to sound OK with it and chuckle it away. We're lucky she didn't break our backdrop. As she's leaving the stage, she goes the same way and does it again, and now I want to put her in a catapult. She apologizes a lot.

Just three more times with this show, and we're really and truly done and did and finished and over.

It's almost daylight as I leave to grab fast food and watch the president talk healthcare. He fucking nails it, deflecting every talking point talk radio has used against him for weeks.

I've begun plinking away at the piano using the old starter books. The cats are hypnotized by the resonant wooden box that meows louder than them.

I slept in and missed my run window. I'll do that once I get home tonight. It's rained, and the air is cool.

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, July 21

Bachelor Life

The bachelor life hasn't extended this long since I married Your Sis. We did have the long break right after I moved here, and she left to visit you in Snazziland. The shift would be more jarring, I suppose, if I hadn't been gone so much last week with the play. It got us accustomed to not seeing the other.

It's a big house for one person. I'm hyper-aware of having so much space to myself. I'm also sticking largely to our old routines. I wake up at the same time, etc. The freedom of schedule is almost unsettling what with no wife and no play, both temporarily.

I need to do something to commemorate her return, but I haven't had the inspiration yet. On Sunday, she told me she'd be out of communication for a few days, much like an astronaut on the dark side of the moon. She's my prairie-naut, shacked in a log-cabin space station.

I ran yesterday when I got home. I haven't run in the evening in months, but the clear air made it feel like the morning run. The time away from running (almost two weeks) worried me, but my body seemed eager to get back at it. My feet are still swollen from the play work. Still, they didn't bother me during the run.

More high-school folks are contacting me through FaceBook, and I chatted with an especially close old friend last night. We traded stories from the past decades and cringed over our prom picture.

Picture of the Day
A online conversation about the moon-landing anniversary reminded me of when Oscar the Grouch's pet worm went to space:

Monday, July 20

Third Show

You never know what Sunday crowds will be like. The common notion is that they will be stuffy blue-hairs, few and prim and too polite to laugh. We didn't have that this show. It was a small crowd, but it swelled with eight walk-ins, making for a much better audience than we had any right to expect. This is another no-name show, and we're happy if we have more than 15 people. These people were vocal and attentive. We can't ask for more.

Some theatre regulars were there. The house manager, with whom I coordinate the beginning of the first and second acts, was my wife from the murder play. Her husband is one of the highly regarded directors. He also runs the committee for choosing the debut plays competition. When we last met, he gave me the sales push to joining the committee. This time, he tries to get me to take over the committee next year, relieving him of the burden. I don't bite. He and others joke that I am the theatre at this point. They see my director stint as a potential spark to revive the theatre. I suppose my departure at the end of this play will hit them hard. I don't feel bad about that anymore. I'm no local-show Jesus.

One tech slip occurred when the stage lights were turned on much too early for a show transition. The light guy immediately apologized as soon as intermission started. I told him he was due for a couple of mistakes to balance out the sound problems.

We had a much bigger issue outside. The actor bathrooms were flooding into the sidewalk on the other side of their wall. They were horrified. While the first play ran -- my play, the play I want to listen to every day -- I called around to get a contact for the building. While the show continued, someone arrived to address the situation. We didn't see them, but we could tell someone was there. The actors can use the regular bathrooms at the back of the hall. They prefer to not be seen in costume offstage, but when you gotta go ...

My curtain speech was probably a bit quick. To make up for that, the mom actress went back to her old habits of extending her lines and adding vocal noises before speaking. We don't get "Rochelle will visit me. Rochell loves me." We get "Oooooohhhh, um ... Rochelle ... Rocheeeeelle loves me, and Rocheeeeelle will visit meeeeeeeee." She doesn't talk like this offstage. She's clear and bright and considerate in conversation. She's a smart cookie. But she's determined to make Mom a tragic caricature. She wanted to do Glass Menagerie this season and petitioned the script committee to choose it. I think she's trying to turn a 30-minute sitcom into Tennessee Williams.

She knew she screwed up. She didn't get the reactions she did Saturday, and I hope the time off (the blessed, glorious time off) will set in her head the clear results of listening to the director (oh hey, that's me).

Everyone else was good, and we ended again right at 2 hours and twenty minutes. It's not my doing that hits that mark each day. It's happenstance.

I got home before 6 and mowed the yard and put out snail bait. Your Sis called to say she's enjoying her unplugged cabin experience. I'm sprawling like a proper bachelor, but I did the laundry. I woke up to beat to run, and I plan to do two miles when I get home tonight.

Picture of the Day
This is the first look at Scarlet Johannsen as Black Widow, the Soviet spy who flirts and flights with Tony Stark. I watched Downey in Zodiac last night, and he's good as always.

The comic character traditionally looks like this:

I don't know where they got the Raggedy Ann curls.

Sunday, July 19

Second Show

Cooler air helped the show start on a lighter note. The concession folks hooked up a popcorn machine before everyone arrived, and the hall held that aroma the entire night. The previous two nights finally cemented a routine, and I was relaxed. I think we all were. That was a little worrisome; this is when mistakes happen. We were taping tonight too.

The board president arrived just in time to do his speech. He's not a great conversationalist, at least with me. We're still getting to know each other. But when he took the stage, he had shtick, and it went over great. He warmed up the small audience, and I appreciated it. Before we officially began, I told my cast to enjoy themselves. I particularly wanted the mom actress to settle down and get her lines out quickly. She nailed it. She was a one-liner machine, and the audience went crazy for her. It was her best performance yet, and I lavished her and the others with praise. It was a shame the audience was too polite to guffaw; the cast earned a reaction similar to Friday night.

I read more and chatted more during the show, and it went smooth until intermission. The sound lady warned me that the computer was acting weird. I attribute all such comments to her competence. Also, she continues to add flourishes during the intermissions. She's playing more music and different music. I suspect she's asking the computer to do stuff without realizing it will now behave differently. Rehearsals are to establish routine, and she's removing that. So of course, when we got to the end of the third play and its required thunderclap, we got classical music instead. Luckily, the cue was supposed to be a sign from God. But still.

As the fourth play was set to begin, the lights stayed down. The audience knew something was wrong. I was just offstage whisper-screaming into the headset to hit the lights. The computer had to be rebooted, I was told. But the computer only controls the sound, not the light. Hit. The. Lights, I hissed. Finally, they came up. I stormed to the dressing room. The third-play actors were joking about the cue screw-up. The actor turned to me as I walked in.

"Hey, Gregory ... " he said.
"Don't worry. She'll die."

That got a laugh. I was Hulking out a bit.

When the show ended, I bee-lined to the tech table, and she began her tale of woe. The words "something" and "doohickey" were used, and I got enough to understand that she rebooted in time to give us sound for the fourth play. I thanked her for that. But I warned her to stop doing new stuff if it's going to lock up the PC.

Speaking of locking up, I got to close up the theatre around 11 and made the short drive for a Burger King drive-thru.

Things always screw up when we tape a show. Always. But Sunday's show is the end of a long week. I'll get to go home in daylight and take a few days off.

I got up this morning to weed the garden, tie up the tomato plants, and water the garden. I have to put out snail bait tonight, and I might mow the yard while the sun is still out. I'm willing to do anything once the play is done today. I can reshingle a roof if it means doing something different. I mean, besides washing all my stage-manager clothes. I have a pile of black to hose down.