Thursday, October 13, 2016
The hardest-working person in theater
Now the play is up and just clicking along. Getting to this point was not easy. The week before opening we had two dress rehearsals and then two previews with audiences. The first one was a disaster. The air conditioning in the theatre went out. There’s a reason David Letterman kept his studio in the 60’s and not 90’s. The first rule of comedy: People don’t laugh when they’re having a heat stroke.
The second preview went better although there were sound problems. But hey, that’s what previews are for. By opening night, everything worked and we were on our way.
To give you an idea of what goes on behind-the-scenes I want to focus today on the hardest working person in the production. No, it’s not the director, or producer, or even playwright (although he in particular is VITAL). It’s the stage manager.
Emyli Gudmundson is ours, and despite the bizarre spelling, is the one person that keeps the show going.
Here’s a list of just some of the things she does:
During the rehearsals she keeps track of all the blocking and makes notes of things the director or cast might need. She also keeps track of when the actors are required to go on a break.
After each rehearsal she has to file a report that goes to the producers, director, me, and I’m sure Putin. It lists what exactly was rehearsed and what additional requests the cast or director might have.
She then coordinates with the set designer, sound designer, lighting designer, costume designer – anyone who has “designer” in his or her title – along with the prop director and theatre representatives. She coordinates the building of the set.
She makes sure actors have suitable dressing rooms, props and sets get stored properly, and there are water bottles.
Before each show she dresses the stage, setting up the props. If there is food involved (like there is in my play), she arranges for the groceries and a microwave to cook them in. After each weekend she takes the costumes to the cleaners and picks them up before the next weekend’s shows.
After opening night the director generally disappears. The stage manager is then the de facto director. She leads the cast through a read-through before the first performance of the weekend. If there is a fight on stage Equity requires a fight rehearsal before every show. The stage manager runs that. If the director phones in notes for the actors it is the stage manager who delivers them. Not me.
Sometimes there are critics or VIP’s that request specific seats. The stage manager sets that up.
The stage manager also checks levels and lighting cues before each performance.
If there are any technical problems the stage manager does the trouble-shooting , and in Emyli’s case, she solves most of the problems.
All of the sound and lighting cues are built onto a computer program and during the actual show someone has to trigger all of those cues? Guess who that is? Yep.
One night she had to fill-in and usher.
During the performance, Emyli is in the booth having to pay strict attention to every second to the play so she can execute the cues. I’m getting tired just writing all of this.
After the show she stores the props and makes sure everything is put away properly. Then she writes a detailed report on the performance – the audience size, whether they were attentive, any screw-ups with explanations why, any instructions for the forty-seven “designers.”
Emyli is always the first to arrive and last to leave. Writing the play was easy compared to what she does. So my eternal gratitude to Emyli and all the stage managers that lurk in the shadows but keep theater alive.