Thursday, October 13, 2016

The hardest-working person in theater

Here’s another chapter in the making of a play – notably mine – GOING GOING GONE, currently playing at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood.

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:

Organizes the rehearsals. Sends out notifications to the actors, prints out scripts, and prepares the rehearsal hall (setting up tables, chairs, props, etc.).

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.


ChipO said...

It was HOT on that broken HVAC night. If I had paid more than a pittance for the tickets, we would've requested $$ back - until we saw the show and were thankful we were able to be part of it.
I laughed - even in the heat.

stephen catron said...

Having been apart of amateur theatre most of my life I know the stage manager is the true hero of all productions. So much is asked of them and they get no glory. I hope yours is paid well. Ours are all volunteers. Bless them.

Cliff said...

We were way early last Friday, and saw Emyli multiple times in the Hudson Cafe, getting water bottles for the stage and just doing task after task, with a smile and friendly greeting as she sailed by. Seems like a real gem.

If you haven't seen the play, GO! You'll enjoy the time!

Covarr said...

I've gotta say, a good stage manager can make or break a show. I've worked with a few since I started doing community theater, as well as done a show without (it was OUR TOWN, which thankfully is simple enough in sets it doesn't need one nearly as badly, provided the director can step in a little more here and there, which ours did).

The best stage manager I worked with was backstage at every show. Not only had she assigned every element of every scene change to an appropriate actor (small theater, very hard to find enough crew so we rely on cast for these things), but she helped out with most of them herself. She always stood just behind the curtain, with a whole book she'd prepared full of cues, so that nothing could ever be missed. It wasn't just prop and scene cues, either. She had light and sound cues in there, despite not working the booth, so she could communicate with them and nip any potential problems in the bud. Every night after the show, she would reset the stage and all our props on the prop table, and every evening before the show she'd double check to make sure nothing had been moved. Extremely hands-on, and thanks to her that show ran smoother than any other I've ever been in.

The worst stage manager I ever worked with was still pretty good. She wasn't nearly as hands-on, nor did she have the mobility to even try to help on that same level, but she was good at making sure everything was assigned properly, and propers were where they needed to be. In that show, the director was very involved, even through closing night, so it wasn't a problem that our stage manager couldn't do as much.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I sat in the back of the theater, just under the booth last Friday. I waived to Emyli on the way out and was truly struck by what an unpretentious, friendly, genuine smile came back at me. And her tattoo is pretty cool.

The play is just as good in the last row, by the way.

MikeK.Pa. said...

You always write such nice, glowing tributes of people who've passed on. How nice that Emyli gets to enjoy this. Question: Are stage managers attached to particular theaters or do they go wherever they're needed?

Wayne said...

OUR TOWN does have a stage manager. In fact, it's a speaking role.

Diane D said...

I saw a play many years ago---it would have been community theatre or a small theatre in Chicago---in which the cast had to do the scene changes. It was so beautifully done that I have long forgotten everything about it except those scene changes. The lights were turned down so low that the cast looked like shadows, and they moved so gracefully in long, slow dance steps, you would have thought they were all professional dancers---lifting chairs and small tables and gliding off the stage with them. It may be a technique many of you are familiar with, but I had never seen it before or since.
I've never seen a play in which I felt like I almost knew the playwright, and I would love to see GOING, GOING, GONE, but 3000 miles is a little too far---I guess. My children might have me committed.