Well, not exactly that many, but I thought I'd finally put down a few of the things I took away from my experience stage managing The 39 Steps last month. This was a different experience. Not bad, it had many good moments and on balance I had a really good time, but it I didn't walk away with the same feeling I did from Wizard of Oz, or even Tuesdays with Morrie or the Talkin' 'Bout My Generation shows. I don't think anyone did. Truth be told, this is my second attempt at writing this. I wrote a post about a week ago with the same name, posted it one night and within about 12 hours I deleted it. It was honest and fair, I thought, but after a night sleeping on it and reading it again, I decided it wasn't what I wanted up here. That experience alone tells me volumes about my mixed feelings after this show. But I'm going to try again. Maybe sanitized isn't the right word, but this will be an easier thing for me to read in a few months, I think.
1. Playing It By Ear
39 Steps was my first foray into "calling a show." This is a stage manager duty that entails helping to let the tech people know when to execute a light change or play a sound effect. I was in communication with Gillian, our light tech, during this show using a set of headphones and a mic. This was cool in that I love gadgets and this totally played to my walkie-talkie nostalgia. It always seemed Gillian was asking me a question or telling me something at the most inopportune moments, but it wasn't her fault and it was more amusing than anything else. The tricky part of this was that I had to give Gillian cues based on the actors on stage being in place and ready when I had no way of actually SEEING the stage. I was behind a blackout curtain. This meant I learned to know the pace of the show and the actors and to use my ears to tell what was going on out on stage. Luckily, the hollow stage made every movement quite loud enough to hear, so it wasn't terribly challenging. It was just pretty funny to me that my introduction to this aspect of stage direction was done blind.
2. Community Theater Is Held Together With Duct Tape
Well, maybe not exactly, but it would be much harder without it. I started the show with four rolls of different colors of duct tape and finished with, I believe, seven. Black, white, glow-in-the-dark and my personal favorite, Liz-in-Winter all had uses that required that color and no other. Duct tape held the fog machine pipe in place, kept the knife in Annabelle's back, held the shadow puppets together, let us know where the curtain opening was and kept random wires from clotheslining actors. My stagehand used it in manner not appropriate to discuss on a family blog. Duct tape is my friend.
We had a troublesome prop on this show. A lamp we used in one scene started shocking me during tech week and continued to do so pretty regularly. The tech director and director weren't bothered by this, so I just let it be rather than looking closely at the lamp to see what the problem was and fix it my own bad self. It turned out to be just a matter of replacing the ludicrously tiny light bulb. Anyhow, I didn't and so the completely predictable happened and we ended up shorting out about a third of the building. We blew lots of fuses in control boxes and blew out several relatively expensive light bulbs. The second act of that show featured a rather improvised shadow puppet effect and no fog machine and a darkened stage right and actors had to navigate some very sketchy steps with only little flashlights to see by. I could have prevented this with a trip to Lowes. Next time I will.
4. Dealing With An Off Night
The night the fuse blew was just an off show. I suppose it was good, in a way, that the lamp snafu didn't happen during a good show, but still, having such an off night was troubling. It was awkward and negative from the very beginning, when we all arrived at the theater long before show time. The strange thing was that we were coming off the best show of our run as of that point and had every reason to be proud and happy with ourselves and each other, but it wasn't like that. Anyhow, the important part was that we all came back for the next show and shook everything off and put forth a great performance. That was an important lesson, nothing in live theater is lasting, neither the good nor the bad. A great show doesn't ensure the next will be even better, but by the same token, a poor one doesn't throw the train off the tracks. Every night is a fresh slate.
5. Be Part Of The Immune System, Not A Band-Aid
This is far and away my favorite, and I suspect time will prove it the most valuable, lesson. Director Jen was happy, she said, with my ability to see a problem and fix it quickly. She wants me to learn, however, to slow down sometimes and think of a solution that not only fixes the problem, but does so within the show. I was a band-aid, I need to be a white blood cell. This is tricky for me as this is NOT the way my mind works. I'm not theatrical, but I want to be and I am trying to learn to change the way I think. It's a challenge, but a really fun one. This is why I enjoy working with Brunswick Little Theatre, and one of the best parts of my friendship with Jen. Both push me to open those new doors. And I'm getting more and more comfortable doing so.