The Art of Success

We are heading into another tech weekend. I know because I sat in tech rehearsal last night and counted every person in the room so I could know how many dozens of donuts to bring tomorrow. Four. This weekend,  we are in the world of William Hogarth, complete with denizens of the bawdy Beefsteak Club and the Pleasure Garden. The play: “The Art of Success” by Nick Dear.

I arrived tonight shortly after the rehearsal had begun, more or less straight from the production meeting for our New Works plays. Fridays work that way – I started at 10 with a committee meeting, then a faculty meeting, then a production faculty meeting, then some desk jockeying, then the first meeting for the New Works Plays. Dashed to the fridge to get my salad and then went off to the McClintock Theatre  where I plunged into the tech-disheveled,thrust-configuration theatre, and pushed my bag under a chair.

The cast, the BFA Juniors from the USC School of Dramatic Arts were arrayed around the stage in a tableau reminiscent of Hogarth’s Scene in a Tavern.

William Hogarth - Scene in a Tavern

The actors, all in their rehearsal costumes, corseted, and coated, were draped about the stage like satyrs after an especially athletic night. The students on the crew sat in a section of the house watching the process, and then working on their homework as the time-consuming process of building the light cues took place. We will spend 24 of the next 48 hours in the theatre, stumbling around in the house, forcing our eyes to adjust from the hallway to the dimly lit theatre. I remember once, probably 15-20 years ago, when I returned to the stage manager podium at the Pasadena Playhouse to find that someone had affixed a little sign on the podium. It read, “Tired of working in the dark?” I thought to myself, never. And 20 years later, I keep coming back for more. It is home.

Some tech weekends are more difficult than others. I happen to really enjoy watching Stephanie Shroyer work. She has the most extraordinary sense of spatial relationships and brings out the best in her actors and designers. She demands commitment from each of her actors, and specificity of physical and emotional choices. Watching her work reminds me of Frank Hauser’s description of the director’s role.

“The Director’s Role: You are the obstetrician. You are not the parent of this child we call the play. You are present at its birth for clinical reasons, like a doctor or midwife. Your job most of the time is simply to do no harm.
When something does go wrong, however, your awareness that something is awry–and your clinical intervention to correct it–can determine whether the child will thrive or suffer, live or die.”
― Frank HauserNotes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director’s Chair

Stephanie runs her birthing suite with style and meticulous detail to the instruments needed. Because her process is so organic, it can be slower than most of our productions to gel. This can be frustrating to designers with less experience, but the results are always stunning and I’ve never seen her lose a patient yet.

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