I don’t begin to flatter myself that I know all the answers when it comes to choreographing complex sequences during tech rehearsals. I had the luxury, as did many of my Los Angeles stage management colleagues, of having a supportive TDs, technicians and production managers to back me up when I was in tech while I was “growing up” as a stage manager. Collectively, they taught me how to approach a shift, be prepared with a preliminary plan of attack, and then work it to make it faster and cleaner.
And there were some doozies of techs. The opening sequence of “The Royal Family” at the Ahmanson, was one such tech. The director, Tom Moore, was in the house cracking the whip and calling me out for the time it was taking to get through one of the sequences of cues. I can’t remember specifically whether he was on stage or I was at the time that he called me out for my slowness, but I do remember thinking that anyone in the complex could see me on the closed circuit TVs which sit in all the stage manager and crew offices all over the complex. Anyone can dial up the stage video monitor at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, the Taper Stage, or the Ahmanson, and there I was getting it from Tom in every crew office throughout the complex. Humiliating, yes; instructive, absolutely.
That’s why I was always grateful for the presence of the Taper and Ahmanson Production Supervisor, Frank Bayer. He was a master at choreographing shifts. This may have come from his early days as an actor with the APLA Phoenix Repertory Company. Working with Ellis Rabb, he might have developed a heightened sense of style and appreciation for the elegance of a well-crafted scene shifts. Or it might have been from his years of experience as a stage manager. At any rate, he brought it backstage to every tech, humbly and with his wry sense of humor, advising on the deck with the Taper and Ahmanson crews and ASMs to ensure that there was purpose and flow and economy to complex theatrical shifts.
Honestly, I kind of hated how his way was always better than what I had come up with – he just had an amazing grace in making things that were ungraceful better. And he always let you know that we were in it together. He never took credit for the flow; he just made it happen. Seemingly effortlessly. Ultimately, when he moved to New York, I grew to really appreciate what he had brought to the turntable.
So this weekend, when we were teching Pericles at the Bing Theatre, there were two sequences that we were working through. One involved a 12′ round wrestling mat, divided into 2′ wide segments, which folds in accordian style to center and is brought out by two students on the crew for Act II, sc. 2. The crew members were wrestling (ho ho ho) with it and the shift was going longer than the director, Rob Clare, wanted it to go. The stage manager, Summer, Rob, Hazel, the set designer and I approached the stage to gaze at the purple and black mat and will it into submission.
“WWFBD?” I asked myself, and suddenly knew the solution to the mat problem. Fold in from the sides to center, then have both crew members go to one side and pick up one half to waist height, knee the center and fold it on top of itself. Hardly elegant, but a different way to think about approaching it. Thanks, Frank!
Shift two – in order to suggest the ship scenes, Rob had requested four spans of rope which clips with caribiners to the upstage walls and then to the DS side of the top platform of the set. The sailors emerge through the upper level doors of the stage and clip the caribiners to clips, then drop the ropes for the sailors on deck, who run them down to the DS clips.
That shift is beautiful and needed no intervention. But the removal of the ropes, when we reversed the action, caused the heavy knots to bounce their way up the walls with a loud clunking sound as they were pulled into the doorways.
“WWFBD?” Unclip the caribiners at the top and hand that end of the rope down to the sailors on deck, who had unclipped their positions and walked back upstage to receive the hook. The crew carried the ropes offstage left and right, quietly and quickly.