You remember that “I Love Lucy” episode, right? The one where Lucy and Ethel joined the theatre and had to extract a baby possum that found it’s way into a crate of props backstage? No?
Things are hopping at the School of Dramatic Arts these days. Tonight was the first/final/photo dress for the MFA Dramatic Writing New Works Festival Year Two Play, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Chinese People but were Afraid to Ask” by Fei Kayser.
Crew member Massimo Napoli and Stage Manager, Savannah Harrow review the scene shifts before the first/final/photo dress rehearsal
The New Works projects are some of my most favorite projects that we do: workshop productions of plays written by the second year MFA students in the Dramatic Writing Program. Budgets are minimal to contain the tech related to the plays so that most of the attention centers on the re-writing of the play by the playwright, supported by the guest director and the dramaturge assigned to each piece. We do three of them over three consecutive weeks and each process culminates in a weekend of performances in our smallest black box space, the Massman Theatre. Hence the telescoping of three distinct events in the timeline of a play: first/final/photo dress.
The designers for the plays are generally doing their first designs, after assisting as design Production Assistants on an earlier project in the fall semester. The stage managers are from the Freshman BFA class. What they know so far is based on the introductory design classes and their experience assisting older stage managers on Fall projects as well as whatever experience they brought with them from their high school programs. Which is, I can tell you, often, considerable and impressive. However, it is their first time out of the gate, and there is a lot to manage, even in a small workshop situation. Why? Because in addition to managing rehearsals for a play which, in this case, sports a cast size of 13 actors, the stage manager is receiving new pages from the playwright every day, or at least three times a week. Anyone who has stage-managed a new play can tell you that this is a considerable task. Introducing new material affects scene breakdowns, occasionally scenic elements, and usually always costumes.
After the first/final/photo event, freshman Stage Manager Savannah emerged from the booth, and in the same, calm, authoritative voice that she had used to guide her company through the preceding three days of techs, announced,
I think there is a possum in the booth.
My head turned as I looked at her with incredulity, and I asked her to repeat herself. “What??
Savannah calmly reported that she had gone to put a prop away in the crate in the booth, and saw something furry in the box. With the uncomfortable realization that I was one of “the grownups” in the room, I moved slowly into the booth, as the students gathered behind me. There in the corner of the booth was a small blue milk crate, filled with extra props, a prop laptop computer leaning on top of a Chinese toy mask and some candies and bananas in the bottom of the crate.
Grownup doesn’t begin to define what I was feeling as my heart pounded in my chest cavity. I grabbed a broom that leaned against the wall and tried to raise the laptop with the handle, discovering, just as she had said, a small gray furry critter at the bottom of the crate trying to, well, “play possum.” Despite its efforts, you could see its little sides heaving in and out; it had a lot to learn still about that trait.
By this time, my partner in crime, Tina Haatainen-Jones, Director of Design, had entered the booth, and she assumed the role of the real grown up, because I was now backing away from the crate as though it contained a rabid coyote. I have never been very good when faced with small rodents (I know, a possum is a marsupial, but it looks like a rat from the top view).
Tina began speaking in her really calm “It’s going to be all right” voice which is certainly what I should have begun doing when I discovered the critter, and buoyed by her voice, and that she promised it wouldn’t move quickly, we each grabbed a handle of the crate and picked it up, marching through the booth and outside the door of the theatre to the back of the building, where there were some trees, Tina narrating the release plan to the students who followed us with interest and giggles. Much hilarity ensued as we arrived at the tree, and without missing a beat, Tina reached into the crate and extracted the little fellow by lifting him by his tail, placing him on the tree trunk we were next to. He scampered away into the darkness, leaving his admirers pointing their iPhone flashlights and cameras at his receding tail.
We returned to the theatre and began gathering our bags to leave for the night. Tina offered me a ride to my car, which I gratefully accepted and which I’m sure she began to regret.
When I had arrived earlier in the day, I thought I had parked on level 5. However, even with my arm outside the window of her car pushing the button to make my car’s horn beep, after circling the garage for about ten minutes, I was becoming convinced that my car had either been stolen, or had been towed. This was particularly upsetting, as I had completed my car loan payments just earlier in the week, an event which I had celebrated with much excitement. Again, Tina calmly encouraged me to mentally retrace my steps.
Ok. I started the day at Smart and Final buying the meet and greet food for the two shows. After leaving S&F, I drove to the back of the MCC Building to drop off the first show’s food, then got back in my car and drove to the Scene Dock to drop off the second show’s food. Then I went to my office to drop off my bags and my food, parking in Lot 6 with my blinkers on.
Then I ran into David and we went to talk in my office about next year’s titles for the MFA. Oh! My car is probably in Lot 6 with a ticket and a drained battery!
Tina demonstrates our Lucy and Ethel-like understanding of how the jumper cables work
Lucy and Ethel prepare to jump the car battery
And that, gentle and most indulgent reader, was exactly where my car had been parked. By Me, no less, and promptly forgotten. Tina drove me to my car, produced the jumper cables from her trunk and the two of us hooked the two cars up; thanks to the instructions which were clearly printed on the case for the cables, guided by the good-natured support of two students who parked their car next to us while we were figuring it out, I was able to start my car. Then of course, I couldn’t go home yet, because I had to drive it a bit before turning it off.
After returning home, I invited my husband to come down and sit with me in the car to drink my milkshake, while recounting the day’s events.
I stopped at McDonald’s and that was the cherry on top of the day. I raise a glass to Tina and Savannah and the Baby Possum who all support the work at hand.