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Director Larissa Kokernot shares a light moment with Stage Manager Elizabeth Nordenholt during tech

It is Easter Sunday and we’re sitting in the dark. Again. We’re in tech for “The Waiting Room,” by Lisa Loomer, directed in this BA Only incarnation by Larissa Kokernot, here at USC School of Dramatic Arts. I should be having a strong sense of deja vu, as I was the SM for a workshop production a gajillion years ago, at the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Plays, directed by David Schweitzer at the John Anson Ford Theatre.  I know I attended the production when it moved to the Taper in August of 1994. There have been a lot of productions since then, and the “old hard drive,” aka my brain, needs defragging; it is almost like I’ve never read this play before.  I sat in rehearsals for at least two weeks, probably more like four when we did the play before 1994. Only a little more than 20 years ago. Sigh. Anyway, here we are now, and the three women who make up the characters of this play, Forgiveness from Heaven, Victoria, and Wanda are sitting on their respective clean white gurneys, designed by Sarah Krainin, and lit by Adam Blumenthal, in a triangular pattern arrayed on the set.

Sound Designer and Composer Colin Wambsgans builds cues during the last break of the night.

We’ve just finished teching what Director Larissa Kokernot refers to as the (spoiler alert) “Gurney Ballet,” and which I will always call the “A.R. Gurney ballet.” (I know; it’s a cheap way for me to add a tag to my blog to increase readership among scholars and theatre goers and generally swanky folk.) The A.R. Gurney ballet, masterfully choreographed, lit and with sound by Colin Wambsgans, serves as one of a dozen transitional moments in the play. The play transitions nine separate times in the first act, so as a director, one has to come to the table with some magical solutions. Hence the ballet. Larissa is a straight shooter. She is practical, straight forward, with a strong creative overview of all the play’s elements.

This production sports a lot of gurney-like objects. We did a serious purge of extraneous backstage furniture to accommodate the many silver-legged-white-topped furniture pieces. This followed a complete reorganization of tools we use in the space all the time: ladders, the “leg cart,” which holds the pipe that supports our audience risers, and the genie lift. Sarah and I poked our head into the dressing room yesterday, and Sarah said, “that table’s not doing anything.” I watched as the crew members, Shannon and Emily, who were sitting at the table using it for their homework began to look sad as we planned to remove their island of comfort. Those islands of comfort are critical for survival of tech. But backstage space is as important as on stage space. Designers and stage managers discuss stage real estate in production meetings. But for now, the storage issues have been solved and we are marching through the cue building. The actors are, during tech, in a metaphoric waiting room. The focus is not on them, but as I said to one of them during a break, “This is valuable time for you, to work out things that have bothered you that you haven’t had time to figure out.”

197 is Wanda’s line. 198 is Wanda’s cross.

Guest and Alum LD Adam Blumenthal works with THTR 130 student Casey Dunn on the light board in the McClintock Theatre.

It is great having Lighting Designer Adam Blumenthal back in the theatre with us, though this space didn’t yet exist when Adam was a student here. Adam graduated in 2007, and is now an accomplished lighting and scenic designer, as well as a magician. He works bicoastally, which is nice for me. I never hesitate to call him because he has defined his workspace as both Los Angeles and New York. Take note, designers, this is useful if you can swing it.

We hire guest designers to work on our shows sometimes; they are professional role models and give mentorship for our current students, augmenting our full-time design faculty. There is a also a magical theatrical echo effect when one of our alums comes back to play with us. On The Waiting Room, it happened when we were shuffling the furniture around the space and Adam saw the park bench we were using for the show. He greeted it like an old friend.

Hey, that’s the bench I designed for “A Boy’s Life!”

We have a guest stage manager, guest lighting designer and guest sound designer on this production. Elizabeth Nordenholt has worked with us before, as the stage manager last spring for “Fortinbras.” She has a wonderful easy way of working and demonstrates complete respect for actors, designers and her director. She keeps the room tone light and moving along. It is probably the most important role a stage manager plays – that of host or hostess of the creative tech process.

Let me know when you are done, Adam and Colin.

She nudges us all along, reminds us when to keep our voices down so that she can continue to communicate with the designers. She always takes a beat to ask the designers what they need before running a scene or moving forward. She cues the actors respectfully, and starts each scene with clear instructions.

We’ll be taking it from Nurse Bruce’s entrance. Whenever you are ready, Ladies!

Scenic Designer Sarah Krainin taking notes during tech.

I am often asked by students: Do you have to go to every tech?  Their eyes are usually wide with incredulity when they ask this. I’m not at every tech, but at about 90% of them. What allows me to keep my sanity? Perhaps this blog helps, but what keeps me engaged is the alchemy of constructing a show during tech. The designers work fervently, quickly, convening creatively after building their cues, the stage manager calling new sequences which are now much more than the sum of their parts.

As we worked the last transition, the women saying good-bye, the last tableau unfolding, leaving Forgiveness and Wanda on the last gurney center stage. I’m thrilled to report that the play has in large part, returned to me, powerful images and certain iconic scenes, which I will not spoil for you, tickling my memory.

When we finish tech in a few minutes, we will run-through an hour or so of the play in the time that’s left; the actors will take their play back, new and improved with lighting and sound and fluid transitions.  Tomorrow we’ll add costumes.

And on Thursday, we’ll hopefully add you, the audience!

Tickets for The Waiting Room

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