The Gospel at Colonus – Week 2

COLONUS ARTWeek two of rehearsals for The Gospel at Colonus has hastened the alchemy of character and scene work, familiarity with the music and blocking into a cohesive and, at the risk of jinxing it, potentially thrilling production. We are now working through the play each day, making discoveries and strengthening the telling of the Oedipus at Colonus story. Director Andi Chapman is skilled at opening doors by asking her actors the right question at the right moment in their process, and allowing their answer to be “I don’t know yet.”  I have watched a half-dozen times as the actors have listened to the question, and then thought a minute, their eyes widening in recognition. Watching Andi and the actors dissect the literal and metaphoric meanings of the script’s text has reawakened my creative intellect, reminded me again why I love being in rehearsals. The rehearsal room is (in the best circumstances) a crucible of exploration; time is taken for the important work of being and representing humans in all their heightened emotional phases – love, grief, remorse, pride, redemption. The two actors playing Oedipus, Roger Robinson, and Ellis Hall continue to raise the bar for each other – the musical text fortifying the spoken text in a powerful way. The depth of the work in the rehearsals has inspired me as well as all the others in the room, which bodes extremely well for the audience’s comprehension of the story.

Our numbers have grown, with several more talented singers joining us. Abdul Hamid Royal, our puckish and ironic Musical Director, has met and rehearsed once with the choir with another rehearsal planned this weekend. He has worked with the Choragos Quintet separately from the main rehearsals. The men in that Quintet (LaVan Davis, Otis Easter, Milton Ellis, Johnny Gilmore, and Gerald J. Mitchell) each have amazing vocal instruments and under Abdul Hamid’s direction, have blended strongly as a group.  Tomorrow we will assemble wholly for the first time, the four members of the Ismene Quartet (Jackie Gouché, Dorian Holley, Ricky Nelson and Sharletta Morgan-Harmony). If Jackie and Dorian are any indication of the level of talent of the other two, we (and you) are in for a treat.

That’s what I mean. Every day on this project has been like Christmas, or a birthday – the moments musically and dramatically unwrapping in front of our eyes.

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Madison Orgill-Rhoades, former USC student headed up the paint call at Colonus this week.

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Early moments of the load in for Colonus

Tuesday, the pieces of Ed Haynes’ set arrived in the back of a huge stake bed truck. Built by Sets-To-Go owners Mark Henderson and Tim Farmer, the set is not for the faint of heart. For the past three days, at every break and before I leave at night, I have hurried back to see the progress they have made in the load in. When I left rehearsal the first night, Andi sat next to Ed on one of the top choral platforms, overlooking the laying of the carpet on the lower stairs.

(I’ve already shown you too much. You will have to wait to see everything assembled when you come to see the show.)

Speaking of giving it away, this is a generous group. Each day, we have had several contributions of food from cast members, which makes the rehearsal room almost completely self-sustaining. We almost wouldn’t need to go out to eat, except this group likes each other and likes to eat. A combination which makes our lunch breaks very enjoyable.

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Jessica’s meta shot of her computer open to my blog….I promise it was before rehearsal began.

Tomorrow we get on stage for the first time, and will do spacing and realize in three dimensions the work we have done in the rehearsal space.  We will roll the freshly tuned piano into the theatre to support the work. Four of our five designers, Ed Haynes, Phil Allen, Naila Sanders and Karyn D.Lawrence will join us to see a stumble-through. Tom Ontiveros will join us later in the process. There is plenty left to do and plenty of time to do it before we begin tech rehearsals on June 9th.

Jessica, my PA, shared her snapchat photo with me yesterday. snapchatWhile snapchat is a younger person’s game, I am nevertheless learning how to more effectively use technology as a tool in stage management. When new actors join the company, I still will call them to touch base and make sure they have their call, but now I also  text them my contact info so that they can ingest it into their smart phones. That way they know whose call they aren’t answering…Just kidding – they are very responsible and acknowledge their calls. Though a busier group of actors I have not seen in a long time.

Now’s the time for you to book your tickets. Group sales are taking off – You can buy your Tickets to The Gospel At Colonus here. Hear’s to seeing you in the Holden for Ebony Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production.

 

I’m wearing my Blue Apron while I Washio the contents of My Trunk Club

It is a sign of something (what, I’m not sure yet, but am willing to bombard you with my theories about it) when we outsource the most quotidian transactions of our lives in the interest of efficiency and saving time. We are getting really good at learning how to pay others to live our lives for us.

I’m one to talk. I recently signed up for Blue Apron, a delivery service that once a week, organizes the ingredients and preparation descriptions for three restaurant-quality entrees for two people; it delivers them in a cardboard box emblazoned with its logo and packed with darling little plastic bags that tug at my sustainable little heartstrings.  You can, of course, tell them when you want the food delivered, and what foods you will eat – I have chosen the pescatarian option. When I unpack the box each Thursday, nestled among the water soluble ice packs are the ingredients for a surprise menu of foods that you might order at your local California style restaurant. Each meal is worth about 650-700 calories, and takes roughly a half hour to prepare. All you need to supply is salt, pepper, and olive oil, and the pots and pans you will need to prepare the food.

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#BlueApronWhitepestopizza

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#blueapronvegetablebibimbop

I have enjoyed coming home, picking out what I will prepare from the set of three glossy photo cards. I lay the card down on the counter, open the fridge, and reach into the vegetable drawer and meat drawer to extract the appropriate ingredients. I have learned more from the past five weeks about portions and preparation than I have in the over 30 years I have been cooking for us, and the food is flavorful and beautiful to look at.

Pros?

1) I no longer have to wander robotically through the aisles at Ralph’s, jamming my cart full of enticing vegetables that will puddle into a mush in the coming derelict days, while I zap another dinner into the microwave, eschewing the assembly of a fresh salad.

2) My dinner prep takes on the excitement of a chemistry lab experiment. The process welcomes a mindful cooking experience.  Yes, there is a lot of chopping and I wish that I had Rachel Ray’s sous chefs standing by to do that for me, but they haven’t figured out how to make those people available to me online yet. (Just a matter of time, folks, just a matter of time.) After cutting and chopping until the ingredients are assembled on my cutting board, I am guided step by step into the creation of something that makes both me and my husband swoon.

Cons? Very few, except the pesky packaging issues, which may eventually become morally reprehensible enough to me to stop the service.

What do I save in the use of this service? Well, brain cells, money and of course, the precious element of time.

On Facebook this week, I’ve been bombarded by ads for a service called Washio, a 24 hour pick up and drop off dry cleaning service which purports to save me even more time than my current dry cleaning arrangement, that consists of laboriously packing the white laundry bag and walking it across the street to Ralph’s, to the dry cleaning service there. I know, you’re thinking “Poor Els.”  I guess I could argue myself into saving myself those 150 steps to Ralph’s, but in the interest of promoting better health by walking each way, I will pass on Washio.

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Jason, the Account Executive’s trunk

Last night, when I opened the mail, my husband had received a discrete invitation to Trunk Club a Chicago based internet men’s clothing service which can provide a “stylist to help you build your wardrobe.” Jenny, the cheerful, midwestern stylist inside the booklet describes pictorially four different trunks, with clothes laid out as though on a bed awaiting to be packed.The four trunks belong to four ideal men, Jason, age 39 from California, an account executive; Chris, 44, a civil engineer based in Chicago, Jeff, age 34, a financial consultant from New Jersey, and Leon, a New York based writer director. For an average of $160/per items and an average of 14 items in the average trunk, you can drop  $2,240.00 to get a trunk of clothes.

I guess you can figure what the cons are in this equation. But the clothes look stylish and hey, if you’ve got some money to incinerate, go for it.

So what is it that we are doing with all the extra time that these body-snatchers are saving us? Where are those precious moments we have to think and ponder the worlds problems while we clean out the lint trap in the dryer and fold our smalls? What about the face time we are missing with the folks at Ralph’s, who smile at me and make me feel like I deserve their beautiful veggies? Or the time I spend cleaning out the vegetable drawer in my fridge? These are precious moments, people. As for the time I’ve saved? Productively paid forward? I know that I now end almost every day in a coma on the couch, playing about 25 games of solitaire on my computer while I watch the news before going to bed.

Well, hey, that’s worth the investment, right?

 

The Gospel At Colonus – First Days

Tuesday of this week,  we gathered for the first rehearsal for the Ebony Repertory Theatre’s production of Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s “The Gospel At Colonus.” I told you before about how my dear friend, ERT’s Founder/Producer, Wren T. Brown had contacted me a few months back about stage managing this production. I had said “No, I can’t do that,” but then, intrigued, added “What are the dates?”

Nothing could please me more than to work again with Wren. He embodies the humanity we all should strive to emulate as theatre artists; he is generous, funny, and knows how to kick off a rehearsal process in the most celebratory and validating way I have ever experienced.

I have been working a week to get ready for today’s rehearsal. Stage managers have lots of paperwork to put together in the week we call pre-production: contact sheets, calendars, scene breakdowns, you name it – if it can be organized, it will be organized during pre-production. In the final days of last week, I was assisted by one of my students, Jessica Major, who is the Production Assistant for the production. She assisted me with taping out the floor, and many other tasks in preparation for today. I don’t know who taught who more last week – I have always been a firm believer in two way mentorships.

I have also enjoyed getting to know Andi Chapman, who is directing the production, admiring her equally thorough organization of materials in preparation for the rehearsals. She and I worked through the play’s script and lyrics from the score, bonded from our first work comparing  indications in the score that the choir’s “oohs” should sound like “glue.”

I have a confession. First rehearsals stress me out. I get nervous at the responsibility for getting all the actors to the theatre at the right time, to have the coffee ready when the first actor walks in, to have the numbers correct on the contact sheet, and enough scripts and pencils and high lighters so that the work of the first readings can happen. This isn’t just because this is the first play I’ve stage managed in ten years. Even in the height of my stage management career, I would get nervous. So sorry, Jessica, and the others; I wish I could say it gets better. It does not. It is for me the most stressful day of the process. Much more stressful than tech rehearsals, where one might argue that there is far more pressure on the stage manager.

My husband laughed at me on Tuesday morning as I left the house.

“I’ve never seen you in such a state. You know everything will be fine; it always is.”

I knew he was right. When I bade him goodbye, I said, “I’ll be a different person when next you see me.”

He quoted Tyrone Guthrie as I rolled my bag out the door. “The most important thing about the first day of  rehearsal is to get to the second day of rehearsal.” And I was humming that tune on my way out of the house for sure that first day.

Which is where Wren T. Brown comes in. I needn’t have stressed the least bit. I could have sat there with a nervous stomach until lunch had it not been for his version of the “meet and greet.” The meet and greet is where the actors and theatre staff meet and get to know each other prior to the first read through of the play. Usually there’s a bagel or two, some fruit and coffee involvIMG_4156ed, and on Tuesday, there was an elegant spread provided for us by Production Manager Sheldon P. Lane, who stocked us up not only with yummy treats, but also with all the stationery supplies I could have dreamt of needing.

When it finally came time for the introductions, Wren T. Brown kicked into gear. Around the huge table sat a bevy of gifted actors: Tony winner Roger Robinson, William Allen Young, Sam Butler, the guitarist and balladeer from the original 1983 production and many incarnations, Kim Staunton, Ellis Hall, Jackie Gouché, Gilbert Glenn Brown, and even one of our recent MFA grads from USC, Sedale Threatt, Jr. Three  of the four members of the design team, Ed Haynes, Phil Allen, Naila Sanders sat, waiting to talk about their design concepts; musical director Abdul Hamid Royal and Tony Jones, the Choral director for the Los Angeles Young Adults of Gospel Music Workshop of America were standing by to hear the actor read the play.

Beginning with the youngest members of the company, Wren introduced us to each other. Just a lbutterfliesine or two, but he pronounced our strengths and capabilities to every one in the room, including, often to the day of meeting each other, what our personal history with him was. It was an individual unveiling of each artist in the room to the context of the history of the Ebony Repertory Theatre and what we would individually bring to make this project literally sing in the theatre. I don’t know if I could ever say that I have been seen like that before in a rehearsal room, nor will it probably ever happen again. Wren took each of us and pinned us up for just a moment, like a lepidopterist pinning a bright array of butterflies on a board, for all of us to marvel in their splendor. It was quite extraordinary. We ended the introductions with a song, sung at the piano by Mr. Ellis Hall.

And each day we have spent together since Tuesday has helped us to celebrate more the collective talent in the room. As I collect the bios and read in detail about the various bands and striations that have made the beautiful butterflies in our cast who they are, and as I have listened to them read their words and sing the music with Musical Director Abdul Hamid Royal in rehearsal, it has made me truly grateful for the project coming my way at a time when I could manage to do it.

Every day, I ask Jessica what she learned that day, not because I am trying to be didactic, but because I really want to know. I remember what it was like to be a PA in a room of truly august artists – I remember PAing for the Mark Taper Forum productions of “Loot” and “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” that were done back in the late 1980s; I assisted Mary K Klinger and Jimmie McDermott, to whom I literally owe all that I know as a stage manager. I remember sopping up each day and learning how I was part of a team. Everything that they knew they shared with me and then I knew it too. And we were stronger and a better support structure for the cast and show because of it. I watched the talented artists, Gwyllum Evans, Peter Frechette, Meagan Fay, Maxwell Caulfield and the beautiful Joseph Maher strive for comic perfection under the direction of John Tillinger.COLONUS ART

This is what a life in the theatre means to me and has always meant to me. The act of sharing and building history with all the beautiful and diverse humanity  in the rehearsal room. Thank you, Wren T. Brown, for allowing me to be a part of building my history up with Ebony Repertory Theatre.

 

It’s Okay To Be Fierce. Thank you, Reza Abdoh!

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Filmmaker Adam Soch

Tonight we attended the LA Screening of Adam Soch’s film about Reza Abdoh‘s life and work, work that Adam himself had collaborated on and has now assembled from over 20 years of footage taken in the theatrical trenches with Reza and his Dar A Luz company. What struck me most in the film was the commitment of the artists in Reza’s tribe, and how much joy and laughter, lightness really, was derived during those long hours in the theatre supporting his less-than-light vision.  Reza Abdoh Documentary Film

It felt important to celebrate his work with old friends but the guest of honor wasn’t there; Reza died on May 11,1995, twenty years ago almost to the day. I think he would have been pleased with the film, which captured the gutsiness and drive of his life and work; but more likely not, because, as the film pointed out, he was not ever fully satisfied with his work. Reza always let his collaborators know that there was room to improve – to go faster and fiercer.

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Under the not-so-flattering glare of the heat lamp, yours truly with Costume Designer Alix Hester.

I look forward to being able to share the film (after it makes the documentary film circuit) with my students, friends, and family. The intensity of Reza’s passion infused all of us. Michael Angel, now a filmmaker, then a crew member on two of Reza’s productions, said

“It was very hard to say no to Reza, when he stood in front of you and said, ‘I really need for this to happen. Can you make it happen?'”

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Twenty years later, Reza’s collaborators 

IMG_4124Many of us discussed this “can-do” hangover/attitude/disease/tendency after the film tonight.

Stage managing a show as complicated as “Bogeyman” was has given me the confidence to do just about anything my heart has desired in my life. It has also made it very hard for me, and others, I found out tonight, to say “No, that isn’t possible” to directors. People call Production Managers “Dream Crushers,” because they bear bad news about limited resources and possibilities. I think my brief brush with Reza’s process simply reformulated my understanding of what is possible and what isn’t.

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David MacMurtry, Janine Silver, Laurel Meade with Filmmaker Adam Soch at the Los Angeles Screening.

All of Reza’s youthful artists are now twenty years older, no longer cherubic young theatre technicians and actors, but nonetheless still committed to their work in theatre, or academia, or film. We toughened and wised up in theatrical boot camp with Reza. Reza’s now mature Dar A Luz company members, whose beautiful bodies were tasked with grueling emotional and physical choreography twenty years ago, now have the opportunity to celebrate Abdoh and his importance to the theatrical canon and to them as individuals.
Thank you to Adam, who has been the keeper of the flame for all these years. And thank you, too, to Reza’s long time collaborator and friend, Sandy Cleary-Wade, who co-produced the film with Adam.

I urge you to see this inspiring film as soon as you can. It reminded me that it’s okay to be fierce as an individual artist, and collectively in  your chosen artistic tribe.

Moving, Commencement and Disney Day

It’s been a busy time at the School of Dramatic Arts this week. Amidst finals, portfolio reviews and the packing of our offices in the beloved CWT building (doomed to demolition next week),  may we have a moment of silence, please.

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Our current office in the Childs Way Two building.

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Our soon to be renovated office.

And next, a moment of anticipation; do you feel the little frisson of expectation in the space which is to be our new office? Imagine, if you will, from the before photo at right, the sheer beauty of that second tier of lights, carpet on the floor, fresh paint on the walls; we will even have a blue accent wall  behind our desks. It really is exciting. You know me, any excuse to renovate.

Our colleagues from CWT will be scattering to various buildings on and just off campus. The upstairs hallway in the building has been cluttered with the tidy boxes holding all our belongings, the stray student or two wandering by to say hi to their professors, their chatter obliterated by the sound of packing tape screeching off its roll, the professors wild-eyed with the upheaval. (Not really wild-eyed; we are far to used to the itinerant lifestyle to be thrown by a little thing like having our offices moved.)

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Chairs awaiting Thornton School of Music Commencement.

With our faculty and staff moving day looming on Monday, the students are also beginning to load their belongings into the large rolling bins. The party vendors have rolled onto campus and have set up literally thousands of commencement chairs. They undulate across the green lawns, expectantly awaiting to seat proud family members who will travel to campus on Friday to cheer on their children during their commencement ceremonies. There is forecasted rain for Friday, an 80% chance that we will get the long needed rain that we’ve been fantasizing all through the ridiculously unseasonal warm winter. Now that we want to wear our summer dresses and attend commencement, it’s due to pour. Perfect.

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Current stage management students listen to Melissa Trupp, ’10

This week, we had an entertaining visit by one of our alums, Melissa Trupp, who graduated five years ago from our BFA Stage Management program. She shared her early career trajectory with a group of our current Stage Management students.

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Melissa Trupp, BFA SM ’10 has become a leader through her work with the Disney organizations.

She spent an hour and a half with the stage management students, regaling them about her work both at Disneyland, and on the Disney Cruise ships which she has called home for the past two years.  It was fascinating to hear about the complexity of the shows, and the logistics of the day to day life aboard the ships. The students and I were rapt. I couldn’t resist asking her if it was “the Love Boat.” My students laughed, but I know they all wanted to ask but didn’t have the courage. If I have tried to teach them one thing, it’s that there are no stupid questions; I model that every time I get the chance.

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SDA students and staff prepare for the procession of graduates.

She let us peek at her calling script (sorry, Melissa, there’s probably a disclosure agreement I’ve just blown, endangering  your job). I promise that no one had their cameras out except me, and just to take these pictures of our meeting.

Then, today we had our Commencement rehearsal at the Bing. Of course, the School of Dramatic Arts would have a tech rehearsal prior to its Commencement. Blocking, cueing, lighting and sound, and understudies. I stand in for the Dean and use the exercise to bid each of the students farewell.  Trust me, our rehearsal bears little resemblance to the final show, an energy-filled celebration with a cheering audience. But we rehearse it just so we get it perfect. This year I felt like we were graduating the freshman class. As I mock-handed them their diplomas, I said more than once, I’m afraid:

Wait. Didn’t you just get here last fall?

No, Els, I’ve been here four years.

How the heck did that happen?

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Wrapped chairs awaiting their party tomorrow on the PED lawn.

Slogging through the rain to get there, I took this picture of someone’s post-Commencement party zone, looking more like a country graveyard, graves pinwheeling across the PED lawn. Outside right now there is lightning and thunder. I can hear the tread of the cars through the wet streets below.  Hopefully it will finish by morning and we will have a glistening green Disney dream campus with which to greet our students’ parents. Bon voyage to another fine class of theatrical practitioners! We wish you well and urge you to come back to share your experiences with the students you’ve left behind.

Happy Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day this year is especially meaningful to me.

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With my mom on the steps of Jimmie’s and my first house.

My own mother, gone since 1997 to the inevitable lung cancer derived from her life long chumminess with cigarettes, was otherwise my role model. She modeled intelligence, humility, strength, an appreciation for wit and silliness, a reporter’s eye, a strong fashion sense and the ability to cry when things got tough. Divorced in her early forties, she buckled down and got her degree in journalism at Columbia, moved back to her native Pennsylvania, and worked for the next twenty years as a reporter for two different newspapers in the Bethlehem area. I was fiercely proud of her.

When I was a junior in college, she was at Columbia for the year, and when I graduated from college, and headed to Europe for the next year, she visited me in Venice on Christmas day. I lugged her heavy red Samsonite suitcase up and down over the little bridges from the train station to the Vaporetto, and from the Vaporetto stop to my apartment in Venice. We had a marvelous visit. She was enthralled with my life there. There is nothing quite like being “seen” by your parent; your life witnessed, your adultness legitimized.

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Opening night of “La Bete” with Mom and my brother Don.

When I met the love of my life, who was so much older than I, she didn’t judge us, but came to his theatrical openings and visited us in first,  New York, then Los Angeles,  partaking in our lives with the same avidity she had embraced that special trip to Venice.

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Skeptical looks from the kitties.

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Chasing the kittens.

Then we adopted Chris, at age 2 and 2 months. Shortly afterwards, on the occasion of the funeral of one of my college friends, we flew to Bethlehem to visit Nana Shirley, and her two barn kittens, also newly adopted. I remember crawling around the living room floor, in bright yellow sweatpants, with Chris beaming and chasing the kitties around Mom’s condo. His first Christmas, she sent him a rocking horse kit, which my husband and I assembled in the hours between bedtime on Christmas eve and dawn’s break, because we knew that Chris would find it if we assembled it too far ahead of time. He loved that rocking horse, and played with it until he was nearly 5, when his over-eager rocking threatened to cause it to fall to pieces. Only a few years ago, I gave the horse to one of my colleagues at school, for her son to enjoy.

Periodic visits to California or to Cape Cod in the summer allowed us all to see each other – not enough, mind you, but enough to know how each other was doing. We wrote weekly letters back and forth, filled with news from my end, and hers with a check for $100. each month. As the years went by, the need for the money diminished, but she kept sending the money until Jimmie landed his first TV pilot, and I made her stop sending it.

When she succumbed to the cancer at age 65, her loss was a devastation worse than anything I had been through before. No matter how close or distant your relationship with your mom, there are always things you will wish you had said, or done. As I said countless times to my therapist in the years following her death: “nothing can prepare you for losing your mother.” It’s not something we talk enough about in our society. Being motherless is a club you never dream you will have to join, no matter how illogical that seems.

Being a mother has been one of the most profoundly satisfying things I have ever done. From the day I first met our adopted son, to today, our 23rd Mother’s Day together, it has been a raucous, roller-coaster ride of experiences, each bringing us closer.IMG_4059 Even the early teen years, where he’d have readily traded me in for just about anyone else’s Mother, further cemented our relationship.

About a month ago, Chris located his birth mother after many years of trying. He doesn’t want me to write about it, so I won’t, beyond saying that today was the first mother’s day that he got to celebrate with two mothers. We weren’t all together, mind you, but I know that he called both of us to wish us Happy Mother’s Day. I am thrilled for him, to be separated from the Motherless Club by two layers of maternal protection. As a Mom, you want to provide the most protection for your child that you can, so I embrace his sudden plethora of mothers. Happy Mother’s Day, to our dear son, Chris.

Exam Days – There’s an App for That!

We are in Exam days now. In the School of Dramatic Arts, this is when we review design portfolios and stage manager’s prompt books, perfectly illustrating  the “inefficiency” that makes a fine institution of higher education like USC worth the big bucks. 450 other faculty and staff listened as the brand new Provost of USC to be inefficient in just this way.  It was a festive ceremony, Town and Gown full of hundreds of spirited well-wishers there to welcome the next Provost, Dr. Michael Quick, to his new position as the Chief Academic Officer of the University. Provost Quick, extremely charming,  treated the attendees to many examples of his Quick wit. In his remarks, the Provost thanked the stakeholders, trustees, the Deans of all the schools, “All but one of you who are doing a great job.” Brilliant.

I did not know until I received the invitation, that naming a new Provost is called the “Installation of the Provost.” In honor of his wit, I asked several people yesterday as we milled about at the reception,

“How many faculty does it take to install a provost?”

But anyway, that aside, Provost Quick noted that we should not get too efficient, because it is in the moments when we are mentoring the students, one on one,where the educational fires get stoked. This week we have a blazing pyre at our school, as we review and coach, correct and instruct our way through the production students’ work of the last semester.

From way back in the late 1980s when I had my first Macintosh computer, the squat ivory colored cube sitting atop the floppy disk drive, I have strived for perfection. It was magical, the Mac, a far cry from the SMacintosh Computermith Corona word processor which I had used prior. There was another typewriter, too that you used to be able to backspace and it would white it out as you backed up.

Stage Management was a lot of whiting out in those days. I created Contact sheets in multiple versions, discarded paper balled up at the base of my desk. When I got the typewriter that could automatically erase up to an entire line of text, I thought I was in heaven, but then came the personal computer and I no longer even needed to backspace my way to perfection.

Recently, I began receiving a weekly delivery of fresh food from a company called Blue Apron. For about $60.00 a week, we get a box full of the foIMG_4010od to make three entrees for two people. The food arrives in a cardboard box, with water-soluble ice packs and each ingredient measured, labeled and separated. Each recipe takes about 25-45 minutes to prepare; they are restaurant quality meals at about $10/entree. The portions are ample, and flavorful, and the only obstacle to perfection is the fact that I might gnaw off my arm before I have finished preparing the food. This is one example of a real improvement in our lives due to technology. Jimmie looks across the beautifIMG_4011ul plates at me with incredulity; his life just got so much better than the previous rotation of Trader Joe’s lasagna and the occasional poorly prepared pork chop with a side salad from a bag dressed with bottled dressing.

Like the mini Mac of the late 80s, Blue Apron has saved my bacon. Having said that, it is inevitable that when you are the busiest and have the least amount of time in ytapingoour day, things are always bound to go wrong. Technology notwithstanding. No matter how much you have planned to backspace your way into perfection. And god forbid you should try to show off your techno-skills when you are in a hurry.

Today’s human adventure involved the app Tapingo, which allows you to pre-order your coffee, pay for it on your phone and then waltz into the coffee establishment to scoop it up next to the barista station. Pretty good timesaver, right?

When one of my portfolio-reviewing colleagues got up to go get coffee, today, I sprung to my feet and said, “Its on me today,” whipped out my iPhone and digitally ordered a tall chai latte, no sugar, and a tall black house blend. The app reported that the coffees would be ready “in five” and we walked out the door of the building heading over to the Coffee Bean at the Cinematic Arts building. He went to grab some food as I watched the baristas making the drinks. It was pretty quiet in the store, and we encountered another of our colleagues there getting a coffee. When my phone said “Done,” I strode up to the counter and asked if my drinks were ready. The barista, a tall student who looked far more ready to tackle a Stanford tight end (can you tell I know absolutely nothing about football?) looked quizzically at my phone and asked me my name.

I don’t have that order here. It must be at the Tutor Campus Center Coffee Bean.

I don’t have time to walk over there. Is there any way you can make the drinks here?

No, sorry, I can’t do that.

I get it. He didn’t have permission to make duplicate drinks for every middle aged technology immigrant who strays in her ordering. Neither he nor his manager who subsequently came out and looked at my phone could figure out what I had done wrong. The manager told me to call the Campus Center and tell them what had happened and to cancel the order. By this point, I was embarrassed, wanted only to hand my gracious colleague a steaming cup of reciprocation to his kindness from the day before. I didn’t care about my chai latte, no sugar. I also was flustered that I couldn’t see where the coffee was supposed to be on the app – in the past it had been labeled “Cinematic Arts” when I looked for the locations – now, the generic Coffee Bean and Tealeaf logo with no identifying location. As we walked out of the store, I told my colleagues I was going to walk to the Campus Center to pick up the coffees, and I’d be right back.

A quick 6 minute walk to the campus center, and I held my phone up for the baristas there, who also said, “It’s not here.” I think they could see that I was near tears, and took pity on me, quickly the drinks. I walked back and handed the cup to my colleague, while whispering “It wasn’t there, either.”

He laughed and I sat down to continue with the work at hand, reviewing a student’s scenic design portfolio.

About two minutes later, my cell phone rang, with a 415 number that I didn’t recognize. I quickly excused myself, stepping out into the foyer to answer the phone. It was the Tapingo headquarters. The very insistent customer service rep was trying to figure out what the issue was with my app. I knew I didn’t want to waste any more time while the student was inside, but had to ask before closing the call,

“Where was my mystery coffee order?”

“LMU”

Perfect. A campus only 40 minutes west of USC. This is how I back myself into perfection with technology.

Stop Days – For me they are GO Days!

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These bloggers will do anything to enhance their posts. Sheesh.

There are so many things that a transition from a professional career to one in academic theatre has required of me. The easiest has probably been the absorption of the academic calendar. For the past ten years, my life and schedule has been predicated on such signposts as start of classes, Monday holidays, Thanksgiving Recess, Spring Recess, and the ever enticing stop days.

This doesn’t cover the calendaring function of a production manager in an academic theatre program. That process is endlessly entertaining, in the same way the graphic at left was….

Four theatres, twenty-one productions, and a myriad of important School related dates – New Student luncheons, All-School Pizza Party, Commencement, just to name a few. The calendar is integral to every department within our school’s planning cycle, and the production calendar informs any number of other offshoots.

This is the season of calendar construction for next season – I mean, the next two semesters. (Old habits die hard.)  There are dozens of factors which impact a calendar’s makeup. They can be as simple as where Thanksgiving falls in the semester, or accommodating the number of students in any given cohort. For example, we have several productions in our calendar which are specifically intended as curricular exercises for our BFA or MFA Acting cohorts. In the fall, we have three theatre slots dedicated to the BA acting population, one in the Bing Theatre, and two others in our smaller spaces. We have one Open Cast show, open to all majors and minors in the School of Dramatic Arts.The rest of the fall is peppered with shows for the other populations, two BFA SR shows, one BFA JR production, and lastly, one for the MFA 2nd year acting cohort.

The plays are selected by committees of faculty who gather together over the course of the year to share plays they have found, or those that they think would cater well to these different populations. Many of these committee members may end up directing the shows they bring to the table. I have not served on that committee, but await the findings more avidly than probably any other stakeholder in the school, because the bulk of my work begins with the announcement of the season.  My work actually begins sometime in the previous October with the construction of the calendar template, which I try to share along the way with the three artistic directors who will manage the programming of the plays within the framework of the Production Calendar. But the actual pre-production work begins as soon as those plays are named. When does that generally happen?

Stop Days. Or more precisely, the last day of classes.

As of Friday, the students have finished their classes, many jetting (driving) off to some more temperate clime to study for the next four days prior to the start of final exams, or in the case of our production students, final portfolio reviews. Left in the wake of their excited egresses are the faculty, who like me, carry stacks of final papers home to grade, final exams to create, and general end of the semester housekeeping.

This year, our stop days are peppered with packing boxes, as many of us prepare to move to new office spaces; our building will be razed to make way for a new science building.

Let’s have a moment of silence for the CWT building, Childs Way Temporary, serving the campus since 1945.

I know, I’m repeating myself from previous blogs; yes, you can consider this topic much in my mind, though I am also excited about the new-to-us space that Hannah and I will inhabit. The upstairs workroom of the Scene Dock Theatre, one of the oldest buildings in our school’s ample collection of old buildings, will be repainted, carpeted and reappointed with our current furniture to make a production office aerie for the backstage work of planning and propping the SDA shows. Go ahead, just try to find us…. Seriously, please try to find us; we may be lonely up there.

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A student stands poised with her sign to shout out “Quiz Time!”

The final days of the spring semester have been exciting – Tina Haatainen-Jones,  my steadfast colleague in teaching the THTR 130 Crew Section and all things Production at USC, took a few shots of our final review from class on Tuesday, in quiz show format. Next week we will sit with our design and stage management and technical direction students to review their drafting, prompt books, tales of challenges and triumphs in the past weeks. This messy, collaborative act of putting together a creative whole, this organic, ephemeral, magical thing called theatre is a living breathing laboratory, and I feel blessed to have a budget and a talented and dedicated staff to support the work of our students with in this annual cycle of work.

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Now, I will, of course, need to make new questions for the game.

I told my husband on Friday when I got home with my papers and my own homework of writing a report this weekend for a committee I co-chair,

 “I will be home all weekend, with only 32 papers to grade and a report to write – what do you want to do this weekend?”

God love him, he gets me and my relentless irony. He gets it as a fellow thespian, who knows the work that is needed to get the job done. It is, as you may have gleaned by now, what may be necessary for a lifeinthethe8tre.