Tech is the most engaging part of putting a show together for a stage manager. I enjoy the discovery process that takes place in the rehearsal room, supporting by scheduling and taking blocking, watching as the actors find their way through a play. But it is in the process of tech where we gently cradle the newborn, carry it across the lobby, and lay it in the freshly built cradle (stage).
Over the course of this week, the designers, led fiercely by Edward E. Haynes, who created a set to accommodate the 32 performers and 5 band members in order to bring the show into the house, director Andi Chapman’s vision. The dedicated Ebony Rep Production Manager, Sheldon P. Lane, has brought Ed’s design to realization, through the work by Sets-To-Go scenic carpenters Mark Henderson and Tim Farmer. The set is carpeted, the railings which enclose the heights and playing areas are secure. The props are in place.
Lighting Designer Karyn D. Lawrence and Projection Designer Tom Ontiveros have worked closely to create a lighting and projection design that can both isolate the intimacy of certain scenes, and tell the story of the play, which depicts the journey of Oedipus to Colonus and his redemption. The character of Oedipus is being played by two actors, the Preacher or spoken text performed by Roger Robinson, and the sung text performed by Ellis Hall. It is a complex story to tell; having not seen the original production except on the DVD, in my humble opinion I think it is being told more clearly in this iteration.
This week, Ed, Karyn, Tom and Andi have worked to create stage pictures that tell that story. My participation as stage manager is to execute those moments by calling the cues in the exact sequences we have worked out in tech rehearsals. In order to do that, I have created a calling script layered with these cues. I am, of course, showing you only the pretty page of the script at left. One which was created largely through the computer savvy of Jessica, my production assistant on the show, whose ability to cut and paste far exceeds my own. With apologies to Jessica, because she has been so fiercely effective as an assistant – when I am doing things on the computer, because she is a digital native she hovers over my shoulder like an Irish setter waiting for me to throw the ball. And I have news; I throw a lot more slowly than I did as a younger stage manager. After dinner one night, when she returned to the tech table, she looked at the computer and with horror in her voice, said,
“What happened [to our beautiful Top of Show sheet]?
Sound Designer Phil Allen, who was sitting behind me at the table at the time, laughed as Jessica tore the computer out of my hands and made rapid work of fixing the sheet.
So, the prompt book/calling script is coming together. The pile of tech food stashed under the tech table is diminishing. The band rehearsed last Saturday and Sunday night.
We finished teching the show Wednesday night, and Thursday, without tech, we had the Sitzprobe. I have written in earlier posts about how the Sitz is my favorite rehearsal, where actors meet band and begin the symbiotic relationship of telling the story with both words and music. With the show in the cradle, now, my friends, the cradle will rock. The Sitz, a creative crucible for both the Musical Director, Abdul Hamid Royal and the Sound Designer, Philip G. Allen, went extremely well, and got the cast really jazzed. There is a lot of talent in the room for this show, singers with history and strong opinions about monitor placement and individual preferences for what they hear in those monitors. It takes a cool head to mix a show and I’ve always loved working with Phil because he comes to the room with skill, humility, a wry irony and a teflon ego that keeps things light. I’ve enjoyed working with Phil over the last thirty years.
Before beginning the Sitzprobe, William Allen Young, who plays Theseus, told me he wanted to have the cast sing happy birthday to our producer, Wren T. Brown, so with piano accompaniment from Ellis Hall, all the beautiful voices in the room were raised in celebration of his birthday. I have always loved birthdays in the theatre. What better place to celebrate one’s life than amongst valued colleagues and friends.
Friday night I called the show from the top with all the cues and it wasn’t a complete train wreck. Went rather well for the first time through. I took about two pages of notes for calls for myself. I know that adjustments will be made in placement of cues, and in the timing of cues. It is always a butterfly-in-the-tummy situation for a stage manager. This show is pretty straight forward, so I wasn’t too nervous, but like first rehearsals, it is a rite of passage for the SM on a show.
As we move forward, our afternoon rehearsals will be finesse rehearsals. We worked with Keith Young, the choreography earlier this week and will do so again today. Due to schedules of some of the cast members, we have worked without the full contingent of actors. Fortunately, they are quick studies and their absence provided the stage managers with the opportunity to flex their acting muscles. There are a lot of facets to the work a stage manager does, not least of which is to publicly humiliate themselves on a daily basis by stepping in and attempting to do the work of professional actors. Fortunately, we are at the point where that humiliation is less frequent as we approach the opening and things come together into performance. This stage manager is safely back in her place behind the wheel. Get your tickets, folks! This is going to be a fun one.