As You Like It Tech

We were on a break in tech for the MFA 2nd Year Actors’  Bing Production of As You Like It. Most everyone had wandered away from the room for a ten-minute break.

Stage Manager Meredith O’Gwynn                      at the tech table.

Christian Henley, one of the MFA Y2 actors, left by his classmates, took that moment to relax, dancing gracefully center stage, framed behind by scenic designer Lea Branyan’s “pole-trees.” Christian’s left arm aloft, he gyrated, his phone aloft, faintly playing the song to which he swayed. His white Henley t-shirt (I wondered, is he aware that his clothing punned on his name?)  Several people asked him what tune he was playing.

I’m jamming! Give me a minute!

After he finished his dance, he shouted out to the house:

“Budapest” by George Ezra!

It was a lovely moment in the middle of tech for As You Like It. The design team, guided by competent and calm BFA Junior stage manager Meredith O’Gwynn, sat shoulder to shoulder at the tech table, while director, Michael Arabian, sat a few rows behind them, watching the pictures unfold, and making adjustments with his team.

Lighting Designer, Sabrina Cadena programs while THTR 130 student Javi Dominguez-Ruiz

The clickety-clack-clack of Lighting Designer Sabrina Cadena’s fingers on the light board never stilled, as she constructed her cues, splashing pattern across the verdant cyc, reminiscent of the fall of light through a Cathedral’s windows.

dodecagonThe action on this tech is all on the fly rail, where the student crew, students from our THTR 130 class, are arrayed across the rail.  The set design, consisting of a dodecagonal platform atop a larger dodecagonal platform (12 sides), framed by two sets of legs seems deceptively simple.  But delights await the audience, as set designer, Lea Branyan has plotted extravagant motion of trees and lanterns. Much of the action of the play takes place in the auditorium, lit inventively by Sabrina Cadena, the lighting designer.

The THTR 130 team members who are backstage are guided by ASMs Kelly Jonske and David Delgado, both of whom are supervising the stage left rail throughout the show.  All afternoon, the crew has practiced their moves, trees in, lanterns in.

“HOLD!” as the lanterns hit the deck.

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At the dinner break, I caught this photo of Lea, adding some foliage to the lanterns for one scene.

The spike marks on the rail have multiplied throughout the afternoon, the system of marking created out of necessity – the failure of hearing the trees thump dramatically on the deck; they’ve labeled the lines with colored tape, with large numbers on white gaff tape. This is the first time most of the students have run the rail. Today they learned what it meant to have their line set out of weight. Some of the lanterns have not been circuited yet; as a result, these line sets will have added weight from cabling which will be counter weighted at the rail. For now, we joke that their biceps will be highly developed. Who needs the gym? Line set 29 requires a heroic effort. Terrence, David and Spencer were all on that line set. There was a lot of laughter audible from the offstage area, as well as some loud clanks as the locks on the rail were released. At the moment, they are telegraphing every rail cue. They giggled and bonded over their lantern labors.

The intrepid rail crew in the triumphant afterglow of a successful shift – L to R. Terrence Leung, Spencer Carney, David Delgado, Alliyah Ferrera, Kelly Jonske, Audrey Lipsmire, Zach Blumner (Kim Rogers not pictured)

I can’t wait until tomorrow when we breeze through these shifts. Their hard work will definitely pay off.

By Monday night’s first dress rehearsal, they will all be old pros. My perverse fantasy is that I will go back there and find each of them pulling the ropes with a donut in one hand and a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. In between cues, they’ll be playing poker in the wings. It’s just a matter of time.

USC School of Dramatic Arts

Dark of the Moon Tech

Student Designers for Dark of the Moon at work, Bing Theatre

There are a lot of perks of a faculty member in an academic theatre program. Among the chief ones, I would say, is the opportunity to observe the next generation at work doing the work that we have loved all our lives. This past weekend, I observed the tech for our current BFA JR Production of “Dark of the Moon” by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by John DeMita, with choreography by Lili Fuller.

The design process began about two months ago, with initial discussions between John and his designers:
Scenic Designer  Katrina Coulourides, Lighting Designer  George Austin Allen, Costume Designer Meagan Smith, Sound Designer Danielle Kisner. Through research of the Appalachian region, shared via Dropbox and in conversations together about the nature and arc of the play, the team developed a vocabulary together about how to convey this tragic tale to a contemporary audience.

The play is a dark, haunting work about the desire of a witch boy in the Appalachian mountain region in the late 1920s to become human to gain the love of a simple, if slatternly young woman, whose “pleasuring” with many men in the community has drawn the approbation of all, including her parents. His request to remain a human teeters atop a wager that this young woman, Barbara Allen can remain faithful to him throughout the course of one year.

My husband told me that “Dark of the Moon”  was the first play produced by The Circle In The Square, back in 1951 in Greenwich Village. His life and body of work in the theatre echoes all the time, an intimate circling -back that happens so often in the theatre; we are all related by our own passages through these timeless works. Directed by Jose Quintero, little evidence of this production remains, an unlinked reference in the Wikipedia entry about Jose Quintero, the fiery Panamanian director with whom my husband worked so many times.

The Circle In The Square’s Jose Quintero – Wikipedia

“Jimmy Ray (James Ray) played the Witch Boy in the Circle production,” Jimmie told me the other day, another precious and ephemeral fragment of theatre history that he carries in his heart and shares with others who ask.

But I digress. The USC School of Dramatic Arts production is, I can safely say after watching the first dress last night, going to be gorgeous. All the student designers, save the scenic designer, who is a young professional about nine years out of school, have worked exhaustively over the past week to cue and refine the looks of the play, which is majestic in its imagery.

The other member of the team who has shaped this production with her strength and leadership is the stage manager, Alice Pollitt, a senior in the BFA Stage Management program, well on her way to becoming a professional in the field. Her calm demeanor, strong leadership and wry sense of humor have characterized the entire tech process, which was smooth and stress-free. Though much time was taken in the building of lights and sound – there are a hell of a lot of thunder and lightening cues in this show – the pace was measured and the timing of the cueing was extremely professionally executed. Last night, Alice moved from the front of house tech table to the Stage Management podium off stage right, where she used a combination of the rather poor camera from front of house and a live view from the wings to call the complex cues. Nary a cue missed that I could see. Her book is in impeccable order for a first dress.

Alice Pollitt reviews her script during tech rehearsals of “Dark Of The Moon” at the Bing Theatre

The director, John DeMita, has shaped this play with a strong visual sense of purpose and the multi-leveled set by Coulourides aids in the separation of man from witch. Fuller’s choreography of both the witch girls and the dances done by the townspeople further demarcate the boundaries between these two warring populations of Buck Creek.

Allen’s strong and vivid lighting as well as the subtle and effective use of projections make the stage pictures striking (literally)  and memorable.  Kisner’s soundscape evokes the power of the natural and unnatural forces of this town and Smith’s costumes greatly enhance the spookier moments in the play.

But to circle back, a comment from Assistant Director in the dark of the tech filled my heart with the pride of seeing students seeking excellence in their craft. Jay Lee turned to me and with his usual impishly curious expression, said, “How do all your tech Padawans manage to do so well?” He was so pleased with the metaphor he had used, and I was so hopelessly clueless that I had to look it up. Geez. But he’s right – these theatre artists are on their way to being Jedi Designers and Stage Managers. With “Dark of the Moon” behind them, I’d safely say, they are well on their way.


Dark of the Moon Tickets and Information – Come see it!

Complete Works

Complete WorksLast night I decided to stay after work to attend  a screening of a web series conceived and executed by three former USC School of Dramatic Arts students, Lili Fuller, Adam North, and Joe Sofranko. Entitled “Complete Works”, the five episode series charts the foibles of a Midwestern college student (Sofranko)  whose life long love affair with all things Shakespearean takes him on an international voyage of self-realization as an actor and person.

You can see these on Hulu if you didn’t make it to the screening last night. Here’s their facebook page.

When I heard about the project two years ago, I knew that many students and SDA faculty were participating in the filming. But what I hadn’t expected to see last night  was the sophistication and comic subtlety of the script, and the film’s elegance. I knew that Adam North had stayed beyond his four years as an SDA student to attend the School of Cinematic Arts. I knew that Lili was an accomplished choreographer who is even now working with our BFA Junior class on their Bing production of Dark Of The Moon. Joe and Lili and Lili’s wonderful parents have a non-profit called ETC which produces powerful theatre and dance collaborations. Joe and Adam recently finished in the top 200 Of the Greenlight Project.

So what is it that surprised me last night? Why did I not expect to be wowed by this powerhouse trio?

I think it came down to the fact that each of them is so humble and hardworking that their mastery and aptitude in a completely new arena outside of that which I knew them from came as a shock.

I thrilled last night to their humor and good taste, the lengths that each of their cast members was willing to go to tell their collective story. They used the many pieces of their education to assemble the multifaceted webisodes. Put to use were their critical studies, their acting training, their ironic lampooning of both good and bad training. They took aim at both actors and academics with oversized egos, both with skill and deadly accuracy. I was just so incredibly proud of them.

Afterwards we came out of the theatre to find cookies and juice set out on the bar in and the Bing Lobby was full of the squeals and laughter of returning alums greeting each other and celebrating their friends’ success.

These three created this project by using their training, skills, entrepreneurial spirit and the alchemy of their friendship.

Today I spent all day talking with current students, former students, and soon-to-be-former students. The theme  was “what is possible to accomplish?” How can we stretch reinvent, rebrand ourselves to make our way in the world as artists and collaborators and teams?  Thanks to my detour on the way home last night,  I realized again that there are a refreshing number of ways. The way you define yourself today, say by the degree you are earning in college, may be far far away from who you are even three or four years from now.  Make and keep good friends who support your growth as artists and whom you can trust to have your back. The Complete Works,  are never really Complete. It’s all a work in progress.