BFG’s Adventures in SMLand, or I’m lost, get me out of here

As I head into my first day of HATCH: emerging performance projects with Praxis Theatre today, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the experience working with Praxis thus far.  If for no other reason than that I promised Lois I’d write this post about 6 months ago.  Sorry, Lois, I’m a bit behind.  It has been a long road from June to here, rewarding, educational, sometimes frustrating, and mostly fabulous.  And I have to say that everyone involved has been incredible and I’ve enjoyed working with all of them…

So here you may read about my adventures.  And all the reasons why I am not really a Stage Manager.

1. I make impulsive decisions.  Stage Managers think things through. I agreed to do this whole Stage Manager gig via email while on vacation.  I was riding the high of sunshine, zero responsibilities, and some wicked whitewater rafting.  It just seemed like a good idea at the time.  And like another adventure.  And I was all, “Sure, no problem, yeah, I can do that.”  More or less, anyway.  I did point out that I have no idea what I’m doing.  But no one else was worried about this, so why should I be worried?

My first day of rehearsal was overwhelming, to say the least.  There was a lot of catching up to do, mostly on all the historical info that was to be the foundation of our show.  The director, whom I may or may not have been a little bit intimidated by at the time, and I sat down and went over what my job was going to be:  keeping things organized.  Okay.  Sounds reasonable.  How do I do that?  I am still figuring it out…  But we decided it would be fine because we were both fond of writing on graph paper, and that seemed like enough common ground to make things work.  Meanwhile, behind us half the cast was working on writing this crazy song…And that was just the first rehearsal.

So I got through the first day.  And the second day.  And many more days after that.  And I started to feel a bit more like I had a clue what I was doing.  And like maybe I was going to fit in okay…

2.  A Stage Manager is the solid rock around which a production centers, and I am more like molten rock: gooey and unpredictable. And then I lost a sterling silver Tiffany’s ring, an important gift, on my way home from rehearsal.  And you know when you don’t know how you lost something?  That’s what happened.  I was stressed and trying to make it home quickly and all of a sudden I was in my apartment and I sat down on my bed and looked at my hand and it was gone.  PANIC.  I retraced my steps frantically.  I tore my place apart.  I sent anxious emails, doing my best to not sound like a crazy person because, really, who gets this upset over a missing thing?  Me.  That’s who. I searched our rehearsal space for weeks afterward (and I never found it, in case you were wondering…it is probably in a subway tunnel somewhere, mocking me).

Now, not to jump ahead, but in the next development phase, I managed to fall and sprain my ankle during a week that was supposed to be devoted to the creative process.  And I didn’t just sprain my ankle a little bit.  No, I destroyed it.  I spent a day on my couch in nauseating pain before conceding defeat and heading to the ER, where a lovely physician’s assistant hooked me up with some crutches while some lady on the other side of that privacy curtain talked about the stripper Olympics.  But I was in and out of the ER in under three hours, so I guess I’ll take what I can get.  And while I managed not to miss everything important with regards to creation, instead of being helpful and organized, I basically required everyone to take care of me.  Epic fail.  I am just not that emotionally stable, my friends.

3.  Stage Managers have a lot of numbers to keep track of and numbers make my head hurt. But back to the Fringe.  The closer we got to opening the more the pace picked up, until we were a week away with no solid script and far too much material.  One of my favourite Stage Manager duties is timing the show.  Especially without a stopwatch.  This, to me, is just a problem that requires a creative solution.  I mean, the clock on my computer shows seconds…it’s practically the same thing, right?

Yeah, right.  I spent the entire week before the show timing chunks of it with my computer clock.  I would write down the start time and the end time and then try to figure out very, very quickly what the difference was.  Generally with someone looking over my shoulder waiting for the answer.  And don’t even get me started on all the times we had to pause in the middle of a scene and then keep going.  MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE!  I’m fairly certain that one of the reasons I went into theatre was to avoid any kind of math, and I am, frankly, okay with that decision.

4.  Tech is a foreign language to me. At some point in all the insanity, our Production Manager, formerly a Stage Manager for Praxis, met me for coffee and an explanation of the more technical end of my job.  She brought with her many examples, including past cue scripts and prop lists, everything broken down by actor and by scene.  I gazed in absolute awe on the perfection of this wonderful organizational system.  Of course, there was one minor flaw to all of this: we had no actual script at this point. But no big deal.  I was still a solid 24 hours away from an anxiety attack and total meltdown (see #2) when our Script Supervisor mercifully handed me a large stack of paper.  I have never been so happy to see dead trees.

At which point we sat down to do a paper tech with our endlessly patient designer who is basically the hero of my Stage Manager story.  Someday I will write an ode to her to fully sing her praises.  Seriously. And as we’re sitting there, I realized that we were not all speaking quite the same language.  And that it’s probably my job to bridge the gap in tech language between what’s been happening in rehearsal and what has been designed for the show.  Except that I have no idea what most of it means….There was a similar occurrence in one of our pre-HATCH meetings with Harbourfront Centre.  I’m getting really good at smiling and nodding.

But we made it to our tech rehearsal relatively intact.

5.  Trying to program a lighting board would likely result in my inevitable electrocution. At which point I was confronted with the real lighting and sound stuff.  And also with running the power cord from an overhead projector sitting on a sticky beer table back to the booth so we could turn it on and off from there.  And by booth I mean table and stool at the back.  Anway, there were a lot of buttons.  And I was feeling a bit out of my element since I didn’t recognize many of them and the Fringe only gives you an hour to tech your show.  Mercifully, our designer was also in charge of the tech at our venue, so take that lighting board!

The whole show was programmed like magic in 15 minutes.  I swear to you.  AND my wonderful designer saviour decided that she would run sound for the show, because that involves buttons and sliders and switching things around and gives me heart palpitations.  The lighting board, once programmed, has a GO button.  As she pointed out, a monkey could do this.  I wish I had a monkey.

6.  Stage Managers generally remain neutral on creative problems.  Neutrality is for bitches. There were a lot of questions about whether or not to include something in the show, how to include it, etc.  And I have to say, my opinion was always heard.  And I have a lot of opinions.  Most of the time Stage Managers maintain neutrality.  They frequently act as a sounding board for everyone else, but rarely do they get to express their opinions about things.  I am pleased to say that this has not been the case in my experience with Praxis.  But my inability to just shut up would probably make me a terrible stage manager in any other setting.  Just saying.

7.  Heavy lifting?  I’m sorry, you must be confused. So we opened at the Fringe.  And every night I would get to set up the show.  I would haul the heavy, sticky, stinky beer table up on stage for the overhead projector.  Haul the overhead projector up on stage.  Hang our Yea or Nea signs at the doors (which never really worked out because I’m short).  Set props.  Set up folding chairs.  Ask actors if they set their props.  And eventually lugged our giant sandwich board out of the theatre, down the hallway, and out onto the sidewalk.  Then reverse this entire process at the end of the show.  I’m sure I broke a nail at some point.  But the greater tragedy is probably that everyone else made it out to the Beer Tent before me.  The whole physical labour end of things was really overrated.

And then the Fringe was over and I was quite sad.  But only for a little while.  Because then we were accepted into the HATCH season and quietly resumed meetings and discussions…

8.  Not returning my emails in a reasonable amount of time seems like an appropriate defense for justifiable homicide. The problem with organizing people to work on a show workshop presentation months in advance of the show workshop presentation actually happening is that everyone has other things going on in their lives.  And we all prioritize.  And something that isn’t happening until March sort of falls to the bottom of the list when it’s still October.  I understand this.  BUT FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS SACRED, RETURN MY EMAILS.  I’m actually not very good at being strict and mean, because I’m really an actor and I understand what we’re like.  I also understand that life happens.  But I cannot express the rage induced by not being able to get a hold of people for upwards of a week.  This is not a step towards being organized.

Of course, then we all came back together and I remembered that I like everyone and that it’s going to be okay.  But that brings us to…

9.  Scheduling is the bane of my existence. Trying to get a group of busy people together in the same place is an exercise in futility.  It is basically a law of physics that if the majority can meet on one day, that day will not work for the person who really needs to be there.  Because there will always be one person that you cannot rehearse without.  Like maybe the Director.  Or something like that.  This is not just true of theatre, much like #8, this happens in many different arenas.  But really, I might as well throw darts at the calendar.  It is just as likely to work as asking everyone for their availability.  And it is less likely to give me a headache.

But, of course, now it’s HATCH week!  And none of these things are problems at the moment.  The impulsive decisions have already been made, it’s too early in the week for me to have done anything truly ridiculous (yet), my iPhone has a stopwatch with an infinite number of lap times available, I don’t need to speak tech because there are enough people here who already do, seriously five people are teching the show as I sit here finishing this post, we are moving in and staying in, and no emails and no schedules because we’re all just here all week.  I am giddy with excitement.

10.  There are people out there who are much better Stage Managers than me. And that is why my career as a Stage Manager is destined to be short.  Plus, I’m a Stage Coordinator now anyway.  And that’s totally different.  Mad props to all my Stage Manager friends, I have a whole new respect for what you do.  So wish me luck, stay tuned for more, and come see Section 98 at Harbourfront Centre on Saturday, March 13 at 8PM.


One response to “BFG’s Adventures in SMLand, or I’m lost, get me out of here

  1. Several things:

    1. I love impulsive decisions.
    2. You ARE gooey.
    3. Fuck numbers.
    4. Technology is stupid: don’t use lights, make FIRE.
    5. Neutrality IS for bitches.
    6. I can lift heavy boxes of alcohol. Just saying.
    7. I don’t believe in schedules.
    8. Congrats, Stage Coordinator. The fact that you wrote an entire post on stage management means you are a RAGING THESPIAN. Kudos.


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