Thursday, September 24, 2009

Overwhelmed In a Good Way

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the creativity, talent and drive that surrounds this company. The play I'm in rehearsal for now, Landscaping The Den of Saints, we're still a month out from opening and already it feels like a play. We have no lights, no sound, no costumes, this week we spent two nights rehearsing on the back patio of one of the actors and yet in spite of all of that both the director and I found ourselves not focused on the technical things, but just watching an incredible story unfold in front of us.

That is what live theatre should be about, telling the story. That phrase is somewhere in our mission statement. We believe in telling the story. Especially in Los Angeles too often theater becomes about finding an agent or a manager, or is used as stepping stone to "break in" to film or television, actors try too hard, they over act and somewhere in all that trying and waiting for the "big break" they lose the story. Once the story is gone, so are the agents, the managers and more importantly the audience. It's a hard lesson to convey sometimes, many don't get it. But those that do, those that focus on the story become the truly remarkable actors.

So sitting outside on a warm September night underneath a covered patio lit by white Christmas lights watching a story being told by three actors who do believe in telling the story was a bit overwhelming. Everything else falls away and you get swept away by it. That is what makes theater great! The sound, the lights, the costumes, even the set will all enhance it, make it even better, but it all begins with the story and the actors.

As far as the sacrifice to the lighting god goes for our current show, I have decided to try pleading first. Maybe that will work, I just need 2 good hours, that's not too much to ask for is it? We'll see if he agrees :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lighting Boards, Breakers, Blackouts Oh My!

I think one of the greatest fears of any stage manager is losing electrical power during a show, or not necessarily losing all power, but only losing some of your electrical power. When I think about it losing all electrical power would I think be preferable. At least then the audience understands what's going on...if it's the stage lights that go, you turn on the work lights (those ugly florescents that make stage not pretty) and keep going. Losing only half of the stage lighting that becomes a problem. Now the audience doesn't know if this some bizarre lighting choice, a stage manager screw up or something completely out of anyone's control.

Tonight I lost lights not once, not twice but six times. Yes, six...and not the full blackout we blew breakers. What that means is that some of the lights worked while others didn't. And the best part of that is that you never really knew until you bring up the light cue which lights aren't going to appear. I know you're thinking just flip the breaker switch and carry on with the show. If only it was that simple. Because we are in a charming converted storefront in North Hollywood and not a well thought out and practically designed theater space, the booth where I spend my time during the show and the breaker box are not even remotely close to each other. In fact to get to the breaker box I would either have to A) walk across the stage mid-show or B) go outside walk around the block, (yes the entire block) and enter through the back door, flip the the breaker switch and walk back around. Not exactly practical when you have to run lights and sound from the booth. So I have to rely on my lovely and talented cast, who do a great job at switching the breakers on, but they shouldn't have to do that on a continuous basis.

It does make you stay alert though. No daydreaming allowed. I'm constantly reworking lighting cues to make the stage bright and also praying that not everything goes at once. It did once tonight, we had about 2 seconds of complete loss of light and sound. You know it's bad when you lose both :) Fortunately the theater gods smiled upon us tonight, the lights and sound came back and began behaving properly for the last 4 scenes of the show and we finished well.

The old cliche - the show must go in is most certainly true in live theater. And we will, the breakers and the lights won't get the better of us. I will however, start researching sacrifices I can make to the breaker box, maybe I can bargain with it, offer it something in return...

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The magic of live theater, the thrill of seeing it all come together and the absolute awesomeness of getting a "GO!" from LA Weekly. Last week was a roller coaster of emotions and excitement. From a tech week that seemed to be filled with impossible tasks, lights that seemed to have a vendetta against us and paint that was still drying as we got ready for preview on Friday night, to a perfect opening doesn't get better than this.

Everything did come together...I was writing my lighting cues for Act II in my script as we made our way through Act I during the preview performance, but again that's the excitement of live theater. Our preview audience filled over half the house -- spectacular for preview and then opening night -- SOLD OUT!!!!! Who would have thought that an original play set in a high school, centered around violence would sell out in a little theater in North Hollywood. I knew it was a good show, but never expected a sold out audience on the first night. So sold out that one of the directors had to sit in the booth with me.

We had one reviewer that night, from one of the more critical magazines in LA. The show was great, a minor technical glitch -- not my fault (thankfully) only one gunshot not four, but it still worked beautifully. Fast forward 48 hours to Monday. I'm paging through Facebook and see one of the members of my cast has a status update that says "my current show received a "go" from LA Weekly." My first thought was wow I didn't know he was in two shows...slowly it hit me, that no, he's talking about our show, we got the "GO."

A "GO" it's funny how one word can change everything. This is our first "GO." A second year company, doing things on very limited budgets and we got a "go." So exciting. I couldn't be happier for the playwright, the cast and our company. It's bit like businesses framing their first dollar, you know they will make more than one dollar, but the first one, that's the special one, I know that TU will receive more "go's" from LA Weekly in the seasons to come, but this first one, it will always be a special one...

With Friends Like These up, it's time to move forward. I started rehearsals for our next show, another TU original Landscaping The Den of Saints. I always feel like I'm cheating a bit when I have one show I'm still in the booth with and another one I'm rehearsing with...they are like children, you have to keep explaining that you love them both the equally. Perhaps in different ways, but you have enough affection for both of them. Such completely different casts, directors and productions. Den of Saints is cast entirely from our company membership and includes some of my favorite actors. It was never my plan to do two shows in a row, but I fall in love with casts and directors and well, honestly I have a hard time saying no.

Off to the theater for rehearsal in an hour or so...going to change the marquee to advertise our "GO."

Life truly doesn't get much better than this :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where did the time go?

Well I suppose the easy answer to that question is VEGAS. My escape from LA last weekend took me to Las Vegas, I spent the weekend with four fantastic friends. It was exactly what I needed, only a bit too short. One more day would have been nice.

And then I came home and found myself in the middle of a complicated and truncated tech week. Truncated because we just moved into this new space, The Sherry. Because of the move and when we received access, things had to get a bit compressed, meaning, our build began over Labor Day weekend. -- The same weekend I went to Vegas. Our set designer did a fantastic job and it was over 50% complete by Monday. I'd say now we're at 75% complete...tomorrow is preview.

We've never done a preview night before. It's a luxury I think I'll enjoy. Tonight, will be our first run with lights and sound. We added costumes, by our lovely and talented costumer designer last night.

I have to admit, even when it's 2am and I'm in a theater with just five other people all working incredibly hard to finish what seems like an impossible task, this is when I'm the happiest. I get chills thinking about not only how far our company has come in such a short time period, but also me. 4 years ago I was terrified of actors. 3 years ago I was a brand new SM with absolutely no clue what I was doing. 18 months ago I became a production manager and last night I found myself discussing things like the possibilities of shimming a swinging door, the benefits of hanging lekos vs. fresnals for lights and working with someone else to figure out the best way to safely brace a flat to a wall if you can't screw into the floor. It's those moments that make me love what I do even more.

Do I get tired? Do I wish for a break? Who wouldn't...I've had a total of 6 hours of sleep in two days and will probably get maybe another six before we open on Saturday night. But do I love it, absolutely. I can't imagine being anywhere else!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

8 Days and Counting

Sometimes the magic of theater amazes me, other times it makes me really nervous. Our next production, Friends Like These, opens in exactly 8 days. The wonderful cast is ready to go, they could perform tonight, if we had a set, costumes, props, lights and sound. All minor details really, right? If I say that to myself enough I may start to believe it. Unfortunately I know the truth, but I also know that the miracle of the theater will occur, it will all come together and all will be well when we preview next Friday night -- I hope :)

Being in our space last night, our theater was great. It will still take a while for that to sink in. We actually have a home. It needs some work, but talking with our artistic directors, president and tech director last night it all seems doable. We can truly make this a home for ourselves. Not too bad for a second year company, no more nomadic wandering, no more rehearsing in office spaces or church basements, we have our own theater! I can't say that enough. I don't think any of the nine of us who founded this company thought we'd be here so soon. It really is incredible.

So much more to do today. Must finish getting the cast lists out for our coffee shop series, Through a Caffeine Haze, have a few things to print off before the exec and company meetings tonight. Have to load up the car with more garage sale items and take them to the theater and on a personal note, must pick up cat litter before 11pm tonight because the 24 hour Ralph's near my house insists on closing during their renovation, thus ceasing to become a 24 hour store, I should also really through a few things in a bag, as I am escaping the smoke of LA for the weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A True Family

I use this mostly as a space to talk about life as a production manager for one of LA's up and coming theatre companies. While none of that has changed I was reminded today of how much of a family we really are...One of the company members sent this to me today:

Written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The
Plain Dealer, Cleveland , Ohio

"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 44 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:"

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion.

Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
25. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?".
26. Always choose life.
27. Forgive everyone everything.
28. What other people think of you is none of your business.
29. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
31. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
32. Believe in miracles.
33. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
34. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
35. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
36. Your children get only one childhood.
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
41. The best is yet to come.
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
43. Yield.
44. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

I don't normally post things like this, but every once in a while I get caught up in the LA world. Sometimes that world can feel superficial and lonely. Getting this today somehow reminded me that while we all run around crazily and sometimes things happen that we don't like, we are still very connected to each other. Why she sent this to me today I may never know, I'd like to think that on some level maybe she knew I needed to read it today. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, so much of life and theatre for that matter is based on happy coincidences.

The happy coincidence in my life other than receiving this email today is that it did make me pause and remember how much I love the people I work with and why I put so much effort into my job. It's for them, it's for us. Not only are we a company of artists and artistic individuals, we are a family. It's a rare find here in LA, a company of actors that are actually friends and dare I say it family, but in this group that anomaly exists.

So take the words above and do with them what you want. Take a moment to remember and be thankful for your family, be it your real one or your chosen one.

Off to rehearsal at the theatre. It feels so good to write that :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It just keeps going

We closed three shows this past weekend. Three, I know -- we must be crazy! Two mainstage productions running in rep with each other (note to self -- should we ever do that again, please try to convince both directors that one set is preferable to two and that one lighting plot is better than two...). Thankfully I had two of the most amazing and incredible SM's, assisted by two incredibly talented ASM's running the show and changeovers were relatively painless. The other closed show was the third installment of our late night series, Tales of An Unsettled City: Revelations.

So I know that many people would say, okay surely you are taking a break now, but no -- our next two shows, one mainstage, Friends Like These and a new late series, Pulp Graveyard, open in two weeks. Yep, two weeks. I'll be in the booth for these and I'm excited about it. I couldn't have asked for a better cast for Friends Like These.

The other bit of good news, not only for the company, but for me as well is that we now have a home space! As of today, our new home base is in North Hollywood at The Sherry Theatre. Tomorrow night will be the first time in our short history that a show will get to rehearse on the stage more than 3 days before we open. Incredible when you think about it, that we normally only get three days on the stage prior to opening. So this will be exciting -- a whole week!

Tonight is a rare night off for me, a night off meaning I'm not in rehearsal or at the theatre. I'm still working on TU things, but at least I'm home tonight!