Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Before

I have one absolute favorite time of day when I'm stage managing. It is what I call "the before." As the SM I'm usually at the theatre an hour before the actors arrive. I like to get everything on my pre-show to do list out of the way before they arrive so I can focus on their needs and any emergencies that may creep up. My pre-show list, sound and lighting checks, sweeping, cleaning the seating area, setting up the concessions and box office, buying the consumable props takes about 45 minutes. Assuming everything goes well that gives me roughly 10-15 minutes until the cast begins to arrive. These are some of my favorite minutes. I know that could be taken as a slam on the cast, it truly isn't, what I like about those moments of solitude is feeling the potential, the energy waiting to be harnessed and used that night. I usually go into the house, sit down in the aisle and look at the stage. Most nights I get chills, knowing what's going to take place in that space in just a couple hours.

As I sit there the cast begins to arrive. One thing that amazes me about actors is how they can put the rest of their life on hold. I love being able to chat with each of them as they come in, find out how their day has been, get a hug or two and send them on their way to the dressing room. Being an SM you sometimes double as a mom, a best friend, a coach and a therapist. I've had actors tell me everything from "I broke up with my boyfriend an hour ago" to "I rear ended a drag queen on the way over here, not sure how I'm going to pay to his car fixed and I got a huge ticket." I listen, I sympathize, I wish I could do more, but usually they just need to get it out there. Once they do, they head towards the dressing room and become immersed in the pretend world we have created. For the next 3 hours the rest of their lives don't matter. The audience will never know about the broken hearts, or the zero balances in the check book. That skill to put everything else aside is incredible to me.

The last part of what I define as "the before" is that moment when the cast is in position, the audience is seated and I bring down the house lights. I love the hush that rolls over the audience. Then the stage lights go down and you can see people settle into their seats, jostle to see around the people in front of them and lean forward in anticipation. It's a powerful feeling to know I did that, every performance I have the honor of starting the show. It's an amazing feeling.

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