Theatre

HAIR

Time: March 22, 2013
Place: Las Positas College
Role: Stage Manager
Director: Wes
My Reflections
I had no plans to audition for HAIR. In fact, I wasn’t planning to be involved with it at all. I had seen it a few years prior in Alameda, and while I thought they did a fine job with the production, I realized it wasn’t my cup of tea.

It still isn’t.

And I didn’t audition. But I did get an email from the director inviting me to be the stage manager for the show. I had spoken with him about six months prior and I expressed interest in being an assistant director for future production (was hoping for Miss Saigon). And a stage manager is sort of like an assistant director…

…Only a stage manager isn’t anything like an assistant director.

But I agreed. Why not? It would be a different experience and could even be fun. Besides, having stage manager experience isn’t a bad checkmark on a resume whether or not one want to pursue that path.

We had a crew meeting before the auditions, in which I was pretty darn sick (rare for me). Somehow, 2012 was just a year of colds for me (usually I have zero to one cold). The meeting went well and we made plans for the show. I later got my script and began reviewing it. I had forgotten a lot about the show but after reading through the script, I knew what it as about once again.

On the audition day, we had an okay turnout. Fewer people seem to be doing theatre nowadays. Obviously, the internet and video games have a lot to do with that. The second day had the same number of people, but we had enough for our callbacks.

It was nice going to a callback and not being nervous. I had nothing to lose. I had nothing to gain. I was on the other side now. It was surreal. Nothing could go wrong. Talk about no pressure.

During the callbacks, the director was still concerned about casting the lead role. We simply hadn’t seen enough of the candidates at that point and he was hoping I would toss my hat into the ring.

I would not.

So we made choices from the applicants we had, and committed to those choices. They turned out to be great decisions. Everyone did terrific work. Whenever possible, it’s always HIGHLY recommended to use the actual people auditioning and expressing interest in the roles. Yes, I’ve done quite a few roles that I haven’t auditioned for, but I’ve also seen many roles go to people who didn’t bother coming to auditions or callbacks. Actors don’t like that. It makes many think twice about auditioning for the same company a second time. That said, if you’re the one getting the role, then well, that’s a different matter.

Crazy world, we occupy.

The rehearsals went fine, although there were many conflicts and no-shows during too many nights. It just often goes down that way and little can really be done. But since we had plenty of time, it wasn’t the end of the world if people were late or absent and we allowed for it. Plus, if the director wasn’t getting upset about it, then no reason why anyone else should. Some theatres eject those peoples; other places deal with it.

Luckily, I had an ASM for this production, which allowed me to not have to race back from Vacaville twice a week. She took care of many other things as well. Heck, she probably could have handled the whole thing, which I considered for a moment early on when I was offered a lead role in a production of another show which overlapped considerably. Hated to break my commitment though.

I got to watch the cast bond together, and how different things are when you’re on the outside. While everyone (cast, crew, tech, orchestra, etc.) comes together to form the run of a show, there’s always some separation between the cast and everyone else. They’re the ones in the light, ready to sink or swim, risking it all for applause, tears, or silence.

That circle was even disrupted to some degree when more people had been brought in at a later time. They weren’t bad people at all, just not right for the group–and there was some immediate tension. In general, the cast grows to be like a family, where people feel safe and familiar, and the new people were disrupting this. Actually, it seemed to be mainly about one person just not bonding well with a current cast member, but the tension spread quickly. As well, the new people just weren’t able to attend enough rehearsals. It was found that the best solution was to not continue with them as part of the cast.

I also saw how the show needed adjusting here and there. While the nudity had been removed from the start (just was not worth the hassle, headache, and drama), there were other things that needed taming. But it’s very difficult to stop something that had already started, so in doing so, the adjustments were met with heavy resistance.

The goal was simply to balance things out. A person may have said, “No! Don’t remove that. We WANT to offend the audience!” Yet, you really don’t. You want to challenge them maybe and push the envelope some, or give them things to think about later. But you don’t want to flat out insult or offend. It breaks the agreement. The audience member paid money and agreed to come to a community college theatre production. The goal should not be to make them regret that decision, tell others not to come, and vow to never return. The goal needs to be to get people to think, to ponder what they know about social conventions, and to either reaffirm them, or make changes if so stirred to do so.

For this show, I spent most of my time out in the house, helping on lines, taking some notes. I had tons of ideas and thoughts on things, but could never really share them (again, the stage manager is not an assistant director). My place was keeping order and admin stuff. It’s okay work, though not terribly rewarding at times. And it’s almost painful to keep all those ideas inside.

I also got to really see how things appear in the house (where the audience sits). I saw them enter, sit down, respond, engage, and leave. I could hear the laughs, the responses, and sometimes the lack thereof. I also got an idea of how and when the audience really arrives into the theatre. Tardy and late seem to be the social norm.

Once tech week began, I left the house and entered the booth. I would be “calling the show.”

Running the show was interesting. It was fun to a degree, like being in the captain’s chair and making the correct decisions and crucial times. Each show was like a new battle, but with exactly the same ROE.

This was a whole new experience for me, but I picked it up fairly fast. Still, I was a little nervous at first. There were many, many cues and some were pretty fast. Others started a time sequence with the orchestra and cast, so if my call was off just a second, then everything didn’t work as planned. I learned the importance of actors hitting their marks and staying in them. The spots and other lights were set up to only shed light onto a particular area of the stage. If someone wasn’t in that area, you had a dark actor, and an empty pool of light. Audiences probably thought the tech messed up, but no, it’s not on them when that happens. But stuff does happen. Sometimes, an actor would accidentally begin the wrong set of lyrics and the heart gets pumping fast when that happens. You wonder at first if you’ve messed up and forgot a set of cues, but then find a way to adjust things back to normal. More often than not, it really affected very little when two sets of lyrics were swapped.

Overall, it’s not a huge art, though there is some art involved as to when to call the cue. There’s a sense of timing it out so the music and lights just sync up at the proper moment with the right emphasis or crescendo. I took many notes on each cue to try and perfect those moments. This continued throughout the run, always striving to bring the magic up just one more level.

The downside (along with not getting the thrill of being onstage) was that I never really got to see the show. I was often looking down in the script that was covered with notes and number, following along, and called “stand by 94” and then “go.” Repeat that action for 200 cues for eight shows. It’s interesting work, but perhaps repetitive. As a paid job, it might be okay, but for volunteering…yeah, you do it once.

I suppose there was a small moment of acting for me. Before each performance, I got to do the opening announcements. I used a hippie/druggie voice and had a small blast with that. Some didn’t even know it was me. It was very lengthy at first (but I always say, “If they’re laughing, who cares?”) yet we trimmed it down a lot.

I mean, really, how can I spend three months in a theatre and not do at least SOME acting?

Next: Your majesty! Your maaaaaaaaajesty!!!!

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