Little Details of the Great White Way

For my last post (at least as part of my Writing Across Media class) I’ve decided to comment on all the little details about Broadway that many people don’t really know.

Rush, Lottery, and Standing Room

Hold on a second… I made a whole post about this. However, if you don’t know what this is about, check it out. It will open your eyes.

Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway

There are many misconceptions about this one. I’ve heard many people refer to regional and touring productions as “Off-Broadway” but that is actually incorrect. Any production outside of New York City is either a regional production (if it was produced by the theatre in which you are watching) or a tour (a show that travels to different theatres in the country).

The terms relating to Broadway are reserved for New York City alone and it all comes down to a very simple factor: number of seats. Broadway theatres have at least 500 seats. Off-Broadway theatres have 100-499 seats and Off-Off-Broadway theatres have 99 or fewer.

Tony’s vs. Obies vs. Drama Desk

Many people who are unfamiliar with the theatre world will most likely only recognize the first of these three. Contrary to popular belief, the Tony Awards are not the celebration of all theatre in New York, only Broadway. In order for a show to be eligible for the Tony’s, it must have opened in a designated Broadway theatre. However, the Obies are meant to celebrate the less recognized shows that opened in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatres.

The Drama Desks are the awards that cover all of it. Any show that opened within the city limits of New York City, regardless of theatre size, is eligible. While most of the winners do come from the Broadway shows, occasionally a lesser known nominee will pull an upset and shine. A nomination alone is a great deal of recognition.

The Stage Door

The stage door of a theatre is the entrance into the backstage area. It is where the cast and crew (usually) enter and exit the theatre. After a show, barricades are put around the door and audience members are able to wait for cast members to come out and sign their programs or posters, maybe even take pictures with them.

The stage door is always more crowded and violent when a celebrity is in a show. I almost got murders after How to Succeed with Daniel Radcliffe, but I stage door at every show I see. I’ve met some pretty awesome and/or famous people, but I’ve also had great conversations with cast members. I possess a very large collection of playbills covered in cast signatures, and a couple pictures to go with them as well.

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Sebastian Stan

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Sigourney Weaver

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Matthew Broderick

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Ian McKellen

 

 

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Smash: Broadway on TV

On February 6th, 2012, a television show aired that answered the prayers of all Broadway fans.

It was a show about the making of a Broadway musical and it was called Smash

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The show, at least in the first season, centered around the cast and creative team developing a musical about Marilyn Monroe. From the early days of writing and casting to the development workshop and ending with an opening night of a trial, regional run in Boston. The first season mostly focusses on the creative team developing the show (Bombshell) amongst personal problems, and the two actresses who were both in the running for the role of Marilyn and remain somewhat rivals for the entirety of the show.

The second season sees Bombshell open on Broadway as well as the development and opening of a different, new musical called Hit List. New characters are introduced amongst the old and the introduction of a second show provides a contrasting method of creating a show and bringing it to Broadway.

Bombshell went through a development workshop and a trial run in Boston. The workshop was presented to gain investors. This is a very common way a show gets developed. Most new shows, before coming to Broadway, will develop in workshops and result in short runs in other cities in order to gauge audience reactions. Only then, if there is enough funding, will the show hope to reserve a Broadway theatre.

Hit List took another common avenue. It was developed at a public, not-for-profit theatre right there in New York. It became very popular very fast and was picked up by an investor who moved it to Broadway right away. One notable example of this happening in the real world is the musical Rent. Following the death of composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson, Rent was moved from its Off-Broadway home in downtown Manhattan to the bright lights of Broadway, where it stayed for many years to come.

Most of the producers and creative team behind the TV show, as well as almost the entire cast, came from the world of theatre and Broadway. The show is very accurate and authentic to what the process of a Broadway show is really like. It also featured many guest stars who are famous for their work on the Great White Way.

Personally, my favorite thing about this show is the musical numbers. The characters perform several songs each episode. Some are covers and some are original songs written for the show, whether they be songs that are part of the fictional musicals or simply performed as part of the story.

Not only is the music incredible, but the choreography is also something to be marveled.

This is one of my favorite performances on the show and some of the best choreography I’ve ever seen

Here are some of my other favorite original songs from the show. If you have any interest whatsoever in theatre or good music, check out this show.

The Trials of High School Theatre

Almost everyone working in theatre today was once involved with their high school’s theatre program. And most have a few good stories to share.

High school theatre is a marvel. On one hand, it’s incredibly important and a very good thing for students to be a part of. It provides a safe space for expression and a sense of community, while also allowing talent and passion for theatre to grow.

On the other hand, that talent (or in some cases, lack thereof) is still growing. Although there are a lot of programs, such as the Cappies Critic Program, that celebrate high school theatre and even give out awards, it’s still very subpar to the real thing. That’s why many people, when introduced to a professional theatre environment, look back at the days of high school productions with a kind of humorous shame.

Take Blacklick Valley High School for example. In 2007, Blacklick Valley High School put on what is known in theatre circles as the worst high school production ever seen. It was Les Miserables and this is all I can show you on the subject.

The cast of Blacklick Valley’s production of Les Mis compared to the 25th Anniversary Concert

The thing is, this show production became so infamous not from some desire to ridicule the students, but a communal feeling that high school theatre can suck a whole lot. The actors themselves came forward and shared their experiences with the show. This led to a trend of people sharing their own videos of terrible high school productions.

Another notable example comes from many different schools. In the musical Into the Woods, the character Jack has a cow named Milky White. In the original production, this cow was simply a prop. In the revival, two actors dressed in a costume portrayed the animal. In high school, anything goes.

There is an entire tumblr dedicated to showcasing the worst of the worst Milky Whites across high school theatre.

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The plywood

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The paper mache

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The giraffe

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Milly White sees ALL

Now, I went to a rather nice school. We had a sizable budget and put on some pretty nice shows. However, there is one incident I will never forget.

I was part of the stage crew on our production of South Pacific my junior year. At one point, most of the crew had to wheel on a giant dock that took up three quarters of the stage. The only two spare crew members wheeled on a boat from the wings, very close to the edge of the stage.

During one performance, a chorus member suffered an asthma attack and her best friend was backstage helping her. Unfortunately, her best friend was one of the crew members pulling on the boat and this happened right before that particular scene change.

As the rest of us get the large dock on stage, the other boat girl races to the wings. She has very little time left so she grabs the end of the boat and pulls hard, forgetting there is no one on the other end to counter. The other end of the boat came swinging off the side of the stage into the pit and almost decapitated our bass player. No one got hurt, but it made for one hell of a story.

High school theatre is a testament to development. The development of talent and passion that will lead to the great artist one day.

Bonus video:

Tech: Story Time

Tech: Story Time

Now that I’ve gone over the process of tech, here are some entertaining stories from my last two and a half years of doing this.

Story #1- The Baby Giraffe

This was during tech of Maccers, the Scottish Play

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They say the play is cursed, and even saying the name of the play (unless you’re performing it) brings bad luck to the entire production. Well, yeah in my experience that is rather true. This particular tech was brutal. It took all twenty hours of tech time to even finish teching the hour and a half show, with no time left for a run. The reason it was so difficult was due to the extensive lights, sound, and projections the director insisted were necessary. At one point, the lighting designer asked if we could put in another light to get a better effect. The tech director then had to inform her that we couldn’t because we had used up every single light we owned.

So yeah, by day two, everyone is down to their last breath. We have all had enough and want to just finish this and go home. During a long hold, the actors start fooling around. One guy starts to move around while a much taller man behind him mimics him. This tall actor is standing right beneath a low-hanging fluorescent light. I think you see where this is going. Actor #1’s arms go up, so do the baby giraffe’s. Suddenly the light is out and the floor is covered in glass. We had to hold for an extra forty-five minutes just for clean-up. Not really amusing at the time, but hilarious now that I look back on it.

Story #2- The Graffiti Phone Number

Same show, different story. On the Maccers set we had a wall and some wooden pillars. Actors were encouraged to write on the walls to make it look like graffiti.

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At one point, one of the actor’s phone numbers was written there. It stayed up until right before performances when we had to take it down. Not really a long story, but just think how funny it would have been if the audience members actually started calling and texting the actor.

Story #3- The Second Stage Manager

So the first show I ever stage managed here was Senior Capstones. Five seniors each had a piece that they had written and directed. One piece was called “Tech” and was about, well, tech. Specifically, the tech of a production of Twelfth Night. Now every tech needs a stage manager to yell “Hold please!” or “Let’s take it from _____!” and this was no different. However, the stage manager’s lines were all sound cues. There were the obvious complications of different people yelling for holds all over the place. However, the bigger challenge was calling cues on time. For this particular show, the sound cues had to be called in exactly the right place. This was very, very difficult, especially considering the fact that there were over thirty cues within the twenty minute piece, and some of these sound cues came right before or after light cues as well. This led to actors desperately trying to bide time on stage until the cue finally came.

In the end, we decided to scrap all the cues and have an actor read the lines from up in the catwalk. Everything went smoother from that point on.

Tech: A Process

I have already explained how tech is the process in which the technical aspects of a show come together. This is how it happens.

9 am- Techies arrive

Tech technically starts at 10 am. However, technicians are called at least an hour early to set up their stations and prepare for work. For me, this will usually include making sure I have all my cues in my book before we get started. I also check base with every other technician to see how things are going. The master electrician (ME) is usually configuring the light board and fine tuning some cues with the light designer. Master sound is usually checking all of their cues in qlab (a software for playing sound in theatre) and making sure all of the speakers work. Master projections boots up the projector and makes sure all videos and projections are ready to go.

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10 am- Actors arrive

Okay, that’s actually anywhere between 9:45-9:55. Actors (well everyone for that matter) have it drilled into their heads that early is on time and on time is late. Therefore, they are expected to be here before 10:00 so we can get started at 10:00.

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They also show up early to set up the Tech Weekend Hobo Village.

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10:00-12:00

We hit the ground running. Starting as soon as possible, we get the stage set up and start with cue number one. From that point, there’s really no telling how the rest of the show will go. most techs follow a cue-to-cue structure, which means that we jump from different cue sequences and skip long parts of the show that don’t contain cues.

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12:00- Lunch

As a stage manager, I usually don’t have too much work to do during lunch and am actually able to go eat. Most of the time.

However, the other technicians eat more rarely than I do. Ordering pizza directly to the theatre is a common occurrence during tech weekend. Technicians see this as a period of time when they can actually work. Lights can be focused and cues fixed without worrying about actors in the way. Same for sound and projections. Lunch really is a magical, productive time.

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1:00- Back! (Thank you back!)

And we continue right where we left off. Actually, I’m gonna spare you the details of what comes later.

We break for dinner from 5-6 and end with actor dismissal at 10:00pm. Tech, of course, stays later to continue working. There have been times I’ve been stuck in the theatre until 1am.

If by some miracle we are able to finish teching the show on day one, day two is reserved for at least two full runs of the show.

By the end of it, everyone is at their end

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We are tired

 

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very tired

 

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just so freaking tired

 

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I can’t even put into words how exhausting the process of tech is

 

 

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Oh look I’ve collapsed on the stairs

It’s frustrating. The initial tread through the show takes so long because it is full of starts and stops. I yell “Hold please!” more times than I can count. We have to start and stop at the same place ten times because this cue still isn’t right.

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By the end of it, it really is worth it. We end up with a show that is finally together for the first time after weeks of rehearsal and it looks great. Everything is finally running and we’re no longer just pretending there was a blackout or a video playing. Tech is magical because we come out of it with a complete show after coming in with very little. Seeing what a show looks like before and after tech is mind-blowing.

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But I’m still going to complain about it because it is hell.

What is Tech?

What is Tech?

Tech, in the theatre world, can refer to a number of things. It can be a general and informal term referring to any aspect of technical theatre, such as technical elements in a show or the crew that carries them out. It can refer specifically to the tech crew.

But if you ever hear this term said with a unique mixture of fear, anxiety, exhaustion, and general done-ness, it can only mean one thing.

tech week

Tech week, or weekend over here at my school, is the time in which performance meets every technical part of the show. This is when we work out and apply lighting, sound, and projections. It is a very long and exhausting process that results in many headaches, a patience sufficiency, and, if you’re lucky, a pretty good show.

Over here at a small liberal arts school’s theatre department, we condense tech week into tech weekend due to class time during the day. Tech rehearsals are what we call “ten of twelve”. That means we take ten hours out of twelve in order to work. The other two are breaks for lunch and dinner in the time between 10am and 10pm. As a technician, I am normally called at 9 am or earlier and won’t leave the theatre until at least 11pm.

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Tech rehearsals are long and difficult. For the actors, there isn’t much to do. Most of their work developing and learning their roles takes place in the rehearsals leading up to tech. They will mostly like spend the time sitting off stage, standing on stage, or running their scenes over and over again.

Technicians spend this time going over cues, fixing cues, sorting out timing issues, focusing lights, and really doing anything and everything that could possibly come up.

This was just a short introduction. Next week I will really dive into the tech process and share some of my favorite stories, but until then,

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The Ins and Outs of Stage Management

Most people outside of the theatre world don’t really know what a stage manager does, so here is my attempt to explain the job.

What is a stage manager?

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The stage manager (SM) of a production is the person who holds everything together. They are the main point of communication for every aspect of the show. Any problems go through the SM and they need to find a way to resolve them. The SM also runs rehearsal and makes sure that everyone is on time, where they need to be, and that everything runs according to schedule. Come performances, the SM calls all cues and reports on every detail of the production, including run time and any issues that might have arisen.

Wait, what are cues?

Cues are called to signal specific actions, such as a projection or change in lighting. The SM calls these and operators for each section (lights, sound, and projections) go on the cue.

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Pictured above is a page from a production I stage managed last semester. Each color corresponds to each technical aspect of the show. Pink stickers are light cues, orange is for projections, and yellow is for sound. Cues placed side by side are generally called simultaneously. The lttle scribblings are either reminders of visual cues (cues taken off of movement and action as opposed to dialogue) or notes on a large standby. Each cue is given a standby first before the actual “GO” in order to give the operator time to get ready and sometimes many cues will be given the same standby. This minimizes delay and insures the cue will actually go when the SM calls it.

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This is actually my favorite part of an production. It can be stressful at times. For one short play I had the light operator on standby throughout the entire play (about 20 min) because the light cues came too fast. I spent that entire performance standing in the booth and saying “lights go” continuously. It was actually a really fun time.

What about running rehearsal?

In rehearsal, the SM needs to keep everyone on track. They keep the director on schedule, make sure breaks are taken, and make any notes that are needed. Here’s where communication comes into play. Members of the technical crew do not usually join rehearsal until a week before tech. This means that the SM needs to communicate and issues or questions. This is usually done in the form of a rehearsal report, sent out to all members of the crew. The report will contain the minutes of the rehearsal, an upcoming schedule, and all questions. This will then usually lead to a string of emails in an effort to resolve any issues. A similar report is written up for each performance as well.

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Also, though this job is usually given to the ASM (Assistant Stage Manager), sometimes the SM will need to be on book or making line notes. This means they will give an actor their line when prompted and will make note of any incorrect or skipped lines.

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The SM is also responsible for recording any and all blocking (movement on stage) and choreography.

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And what about the actors?

The SM runs the production, every aspect of it. While there is more work on the tech side, and actors usually report to their director or instruction, the Sm is tasked with keeping everything on track. This includes making sure everybody is on time.

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During performances, the SM will call places before the show which will summon the actors.

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The SM does not do a lot with the actors’ performances, but is still in charge. Here’s where communication comes in again. The SM will communicate with the actors and make sure they know what they need to be doing to help the tech side of things and if they need to fix anything.

So they basically just keep everything running smoothly?

Yep. The SM is there to resolve issues and keep everything going. It’s a tough job but I love it. Don’t know how, but I do.