Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Theater Festival

I have noticed something missing from my life recently...it started out as a small something, and had grown to be a large part of my usual routine for this time of year.

I didn't think it would cause much of a difference in my life, to be honest... I'd made a conscious choice to move here, to quit my old job, to walk away from something I helped create from the bottom up.

I didn't think I'd feel an ache.

I do....deep and solid.

In 2001, I was asked to join a board to create a theater festival in the town I lived in. There was already a large one in place, ours was to be a start up, small budget ($60K), one paid actor, no pay for anyone else. If you work in theater, you know this is how it goes.

Our first season was one set, different set pieces, same cast in rep, two set crew folk...I dragged HRH in to help... and we were off. We did The Odd Couple as one of the shows, the most heavily propped show in the business....on a set so far down on the apron, we couldn't lower the curtain. I did the set changes, along with propping, crewing, and a plethora of other things. We created a set change that went from Scene One to Scene Two with three of us in maid's aprons to the tune of Can-Can, and we cleared the stage at lights to half in 70 seconds.

We had applause every night for our set change.

When I left, we had a fully paid cast and crew and designers, three plays and multiple sets. booya. Without a woman who is the Director of the Board, it wouldn't be possible. She believes in the dream, and made sure things were done if I asked.

Every summer, as Production Manager, and two summers as Stage Manager (once for two plays in the same season)in addition to my PM job, I started in October....picking up Designers, hiring Directors, working with the Artistic Director and founder of the Festival. We struggled to raise money, our budget was larger every year.

Auditions in February and March...I learned to cast, taught by an amazing Artistic Director, we even picked up Equity once. That was a feather in our caps. An expensive one, but...and he was a charm.

But, what I loved was that first day of production, of putting my key in the theater door, opening it up, and smelling....theater. House lights up...I'm home.

Fresh and new and ready for us to create. Walking the stage, alone for a half hour to set up where I'd have my 'office', usually a table in the green room. Looking at the shop that didn't have a sink, glancing up to the booth that was so badly built, stage managers had to sit on a table and put their heads out the window to hear. Walking to the edge of the stage, and I could hear the audience, settling in, waiting.

In the next six weeks, the air was filled with the smell of lumber, paint, glue...rehearsal halls were scheduled to the last second, props run back and forth, lost at times, actors running lines in hallways.... tempers frayed. Costume designers creating amazing bits from pins and running seams and, yes, hot glue. Saws, hammers, lighting designers on catwalks, sound designers running sound WAY TOO LOUD... heaven.

I've run into scene pieces and knocked myself out. I've fallen down open stairwells and have the broken fingers and rebuilt shoulder to show for it. I've had my knee rebuilt. I've had to dash down three flights of stairs, run backstage, have the actors throw clothes on me, and ring a doorbell for ONE line, because at the end of a play, the playwright decided to put in a character that was only mentioned throughout the play. Why hire an actor when you can have the stage manager play the part for free?

I've helped move set pieces that the designer decided to put two feet off the ground...some were on smart caster's, some were on no caster will be left behind. With us up to a three show season, and enormous sets, we had a map on the wall, and moved the scenery like you do those little plastic puzzles around. Our TD was a genius, with a calm manner that kept things going. We bolted and had different spikes on the floor for each show, and with shared platforms, had to make sure we had them turned the right way. Glow tape was everywhere. Actors, crew, we all pushed and shoved and laughed...and...

The land of Utes never heard so much cursing.

The lighting designers were the best. We did God's Favorite once, and the lightening scene was so spectacular, people jumped. Of course, the fireplace fell on a tech, but, she didn't make a sound as she lay there under the piece until the curtain fell.

It was my home. I never walked though without stopping to thank anyone who was there, because with a starting company, many people work for little or nothing. I was there 15 hours a day, sometimes sleeping on a piece of set furniture. The first year, all of my home furniture was ON stage. I've made friends I'll never forget, I've had times that stay with me and still make me laugh. I've had arguments with designers, directors, and threatened an actor with a sharp pencil.

I wasn't joking when I did it. Do NOT fuck with me when I'm calling a show.

The season...things right, things wrong. Telling the house manager to hold the house, because a door knob fell off. Putting the last bit of paint on a second before they walk in... again, the hot glue gun going to put on a button that falls off seconds before an actor is to wear the costume.

But, theater...I love film, don't get me wrong...but, once you see it, you see it. Theater, it's never the same, ever. I watch every rehearsal, fitting in between keeping track of money and budgets and helping with building and all the other stuff. Tech week, oh, that's great fun! You work 18 hours a day, setting cues and the actors have to hold while you re-adjust, I've worked a show where I got my sound cues 35 minutes before we opened. That is why theater is so breath taking. It is never the same, ever. Ever. A rehearsal, a performance.... you get something different every time you see it...it will astound you with it's brilliance or it's plodding. The actors drag lines, and you can drive a truck through them...so, you have to nudge them without incurring hostility. They are so sparkling, and you have tears as you tear into the dressing room to dance. They feed from the audience, and the audience feeds from them.

In the beginning, we had one show with an audience of 15. It was one of our best shows...they laughed, and cheered, and the cast fed on it like kids on candy.

Last night, closing night...we strike three shows one after another. Done by midnight, dressing rooms cleaned, props boxed, costumes noted and put away. Sets torn down, I'm kept away from power tools. They make excuses to keep me away...sending me to other things. I pass out paychecks, we hug. I make my final speech, again thanking everyone for their work. I always cry. In the end, it's the crew and the cast. They make the magic. They are amazing and wonderful and this year I know who is working and I will not be there for it, knowing that, I sobbed.

I make a last sweep through. Stand again at the edge of the stage, look over the empty seats...hear the audience echoed back to me.

House lights out.

My key turns the lock in the door...we're done.

2 comments:

LisaB said...

I love this story. What a mood you set! I did a bit of theater when I first started out and it was just like this.

Isn't showbiz wonderful? No other world like it.

Quin said...

lisab~thanks and you are right..there is none like it. i'm trying film now, it's so different, but, i keep my fingers in theater, and to be honest, i may end up back there every summer. there is nothing like it in the world.