After the Storm: Looking Back on Artless Charlie – Part 3: Technical and Logistical Nightmares

I’m not sure where to begin with this subject other than to say just about everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong with this part of the production…just about.  Also, I have to thank God for gracing me with such a diligent and compulsive stage manager; for without her, I probably would’ve started shooting people at random.

One of the most difficult issues surrounding this show was the scheduling. When Adam and I spoke to the Department Chair over the January break, we asked him when a good time would be to schedule our performance so we would have the least chance of being double-billed with another show. Having been double-billed with E. Wilson and B. Peterson’s Senior Practicum on my last directing endeavor, Sincerity Forever, I wanted to avoid that as much as possible for Artless Charlie.  However, I knew that with the number of projects going up in the Spring semester, this would be a difficult task.  It is nearly impossible to avoid scheduling conflicts in the Spring.  In any case, we decided with Dr. Kolb that the week directly before Spring break would be the best time.  As the semester progressed, we found out that Renee S’s Practicum, The House of Yes, would be going up in the Spiegel about a week and a half before our scheduled performance dates. We knew that other shows would be going into that space around the same time, and we figured a week and a half would be ample time to prepare our show for performance.  As we moved into early March, word got around that Sarah N. was having trouble booking the Cultural Center Theater for her production of Burlesque is Back.  Rumors began circulating around the department, as they often due, that she would need to use the Spiegel Theater as a performance space.  The only problem with this was that her scheduled performance dates were only a few days before ours.  This was a major concern for all of us, because we were afraid that we would lose a lot of our scheduled rehearsal times in the performance space.  Erin, my faithful stage manager, spoke with Sarah on a number of occasions to try and work something out, but to no avail.  So, in early March, a meeting was scheduled between the three “camps” to discuss how our respective schedules would be determined. Present at the meeting were my advisor Royston, the playright, Adam, my stage manager Erin and myself for Artless Charlie, Renee S., Kate D., Prof. Rych C. for The House of Yes, as well as the Department Chair, Sarah N., and Marci S., who was filling in as a temporary stage manager, for Burlesque is Back.  Discussed at the meeting were any possibilities of moving Sarah’s show to an alternate space, like Lowe 010 for example, but she was not interested in pursuing any of those options as she required a set of curtains to perform her show.  So we came to the conclusion that there was no other choice but to put all three shows in the Spiegel within a week and a half of each other.

Next came the most difficult part, divvying out the space.  Essentially, the group went through each day of the week for March and the beginning of April, and decided who could and/or should get the space on any given night.  My concern with this was that by the time that most of my cast would become available off of the Shakespeare Festival, I would no longer have access to the space because of the two other shows.  Additionally, because creating this new play was such a massive undertaking for all those involved, I was concerned about having to drastically shorten the number of rehearsals I had originally anticipated having in the space.  After about two hours of begging and bartering, Artless Charlie actually ended up with quite a large number of rehearsals in the Spiegel, but we would have to share hang and focus/tech dates with Sarah N.  Though the outcome of the meeting was not ideal, I was sure that it would at least be sufficient to prepare our show.

After this meeting, I became increasingly concerned that we would not have sufficient time to explore the text to the level I had anticipated.  So, in order to compensate, I had Erin schedule every other available time in the Calkins Dance studio for us to rehearse.  In hindsight, I am somewhat split on whether or not this was a necessary addition.  On one hand, I know that I scheduled a huge number of rehearsals for this production, especially considering that it was a student show, but I wanted to explore this text as much as we possibly could and hopefully raise it to a comparable level to our Department productions.  Because of my desire to do this, I was afraid that I may have taken advantage of my cast’s time and asked them to commit more than they had anticipated.  Though none of them ever vocalized this, Erin did bring to my attention the fact that we were having more rehearsals for this production than any non-department production in the past that she was aware of.  I understood this, and with the exception of canceling about four or five of those rehearsals, I stood by my decision.  On the other hand, had it not been for all of those rehearsals, I don’t think we would have been prepared for the disaster that was to be our tech/dress week.

My game plan in so far as the technical/production elements of this show were concerned was to delegate as many duties as possible to other students.  That is to say, though I wanted to keep this production as technically simple as possible, I thought that by having a stage manager, props master, costume designer, technical director, assistant technical director, and light board operator, that would leave Adam and myself a lot more time to explore play itself.  I made this decision based on the fact that with my last production, Sincerity Forever, I was stuck having to build and design the set, hang and design the lights, design the costumes and gather/coordinate the props while Sarah Y., my stage manager for that production, was stuck building all of the costumes.  Given the stressful nature of that situation, I wanted to try and avoid a repeat of that for this production at all costs.  Though this theory seemed to work out great at first, I soon learned that when you entrust others to carry the proverbial “ball” for you, a lot of times they drop it.  This unfortunately was the case with Sarah U. my props master and Rich F., my light board operator, both of whom dropped out mere days before opening night, and did so without warning.

Sarah U, who voluntarily approached me about helping out with the production claiming she had “nothing else to do this semester”, dropped out of the show and left us with almost no props the day before our proposed tech.  She claimed that she didn’t have time to finish the commitment because she had taken on too many additional jobs in the time between we enlisted her services as props master and the time that we would be opening.  Among these new duties for her, was building the elaborate costumes for Sarah N’s Burlesque show.  Though I was thoroughly disappointed and concerned by the fact that she had left us in quite an uncomfortable position, my stage manager, Erin, promptly took on the task of handling the props for our show.  This was a true lifesaver for the production and a testament to how dedicated she was to this production.

Rich F., on the other hand, originally asked if he could be an ASM for the show, and I was happy that he would volunteer to work with us.  However, seeing as we didn’t really need an ASM, we asked him to run the light board instead.  He accepted, and understood that we would be contacting him to come in during our tech week and start learning the light cues.  However, when Erin did contact him to let him know when to come in, he said that he could no longer help out because he was involved with Mike P’s Drama 192 project; a show that he committed to after he signed on for Artless Charlie. Again, one of my truly dedicated production members, Emily H., stepped up and took on Rich’s duties as the light board operator.

By the time that all of these positions had been re-filled, it was now the Friday before opening night and we were to be in the Spiegel to do a joint hang and focus with Sarah N. Though there had been a mishap with the work order to have the Plant department bring our four, 4×8 platforms into the space the day before, Andrew DenDio, my technical director, took on the task himself and brought them over for us. During the hang and focus, I had Tyler M. and Fred G. help out with wiring the dimmers and hanging the instruments.  Though they did a wonderful job helping out, we really ended up just hanging the lights for Sarah N’s production because it was going up first, and we would have to wait until after she closed on Monday night, to finish our lights.  That weekend, Nick M., my ATD, worked on building the music box because, as I mentioned earlier, Sarah U. had not been able to finish her prop duties. Though Nick worked very hard on this and did the best he could, we ended up just using something from prop storage.

Near the end of our hang and focus, another major problem came to light regarding Sarah N’s Burlesque show.  Adam overheard her tell some of her cast members that they would be meeting tomorrow (Saturday) at 4:30 in the Spiegel to do a run through.  This aroused some suspicion because it had been scheduled for quite some time that we would have our cue to cue on Saturday from 3:30 to 6:00, and she would be rehearsing from 6:00 on.  This schedule was also confirmed in the Department‘s Spiegel sign-out logbook.  Sarah claimed that her drummer was only available from five to seven PM on Saturday, and she needed to rehearse with him before she opened.  I understood this, but was concerned that it was never brought to the attention of my stage manager.  I guess she assumed that she would just show up at 4:30 on Saturday and ask us to leave. In any case, I told her to contact my stage manager either that night or the following morning to see if we could arrange the change. When I heard from my stage manager about this the following day, I was quite disappointed to find out that not only was she non-apologetic about not notifying us of the need to change the schedule, but she was borderline threatening in her demands to have the space.  She even went so far as to say she would go in early and have public safety lock the doors so that we could not enter at our assigned time. Such unprofessional behavior truly put a damper on how I wanted to handle this production, but I’m glad that my stage manager had enough composure not to reply in kind. In an attempt to be somewhat diplomatic about this, Erin and I agreed that we would give her the space at 5:00 on Saturday provided that she take down her set of flats and curtains after her Sunday performance so that we might be able to have a cue to cue on Sunday evening.  Sarah agreed and we gave up our cue-to-cue time on Saturday and set some sound levels instead.

This raises yet another troubling issue regarding the sets. We went to great lengths to ensure that our set could be completely portable and stored out of the way for Sarah when she needed to rehearse and/or perform.  I was disappointed that she could not do the same for us, or even consider the prospect of doing so without us having to bargain for it.  Needless to say, it was becoming apparent that we were sacrificing a great deal for her and her production and getting absolutely nothing in return.

As Sunday rolled around, my entire cast and crew showed up after Sarah’s matinee performance to help strike her set so that we might be able to focus some lights and have our cue to cue.  We soon realized that this would be impossible because she had gelled all of the lights with pink gels and moved a number of instruments from the joint plot upon which we had previously agreed.  Discouraged, but not yet beaten, we decided to run through the show without light cues, and planned to do our cue to cue on Monday, following Sarah’s final performance.  By changing the cue to cue yet again, our number of scheduled run-throughs/ dress rehearsals had now dwindled from three to two.  That number would again become smaller before the week was through.

At this point, things just got ridiculous.  Somehow or another I had upset the Gods enough to cause a freak blizzard in the second week of April. Of course, this caused the University to be closed down, preventing Sarah from doing her final performance on Monday.  Because not everyone on her review panel had seen the show yet, the performance was moved to Tuesday night, and so was our cue to cue.  Now, I was getting a little nervous.  We would now have to do our cue to cue/light focus on Tuesday night and have only one night to run the show with full lights and sound.  That would be our one and only dress rehearsal.  After striking Sarah’s set on Tuesday night, we thankfully got all of our light cues worked out by about midnight and were ready to have our first and final dress the following day.  We also had a small preview audience of three people who could not make either of the scheduled performances.  In spite of all these troubles and mishaps, miraculously the show went off without a hitch on Thursday night. Though our lighting set-up had to be somewhat primitive because of the tech week troubles, I think the single instrument lighting for a number of the spaces was nice.  It gave a simple, calming quality to those scenes.  This is a good example of how rolling with the punches, so to speak, can work out for the better sometimes.  It is also the perfect segue-way into the final chapter of this saga…

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