Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Places. Please.

Sometimes the best helping hand you can get is a good firm push.

Joann Thomas
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"Half Hour!"

"Oh, no, not another theatre story." Well I spent over 45 years in the professional theatre, I have stories.

Half Hour! That's a phrase that strikes fear or excitement or both into the hearts of most theatre people. After a play has been rehearsed fully and is ready to open it is handed over to the Stage Manager. From then on nothing happens unless he or she says so. The Stage Manager may have assistants, Assistant Stage Managers, ASMs, and altogether they are known as the Stage Management. (Isn't that clever?)

It is traditional in the professional theatre that someone from Stage Management gives four calls before a performance. (Those of you who know all this can talk among yourselves or go out for a smoke.) The first call is "Half Hour" which means you better be there, signed in and getting ready. The next call is "15 Minutes" which means in approximately 15 minutes the performance will begin, give or take any unexpected problems. Then there's the "5 Minutes" call. The cast and crew of a production absolutely depend on these countdowns, these calls. Stage Management may say "5 Minutes And Holding." A sudden costume repair, or scenery fix, or maybe a late arriving audience because of bad weather, slow service at the local chop house or a peaceful demonstration across the street. Then comes the most hallowed call of all, which we all wait for and expect and which generates a sudden burst of physical, psychological, emotional and nervous energy. "Places." We are ready to start and if you are in the big dance number at the beginning you better get where you belong, pronto.

In a few moments the show starts and proceeds along under the careful ear and eye of the Stage Manager until 2 to 3 hours later the final curtain comes down, the curtain calls are done, the house lights go on, the audience shuffles around putting on their coats and leaving. The rest of us go out to eat and drink, or just drink.

I have known some great stage managers in my career: Adam, Barry, Bruce, Liz, Margie, Maria and some whose names I can't remember dating back as far as the 60's. But I have also known some bad ones.

I was doing a play in Washington. There were 4 actors. It was a chaotic production, but we eventually got ready to open it. On opening night the Stage Manager, whose name I mercifully forget, called Half Hour, didn't call 15 Minutes, but called 5 Minutes. I sat in the dressing room, with one of the other actors, waiting for Places. I wasn't on at the beginning of the play, fortunately, but I heard it start. So I rushed upstairs to the wings in time to make my entrance.

At Intermission I told him that he forgot to call Places. He said "Oh I never call Places. I expect you to be professional enough not to miss your entrance." We divided him into 4 parts, chewed him up and spit him out on to the sidewalk.

We didn't really, of course, but what we did was a little more than a good firm push. The next night, and every night after that, he called "Places."

DB - The Vagabond
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Never Give Up
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SPRING QUESTION
(This is not a contest)

Come on. 11 diverse and interesting answers so far. Where's yours?

NASA has planned to send a two man mission on an 18 month trip to the planet Mars. It would take 6 months for the astronauts to get there and after 6 months of exploration another 6 months to return.

Should they do it and why, and if not, why not?

dbdacoba@aol.com

I eagerly await your answer.

DB
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3 comments:

Big Mark 243 said...

In boxing there would be a runner who made sure the fighters for upcoming bouts had their gloves. When he stopped by your dressing room with a pair in hand, he also told you to 'glove up'. The next time you saw him it was so he could lead you and your corner to the ring.

For the stage manager to be that clueless means either one of two things he was inexperienced or he was incompetent. If he was the former, maybe some understanding was in order. If he was the latter, WHO trusted him with their production?

Ally Lifewithally said...

I always enjoy reading your memories ~ Ally x

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Sometimes rules and tradition are there for a reason.