Split track… the theatrical reality

There are certain terms for events that happen in the theatre that have no “real world” equivalent that I am aware of. Two of these terms are “cut show” and “split track”. I will attempt to explain these two theatrical inventions and then I would like to discuss the various ways we, as stage managers, work with these realities.

The cut show means you perform the show or a part of the show without the full compliment of cast. In a musicals one hopes with enough swings (offstage performers who can magically jump from one ensemble part to another, they are the superstars of a show but that’s another story) you will have all of the specialty parts (characters with lines, vocal parts or individual choreography) covered, although not even specialties are safe in the kingdom of, “throwing up all night.” When a performer cannot perform, it is non-negotiable. Although I have seen some of these titans go on with the show when the president/CEO of a corporation would be crying uncle.

The split track is slightly more complicated. A “track” is a terrible reference for all of the onstage/offstage activities a performer does throughout the night. I only say terrible because it reduces an individual artist’s work to their base actions during a show. So often we have to split up a track between more than one Actor for a variety of reasons ranging from: ability to perform the actions required, to how a person needs to look, to the director’s & creative team’s desire, or simply to avoid a cut show.  The cut show or split track is often born out of necessity, although there are split tracks built in by the director & choreographer to give the audience the best show they believe is possible without the usual player. An example is if 55 year old Sally from the Ensemble has to go on for a principal role (leading role) we put 30 year old Susan on from the ensemble in Sally’s “specialty” and the the 22 year old swing Stacy will go on for Sally’s other ensemble track but Stacy will also go on for Susan’s ensemble track when Susan is being Sally. Okay, the S thing was a little unfair but honestly this is how they feel inside my brain.

Where the Stage Manager comes into this equation is working with the creatives, music department and dance captains to create and construct this puzzle and communicate it to all of the technical departments effected… which is every department. Our influence on the alternate show really depends on what your creative team construction is. I have been on shows where we are just responsible for getting information to the crew because the resident director/choreographer does all of the performance decisions. I have also done shows where the stage managers effectively create the entire track and then have dance captains & music department cross our T’s and dot our i’s to make sure everything is looked after.  This is more familiar to me than previously mentioned just because of the shows I have been hired on. Then there are also the teams, that I love, where it is super collaborative so everyone’s expertise is expressed… these are kinda few and far between because these decisions are rarely made with advance notice. Cut and split track shows are typically to triage a performance. There are questions to ask: What combination makes the best & safest show for, in the case of Broadway, a high paying audience? What swings are available and where do their strengths lie? You don’t want to cover a  major vocal track with a dancer. Does the director, Choreographer and Music Director have preferences about how things should be covered? This is where your relationship with the show and its creative team becomes extremely important. The answer can never be “I don’t want to ever see Michael on in the Ken track.” Of course we do hear these comments frequently, but the reality in a long running show is the unfathomable often happens, so how do you make the unfathomable palatable? Can you split up the track so Michael doesn’t have to do the part in the show where he has to tap dance with a limp? Can swing Joe do that number as Ken & still do the Bill track that he is on for already? Can wardrobe get him changed. Can sound patch his mic in for that number or should you have Michael sing offstage while able bodied Joe does the number? You must know the people you are working with and what they do. You have to ask questions and be ready to accept the information coming at you. You have to have the relationship with your technical departments where they can let you know if a certain cover is doable or does it put other parts of the show at risk. My personal plan of attack is to learn as much as I can about everyone in the show and what the creative team sees as their strengths. Watch everything right from the beginning. Have spies everywhere, not only your fellow stage managers, but dressers, crew, cast members, anyone who can be honest with you about who is ready for what. An example of this is from Motown the musical, now mind you I learned a lot about cut/split shows from doing Motown but the spy part came in very handy. We had a swing who knew the choreography for the Diana Ross back up singers (Eddie Kendrick’s Singers), now this swing was white and our Eddie Kendrick’s Singers were black but not on this night. I had a spy who told me about this particular swing knowing this choreography and the vocals so I called this swing and begged him to cover us, which he did much to his chagrin.  I discovered his distain for this assignment when he texted me instead of his wife to complain about the evening’s task (again this happens). The point is, I was super protective of the show that our audience was seeing and listened to the boots on the ground who told me this was possible, so I did not have to cut one of the Diana Ross back up singers.

Once you and the theatrical posse have created this alternate show the stage manager’s need to then communicate this to ALL departments in the clearest most timely fashion possible. Its the beauty of the job really, working with fellow professionals to do the best show possible. There are multiple times where as a stage manager you would just like to tell people the best way, in your opinion, to do something and depending on your status with the company people may just go along with your solution. This solution may make your life super simple because the effort is minimal, but you will miss out on one of the key elements in the theatre, collaboration. We, as stage managers, are not creating the show in the traditional sense (Director, choreographer, music supervisor, designer, actor…) but we are in the unique position to practice the art of collaboration. Collaboration is the art form that must continue as long as the show is being played and it is up to you as the stage manager to give that room to grow within the company.

 

The Reluctant Vegan

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Here I am 50 years old and finally committing to a Vegan diet. For those who have known me over the years you known I have made the dance with food for years. At the age of twenty-one I stopped eating meat, I had made a trip to KFC that put me under. Sadly never lost the 10 pounds that comes with being a vegetarian because I balanced my diet out with Cheetos & Budweiser. In my late 20’s I added seafood into my diet, sort of. My girlfriend Lisa, who was also a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian  loved seafood (I’m certain that has yet another name to tag onto the ovo) so I did my best to include it in my diet, even making Lisa a celebratory fresh lobster dinner for one of her birthdays. It took a lot to kill those little suckers but I did it. But as with most things I could take seafood, especially fish, or leave it. The beer and Cheetos persisted, my mainstay. Fast forward to another girlfriend (can you see a pattern developing)… who was a foodie. I managed to go to restaurant after restaurant and stick to my multi-named vegetarian ways… although I did jam down a piece of turkey, one Thanksgiving, with plenty of sides to mask the meat. My friend Matt was a witness to this & a fellow turkey choker at that particular Thanksgiving of ’97. When I went through my “I’m single again” rennisance in my late 20’s I finally lost that 10 pounds, plus another 15 for good measure, but it was a brief victory as my bad habits still persisted. Fast forward to my early 30’s and my current girlfriend… now wife Doreen, who is a real bonafide meat eater, and was pregnant. I decided to try to embrace some meat as long as I either made it at home or masked it in toppings, refer back to the Turkey choke of 97, for details. I mean I didn’t want to be a vegetarian while everyone else in my family was eating meat. This started the next phase of my relationship to food which was all about weight loss. No matter how much I justified my way around it I was always diving into new habits to slim down. I did weight watchers with such investment I could have been a group leader, I did challenge after challenge, whole 30 this, no-carb that, the list went on and on and on for the next 13 years. A vegan diet danced into my adult conscience while doing Motown, The Musical when finding out that the big boss, Mr Gordy, was a late in life Vegan inspired me. I of course knew plenty of vegans (I am a lesbian after all) but there seemed to be a vegan renaissance at Motown that wasn’t co-op and Birkenstock based. Many members of the Gordy camp, as well as our director, were self proclaimed vegans. Since it seemed so prominent I started pulling away from meat again and making the odd vegan meal here and there. No matter how many food dance parties I attended I always ended up sleeping with my old friend Budweiser and Cheetos (I’m being metaphorical here, I mixed it up and would have blue moon and salt and vinegar chips as well…). Between my bright orange lover and my justifying “oh, this left over food from the kids is already here” my diet was on a rapid decline, except for my manic bursts of cooking in between junk food. Last summer while I was out of town in Chicago doing the magical show, The SpongeBob Musical, I started experiencing intense foot pain. I kept popping ibuprofen and moving forward. I went to see a podiatrist well after I returned from Chicago, which proved useless, I stood bare foot in her office, was given a hands off exam, and was told, “plantar fasciitis & flat feet giving you some tendonitis in your ankle”, “Ice, stretch & pain killers.”  More western medicine bullshit, if you don’t need surgery you don’t really rate. I grabbed a Physical Therapy appointment at An American In Paris (the company provided PT for the cast) and those wonderful PT’s definitely felt something else was going on but since they are trained to refer everything to doctors first they just gave me some other stretches. Finally, after over a year of hobbling around, I started doing my own research and soul searching and everything pointed to inflammation and that inflammation pointed to diet… not the kind of “loose 20 pounds” diet I came to know so well but a different diet, a life choice diet; a Forks Over Knives realization diet. A plant based, whole food diet. So here I am, proclaiming that after years of having “an odd relationship with meat/food” I am going to follow a Vegan diet. I am going to take control of my own destiny. Ironically as soon as I threw this fact down & Doreen watched Forks Over Knives she decided to join me in my pursuits to feel better, although the ovo draw might be a little to powerful for her to avoid ultimately. I’m not expecting a magic bullet with my foot but the changes are starting to come and I couldn’t be more excited about the next 50 years of my food life.

PLEASE NOTE: If I do live to be 102 years old… I will then go down with Budweiser and Cheetos! Make no mistake this midwestern girl is not going to end it with a Kombucha & kale chips!

Millennials of Management

Ambition is a crafty enemy that can leave who you truly are behind.
Creating a craft doesn’t align with her values, she wants results.
Time to grow is lost in her web of beliefs with their twisted urgency.
Why take the train across the country, by the time you arrive I will be done

You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man

I often write about Stage Managing from the point of view I know best, which not surprisingly is my own. A stage manager of a certain age who has been raised in a variety of theatrical environments. I would like to take a departure from the familiar and try to see life from a very different point of view, the point of view of a generation that is “the new frontier”, the Millennials of management. A talented group of driven managers who definitely threaten we heirs to the throne. With there facile minds and often tone bodies the “say no to drugs” generation is taking broadway by storm.  They are brought to broadway direct from Stage Management programs everywhere. These lads and lassies have some pretty powerful traits; they are young, bright and super ambitious.

“Here I am, ready to go. Last year I was the teacher’s pet and my teacher knows this person who can get me in with a person who I think will put me in touch with this other person they met having drinks with another friend of hers and now I have an interview to be a PA for a new Broadway Musical. Here I am working with this broadway stage manager wowing him with my hard work and powers of excel. This is amazing and the director totally values my contributions & the choreographer said I was “the best”. Here I am in tech, the PA on headset. I have done so much paperwork on this show the ASM’s “couldn’t have done it without me.” To the cast I am part of the team, they told me so at drinks the other night. Previews & Opening Night of my show. There I am in the program, my show. I was so good as the PA, “my PSM” recommended me for another PA job… I start in two weeks, just enough time to fly home and see my folks. Day one of rehearsal for my new Broadway show. The other PA has done some Off Broadway & Regional work but this is her first Broadway show… I guess I’m the voice of experience and I am the script PA so the Bookwriter has been coming directly to me. I’m actually “invaluable to this process.” The other PA’s can run for lunch because I have to be in the scene work rehearsal with the PSM and the director. To the writers I am a part of the team. Previews & Openiong NIght, my show. Two broadway shows on my resume and I have been trained as a sub. Another PA interview in two weeks, just enough time to go to Fire Island with some of the folks from my last show and do the Broadway Cares benefit in the Pines, 1K likes on my last Instagram post, yes. While I was on Fire Island I found out that this new show may be adding an ASM and I am the only one of the PA’s with… broadway experience…

Are we doing a disservice to these powerhouse individuals by promoting their youth and myoptic experience? Or is this actually the future of our business on Broadway? They have cut their teeth on the grizzle of Broadway politics. They are not intimidated by Producers, General Managers & many are friendly with directors & choreographers since they are not bound by the convention of showing deference. It’s a new generation of folks who are proud members of Actor’s Equity Association, they completely missed the generation of stage managers who thought we should be part of the IATSE. Maybe this pride and vibrato is a thing that should be embraced. They are paying their dues as Production Assistants, maybe they don’t need to know how it works in Summer Stock or Tour, Regionally or Off Broadway. I remain true to my upbringing in the business as it has shaped me into the manager and human I am at work, but I will try to keep this new generations legitimacy in mind while I am interviewing to assist them in the future. 
 
 

Oh Jesuit, my Jesuit! (a Sunday night story)

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As a kid I played at the feet of Jesuits. Not in some creepy “show me on the doll where he touched you” sort of way, I literally played at their feet under our dining room table; tying together shoe laces, tapping on their legs and hiding as they peered under the table pretending not to know what just tapped them. I guess these fellas, along with my two queer brothers and one slightly napoleonic brother, were my male role models growing up. Oh brother, I can here the jokes on the rolling in. I grew up in middle class suburban America without a single right to. I was the youngest of seven children being raised by a single, very freakin’ hard working, mom. The early 70’s, this was no joke; we are talking bra burning feminism, parents without partners mixers, Divine’s Pink Flamingos,  Vatican II had given permission for winners like The Flying Nun and Change Of Habit, Tricky Dick was the president (for a minute) and here I was doing Sunday night hangs with the Jesuits from St. Louis University. Okay, in all fairness I wasn’t hanging with the good fathers, I was more an observer. That was really the 70’s for me in general…, but that’s not the story I am telling right now. Right now I am talking about a group of righteous cats that could bend the opinion of even the biggest Roman Catholic skeptic; these were good dudes. I might be a practicing catholic to this day if I still had these guys in my life… mmmm, yep, I’ll leave it there. I am not going to pretend to be able to give you some enlightened description of the history of Jesuits but I think its important to note that this particular order of religious live in community and took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and they are heavily focused in education. I know, “duh, they are priest of course they take vows.” Not so my friends, there are other boys out there that just make “promises” to do these things not vows, these guys are diocesan priests. These are the guys that are at most of your parishes and they can own shit, make some coin here and there, maybe a vacation, maybe keep company with a little someone special because its a promise, not a vow. Now, I could go a little deeper to say that this is why this current Pope, Mr Francis is so different and seems to really be about people and love, and not just church rhetoric, because he is a Jesuit and the first freakin Jesuit to ever be the pope out of 266 of those bad boys who have worn the papal ring. Yes, the major bullshit still exists… the church is NOT like, “come our dyke sister with your lover and your children and feel God’s unbiased love.” but I kinda feel like old Francis would say that on the  QT and really mean it. Trying to be really accepting and non judgmental in the Catholic church hierarchy must be like trying to be a black president in the USA. Pretty lonely!

Whew, did I get off topic or what… So, my mom would send my brother Lance or Mike down to the Jesuit housing at St. Louis University Sunday late afternoon and he would bring back a car load of these men in black to break bread with my mom, my sibs that were around and me. There was usually a big pot of spaghetti sauce which is sort of my families version of the fishes and the loaves… a little ground meat went a long way when mixed with cans of tomato sauce and paste. Wine and laughter were typically a part of the meal. After dinner there was a lot of conversation & pipe smoke. Father Jim, who was our Sunday regular, loved a pipe. I mentioned before that my mom was a single mother. My old man did not die, my parents were divorced, yep the big evil D-word. Not a popular thing in the late 60’s and even less favored by the catholic church without an annulment. Which I am never clear why my mom didn’t get an annulment cause its not like she was all boss and said, “you know what Hal go find yourself a waitress at a diner in Perryville MO and take up with her and leave me and your seven damn kids to fend for ourselves.” Granted, I was only 6-months old so I don’t remember anything but I’m pretty fucking sure that is not how it went down. So my non-annulled mother who could no longer receive communion when she went to church EVERY Sunday and holy day of obligation would make special Sunday night’s for a bunch of priests. Maybe it was because the leader of the pack, Father Jim Burke, was a tremendously bright light who would speak intelligently and lovingly in our home. He was respectful of the job my mom was doing, along with the help of my older siblings, in keeping our family together. Now, I don’t think Father Jim or any of his brothers of the cloth that visited were naive, nope not at all. I have two queer brothers (at the time I was merely an adorable tomboy), one, my brother Lance, very outspoken and warm the other, Jeff, who is an artist was probably just out smoking pot and avoiding any conflict possible particularly involving his sexuality, my eldest sister, Deb, who was cut out of the bloom of the love that permeated the late 60’s early 70’s. Another brother, Mike, who played the obedient boy to the letter but was in fact the biggest & funniest con-artist on the pot smoking planet. A sister, Judy,who was plagued by her off color family and I’m convinced to this day has memory loss in order to not suffer the embarrassment of our eccentricities and last but not least my sister Tracy, the stunning looking athletic girl who would make sure things went how she had them planned. So with this wonderful and oversized family all in one house, Father Jim and company would come to our home to  laugh, listen and discuss life, art, science, philosophy or whatever for hours on end before saying goodnight and tumbling back into our Dodge Dart Swinger to be deposited back at their housing. Our own little 27 rue de Fleurus right there at 7920 Colonel Dent Drive.

To this day on my mom’s kitchen window sill you can still see a photograph of Father Jim that accompanies his obituary, that twinkle in his eyes that gave everyone permission to be happy around him. Father Jim was a Jesuit so he went were his order sent him which was Spokane Washington for the later part of his life. My mom did get to see him in Spokane and indeed he spread no less of his love and teaching there than he bestowed upon our band of merry misfits at 7920. My mom was once told she led a “charmed life” by a boss of hers. Now to know my Mom’s story that statement is debatable at various times but there was something charmed that brought all of those thinkers into our home and share so much love on those Sunday nights. Perhaps, if I care to let myself indulge in that love, this is why are family stayed so bonded in our differences and healthy through some tricky times.

Dear Cooper. I love you. Please read this letter. Mommy

Dear Cooper,

You are growing into a young man and I am proudly terrified. Please listen to me. You are a young black man and you are a target. A target for so much hatred and violence in this country. The people who loved you as a cute little boy don’t love you any less than they did but the people who never met you, the police that don’t know your good natured ways are going to look at you as a threat. Crazy right? You a threat, that’s impossible! Not my buster who loves watching videos and sitting in a hot bath (several a day), you’re definitely not a threat to anything but my water bill. My sweet Mommy’s boy that cuddles up with me in the mornings before it’s time to start our day, my train loving guy who wants nothing more than a trip with me on a NJ Transit train being pulled by an F40PH3C engine, my baby that I sit and watch sleep late at night and you will occasionally appear as your sucking a pacifier ten years after the “paci” is an option. These are not the threatening qualities that you will be judged by. Strangers will judge my big twelve year old boy with dark skin who demonstrates behavior that can be taken the wrong way by someone who doesn’t understand you have autism. A young black man riding his bike or his skateboard at dusk in the park is frightening to a racist. When some lady yells at you because while you’re walking through a parking lot and you look in a car that looks just like ours don’t talk back in your big loud voice because you don’t know why your being yelled at, “you didn’t do anything wrong.” That lady may  call the police who don’t know you and won’t know you have a 3DS, a few Pokémon cards and maybe some candy in your back pack and when you can’t make eye contact because you have a neurological difference called autism they may mistake that for guilt and then you say something that they don’t like because your brain actually cannot keep up with the situation and then they can say they thought that bey blade and it’s launcher in your backpack was a gun so they had to shoot you.

I will keep fighting for this obscene violence to stop. I will keep questioning shoot to kill, stop and frisk, excessive use of force; but in the meantime I pray that you will safe when I am not there to be your “white” sheild in this still sadly racist world where black people are often guilty until proven innocent… if given time to prove that innocents.

I love you buster and I wish I could just keep you trapped inside or by my side but you have the spirit of an explorer and that is so awesome. Know that Mama and I will never give up on you learning right from wrong so you stay safe in this world which still, with all the great progress that has been made, is far from created equal.

Mommy xo

 

Are your 2017 resolutions stressing you out??

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“How in the hell am I going to eat all these cookies before midnight when I give up sugar?”
“Damnit, I don’t have new clothes to go to the gym and I am supposed to start working out tomorrow!”
“Oh, how am I going to stick to this diet when I have reservations at that amazing restaurant next month.”
“I am so stressed about when on earth I am going to have time to meditate and do yoga five times a week.”
“I just opened this case of cigarettes…”
“Maybe I’ll just write every other day… every day might be too ambitious!”
“I will be more at peace & show love toward my fellow man even if our soon-to-be-president is a nightmare asshole!”

I don’t know about you but I know I have been a mess just trying to figure out how to enact my resolutions. I lack resolve and the New Year hasn’t even hit yet. So I may not actually start at the stroke of midnight on 1st of January 2017. I might ease into them this year so I can establish a solid base. In fact maybe my resolutions might just be creating a solid base so I can support others in their time of stress and self-improvement. I guess what I am saying is the whole notion of improving oneself based on a calendar date is too overwhelming for this girl. I need to do in my life what I do in my work; try to be a stable base for those who count on me be it my children, spouse, mother, siblings, friends… I may never be a super hero who looses those extra pounds but I can certainly be superman’s phone booth, Batman’s pole, Wonder Woman’s vortex or even a Wonder Twin’s ring.

Happy New Year!