When you are in the middle of an unplanned event, the stakes certainly can feel incredibly high. I am definitely glad we didn’t know that a Chicago Tribune reporter was in the house on the night that the lights went out on THE NIGHT ALIVE. The article is here:
Apparently, the city of Chicago had scheduled a black out on a performance night, however this was an unexpected surprise to us in the booth when the power went fully out mid-show – light system out, sound system out, all went completely dark with a 20’ drop into the pit downstage and actors onstage. Emergency lights popped on without much delay.
Throwing off the now useless headset, I ran to the open air sound cockpit and in the calmest voice possible (no god mic – no power) used my “tech voice” to announce technical difficulties and to have everyone stay seated while we investigated the situation. An amendment was made for anyone needing to use the restroom. “Please feel free to get up if you need to use the restroom – house management staff has flashlights if you need assistance.”
Basement office and dressing rooms were plunged into complete darkness while crew and SM staff circled up the cast. We had walkies to communicate with FOH that the SM team jumped on to figure out the next steps.
The rest is in the article, but with the audience demanding and cast game for it the crew and stage management grabbed torch flashlights and using them like improvised spots with cellphone flash lights to supplement were able to light the cast enough to continue the play. The play finished on the deck level to the side of the stage – an area without a 20 foot drop – with simulated staging like a semi-staged reading. Biggest applause of the run – audiences sure do love a “live theatre” event.
The next day’s article was a surprise to all. Really glad we didn’t know there was a reporter in the midst but a reminder that you never know who is out there!
Usually when a backstage track has been established, you keep to it to be consistent. Every so often some arises where you must go off track. Then there are those rare moments when you go off track and you don’t know why until something does happen to explain it. For me, I was ASMing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I was curious about a part of the show from a particular backstage perspective – the theatre this was in was shaped like a classic Greek theatre – stage thrusts out, downstage entrances are voms that go deep to the backstage area. The walls of these voms had wide ledges and our Oberon was staged to sit on one while Puck told him what he did to Titania which resulted in Oberon laughing so hard that he would fall off the ledge into the vom. Puck is worried but then Oberon would bound out to congratulate him. Early in the preview process, I had a bit of free time and rather than just passing by this vom to go directly to my next stopping point, I stood by to watch Oberon drop into it. He dropped only rather than bouncing back up, he began crawling towards me – realizing he must have landed wrong and broke something, I instantly radioed up to my SM to tell her the actor was injured and to stop the show which she did. We tended to the actor till the ambulance arrived and needless to say the performance did not continue that evening.
My favorite shows tend to be farces or ones with fast costume and scene changes like “The 39 Steps” or “Compleat Work of Shakespeare Abridged”. And when you work on a show where you are constantly moving around backstage, any troubleshooting that arises needs to happen on the go. So when we started Act 2 of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and we didn’t hear the “plop” of the dummy body drop to the stage from the grid when it was supposed to – a crucial prop piece that would show up again in a scene following the one we were about to change into – the troubleshooting commenced as we readied ourselves to go onstage to set the next scene. The plan I came up with was to send the wardrobe person to get a spare costume suit from the dressing room after she did the scene change and then we would grab some pillows from the green room and stuff them into the suit thereby creating a makeshift dummy. After quickly imparting that plan to wardrobe and the PA, we popped out for the shift and as I rolled off a set piece – hands full with Dr. Watson’s medical instruments – the actor playing Holmes grabs me and whispers in my ear “The dummy didn’t drop!” – to which I quickly whispered back, “we know, we have a plan” and we moved on. Wonderful thing about the show is that there is room for ad libbing so when we tossed the makeshift dummy out onto the stage, the actors had to take a moment to laugh and comment with the audience.
In the middle of calling an aerial act during a show I got a radio call to ask if I could switch to channel 4. Channel 4 is the spare open channel needed for emergency situations.
After switching to channel 4. I am informed that our generator is on fire. I ask if it is the generator running our show currently or the back up. It’s of course the one running our show. I ask if we are switching over to our back up and I am told that it is the control panel that is on fire and they cannot manually switch the generator over to the back up or switch the generator off.
I look back at my darkish set with the full company performing, several flying through the air.
Got on come told all stage managers to be on deck in the wings with flashlights. All crew to standby for a black out and that we would stop the show and all would exit stage. Just as I reached for the cue light signal to stop the show and also inform the band. The radio call came through, “ALL CLEAR- The transformer switch over on its own, we are now extinguishing the fire, you are set running power on the back up generator.” Then the show continued as normal.
As a person from the south I am used to being one of a few Jews in my neighborhood or in school, but it was never a big deal.
While on tour with a dance company in Texas, a member of the stage crew came up to me after he noticed my Star of David necklace and he exclaimed “ You’re Jewish?!” I replied yes. He gave me a puzzled look. I asked if he was okay. And he told me that he had never met a Jew before. I told him to look across stage at our company manager. He did. I congratulated him as he just doubled the Jewish population that he knew!!!
Later that night, the light board at this theatre crashed and we lost all our cues. During intermission the lighting supervisor, company manager and I are all in the booth. I start calling out channels numbers and the lighting supervisor is programming sub masters and we are making a plan to call the 2nd act via sub masters and I notice a different crew member (the former board op for the evening) looking very perplexed.
I ask if he’s okay and he responds that we were all women and in charge and he was just really impressed.
I took a deep breath and thanked him and informed him that world is a changing!
In another stop in an “up-and-coming market” and all was pretty normal in our load in, when our electricians went with the venue to do the power tie in. The power tie in was located in the floor in the middle of what would become our backstage warm up area.
The venue electrician slid the metal plate covering the cables out of the way to reveal, Fluffy; a furry cat frozen in a socked position. Apparently Fluffy had snuck in and then decided to chew on a nice live cable and that is where Fluffy remained.
The venue electrician said not to worry, tied-in our feeder cable and put the metal plate back over the cables. Leaving Fluffy untouched. Only when I arrived and threw a fit backstage did the venue consider removing the remains.
Whenever I am faced with a difficult or challenging situation in the theater, I am reminded of a particular venue in Morocco that we were playing for two weeks.
This was the first time this venue was presenting a large live theatrical performance.
As we unloaded the 5th (of 14) truck of gear the venue and several official agencies became very concerned about why we needed so much equipment and proceeded to chain lock the fences around the perimeter of the venue. So here we are, halfway into unloading our trucks, with hundreds of road cases on the street, the entire crew just hanging out for a few hours before the air could be cleared and the chains unlocked to allow us to continue our load in.
Upon getting settled in this venue and figuring out where/what the dressing rooms would be (which were old locker rooms) on our tour of the venue we find that all of the bathrooms have squat toilets and in some of the locker rooms these squat toilets are nice versions of troughs with out any stalls. It was also apparent that they had been used, recently and not just for liquid waste.
The cleaners that were hired to clean this several hundred square foot venue were no where to be found…
This venue taught me patience, humility and how to suck it up and get the job done to prepare for the artists/cast to come in the next day.
For every opening night in a new city on this South American tour I was a stage manager for, the kitchen would always prepare a huge opening night feast with local delicacies.
This particular opening night dinner was filled with wonderful shellfish and an amazing array of seafood. Dinner was served at 5pm to give people enough time to eat and then get ready for the performance at 8pm. If the cast performed in the 2nd half then most of them would eat prior to the show. Those performing in the 1st half would wait till intermission or after the show to have their dinner.
At 8pm the show begins and things are going as planned. At the end of the first act a few people were complaining that they were not feeling very well. A few people were going back and forth to the restroom. As the second act starts a couple of people missed separate walk on cues as they were in the rest room. A young woman who is the 2nd to last act of the show, is not really warming up, just looking nervous. I asked her if she was okay. She said she wasn’t feeling very well. She went to the restroom and then came back and said she was fine. She continues to warm up. As the act prior to hers goes on she heads up to take her place in the 2nd level, as she is an aerial artist. The final act of the show is starting to warm up at this point. I hear the transition music from the 3rd to last act into our female aerial act and as I receive the radio call that our lady has left the 2nd level, just as she runs by me through the backstage yelling for wardrobe to help her out of her costume on her way to the bathroom.
Meanwhile- onstage- her music is playing as the 5 other girls that do the transition into her act are still there.
The band vamps… While I page all 8 of the members of the final act take their places stage left….
Luckily they had seen our lady run out and started to head to the stage….
It was a case of food poisoning for a few of our cast and crew and with the next few shows being a bit thin to say the least.
While working on a tour as the calling stage manager in the Middle East, I volunteered to help the crew load out the show. In this particular load out we had to load all of the set and road cases onto airplane palettes to bring to the airport that night to fly to our next city. I was placed in a parking lot where the crew of locals would bring out the road cases and I would organize them onto the correct palette.
So here I am, female (5’2- 130 ish pounds) alone in a parking lot at 11pm. I’ve just brought a few cases and I start to sort the cases that had already been brought out. I move one of the large wardrobe cases out of the way and when I do, standing behind it is a man. He has his back to me and is hunched over. I scream. He turns around and see that he has his pants undone and he was “arm wrestling the one eyed vessel”. He stops to look at me and then continues. At which point I scream a few profanities including WTF, which although I am certain he did not speak English, I think he got the point. I however run over to the security officer directing the exiting traffic and try to explain to him what I have just witnessed and as I acted out what I just witnessed the man is very confused and just walks away from me the screaming foreigner.
Meanwhile the random stranger doing his handy work has fled into the woods at which point I radio for a member of our crew with male genitalia to take my place as I was done for the night.
In Shanghai; we were rehearsing and we had security in place around the stage and guarding the entrance to back stage. Each guard was instructed by a translator to the not let anyone into the backstage area unless they had a pass from the show. That not even venue staff could enter via this particular entrance (as it pretty much is breaking the 4th wall!).
We continue to rehearse and I notice that on the stage left side, the guard is letting several people backstage. I walk over and ask him if he understood the directions and that no one was permitted back stage except staff of the show. He says yes he understands. I showed him my show pass and he assured me he understood that only people with the exact pass I had could go back stage. I return to front of house. Twenty minutes goes by and he lets another person go by and I rush over to him and ask why he did that. He says that that particular person has a higher rank than him and he can’t tell him no.
I asked the translator for the highest level security guard!