Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rain, Rain Go Away

Rain, Rain Go Away
Wednesday, April 25th

We traveled by bus from Hartford to Rochester. It was already 70 degrees in Hartford by the time we left at 9:30 AM. We all ate outside in the sun at the McDonalds along the thruway. As we got closer to Rochester, the skies darkened. At the city limits, the rain began. I made a quick trip to the Rite-Aid in the rain and spent the remainder of Monday in my hotel room.

Tuesday, the sun was streaming down when I awoke for my 8 AM call. I walked the mile or so to the theatre through downtown Rochester. There are some really pretty older office buildings and department stores downtown. All of them have signs advertising space for rent. The ground floor stores are nearly all boarded up. There are also some ugly modern buildings with lots of space for let. Even the theatre (The Auditorium Center) has space for let. (300 – 8,000 square feet. Office / Mixed Use / Banquets / Meetings / Storage) It seems, however, that Rochester is trying for a comeback. We’re here two weeks ahead of their lilac festival. The have all sorts of concerts and events and every sort of minor league sport you can think of.

Tuesday went pretty well. The building is VERY weird. I’m told it used to be a Masonic Temple, but it looks like a 1930s high school from the outside. The auditorium is part of a large building (hence the office / storage space for rent). The stage is of smallish size – just big enough for our show. There’s no room for an on-stage cross-over, so (like in Atlanta) the actors have to dash through the basement. It also means that our stage left quick-change booths are in the hallway outside the stage house. The dressing rooms are all over the place. There’s one main dressing area that seems to have been built for the stage, the other rooms are up strange stairs and down strange hallways. The show went well, especially for an opening night. I understand that the sound was wacky – the room makes balancing and amplifying everything difficult. Otherwise, pretty smooth.

The Rochester Auditorium Center
I arranged a group outing today to see the Rochester Redwings (the AAA club for the Twins) take on the Pawtucket Red Sox. I bought twenty seats for the Spamily and was super excited about seeing a ball game. About an hour before game time, it began to rain. At noon (the scheduled time for the first pitch) the grounds crew unrolled the tarp. We waited under the stands drinking beer and eating red hots for an hour or so before the game was postponed. The box office wasn’t able to refund our tickets, but they did give us a bunch of credit at the team store, so we all got Rochester Redwings gack. (As an added bonus, we all got stickers for our trunks - some in english: "Go Wings!" and some in spanish: "Viva los Wings!")

With the rainout, we headed off to Dinosaur Barbecue, a local legend. The place was great. They have live music on the weekend and great barbecue all the time. We whiled away the afternoon with ribs, pulled pork, deviled eggs and Genesee Beer. Special mention needs to be made of the desserts. We shared key lime pie, chocolate icebox pie, peanut butter pie and pecan sweet potato pie (my favorite!). I needed a nap before showtime.

Dinosaur Barbecue

I have no rehearsal on the schedule this week. So, I’m going to try and see everything that Rochester has to offer. I’m also awaiting a visit from Marijean that should brighten up the weekend!


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Turns Out Hartford Doesn't Suck

Turns Out Hartford Doesn’t Suck
Monday, April 23rd

The rain went away, the sun came out, I was a tourist for a day and my wife came to visit with our dog: all these events conspired to redeem Hartford in my eyes.

Friday morning, I set out to see Hartford. I started at the Mark Twain House. Samuel Clemens and his family called Hartford home for 17 years. His wife had a great deal of family money, so they built themselves a three story Victorian home in a very fashionable part of Hartford. Hartford, at the time (1874), was both the richest (per capita) city in America and the center of the publishing industry. (The home they built was right next door to the one Harriet Beecher Stowe had built with the money from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.) They had the interiors decorated by Tiffany. Way over the top in the best sort of Victorian way. It was the place that Twain did most of his best-known writing. He wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the 3rd floor billiards room. It was also here that he went broke on a series of inventions and bad investments. The family had to leave the home and go to Europe to escape their creditors.

The house has a nice visitors’ center sunk into the hill behind. It allows the house to appear much as it did while the Clemens family lived there. The whole place has been restored and is really amazing. The entire interior is luxurious in that particularly Victorian way. Every surface is decorated: the woodwork is stained and then stenciled in silver! My tour guide was minimally informative, but the house was really the star.

The Mark Twain House

After wandering the museum and the grounds, I decided to see Twain’s famous neighbor and visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe house. I walked across the lawn to her visitors’ center. Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Mrs. Stowe (I’ve never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin). Her home was fascinating for its contrast to Twain’s. She built the house with the immense proceeds from her book. In fact, it was the second house she built in the neighborhood (the first was larger and closer to the river, but the smell of sewage in the summer drove her inland and her strict moral ideals lead her to build a smaller house the second time). She came from a family of ministers of great renown and married a professor of theology, so her sense of right and wrong was severe. The loss of her own son lead her to identify closely with the plight of women in slavery who were forcibly separated from their children. She began Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a serial in an abolitionist newspaper. But its popularity was such that it was published as a novel at the same time that the final installment was published in the paper. She was able to live quite comfortably from the proceeds and wrote several more novels as well as a homemaker’s guide in addition to indulging her skills as an amateur artist.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's home.

I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked back to the center of town. Along the way, I passed the headquarters of both AETNA and CIGNA insurance companies (with the Traveler’s tower gleaming in the distance). Hartford truly is the insurance company of the world.

I also visited the Old State House. Built as the early state capital building, the state house houses a museum in the basement as well as the historical rooms above. Downstairs, I learned about some of the other industries in Hartford (they make Colt firearms, aircraft engines as well as LEDs), the story of urban renewal projects in Hartford (as random and seemingly short-sighted as everywhere else) and about famous Hartford residents (Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain). Upstairs, I explored the court room where the case of the Amistad was first tried as well as the village green where General Washington welcomed General Rochambeau and his French army to assist in the revolutionary cause. The building was truly multi-purpose. It housed not only the governor’s office, the state court and the congress but was also home to the village market, a portrait studio and a museum of “curiosities” (including a two-headed calf). Later, it became Hartford’s city hall.

The Old State House
All in all, Friday was a tourist success! Friday night, Sheila Marie arrived with Andy in tow (I should have gotten them both Amtrak frequent traveler cards). We had a really nice weekend exploring and enjoying the sunshine. We spent a lot of time in the park before the show both Saturday and Sunday. We shared a yummy Mexican meal at Agave with Karl and Francesca on Saturday and ate our pasta in the park on Sunday before Sheila and Andy had to catch their train home.
JV & Andy D on the shores on the CT River

The CT River was just starting to subside...
SM, JV & the CT State Capital

JV, Andy D & the CT State Capital
With the sunshine, my dog and (most importantly) my wife I had a really nice final weekend in Hartford.

Backstage Scene:
I’m sitting at the call desk when a man dressed as a frog approaches and says: “Sometimes I just feel ridiculous. I mean, what am I doing with my life?!?” He then, quite literally, hops away. Genius.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Patriots' Day in New England

Patriots' Day in New England
Thursday, April 19th

Things have been quieter with the Spamily since my last post. As predicted, the show has smoothed out since our opening night and is humming along now in its second week. Julie, our newest company member, has settled in and is doing a great job. Graham continues to rehearse in anticipation of his swing debut next week. Mike, our Wardrobe Supervisor, recently gave his notice and will leave the tour in Texas. All manner of designer types have been visiting and giving notes, etc. Otherwise, it’s been business as usual.

Hartford hasn’t been very welcoming. The sun has shone precisely one day since we’ve been here. We (along with the rest of the East Coast) were hit by a “Nor’easter” over the weekend that left us waterlogged and made getting around a challenge. (“Storm’s a comin’, Mrs. Fletcha.”) Haven’t done any sight-seeing since our arrival, the rain combined with rehearsals has kept me mostly indoors, but there was some progress on the eating tour of America and a great visit from two of my favorite women this weekend.

Friday night saw Sheila’s arrival on the scene and she was joined by Shannon on Saturday. We all met up for lunch in Hartford’s Union Station. They’ve refurbished the train station and made it a transportation center (busses as well as the train) and entertainment hub. Our meal at Hot Tomato was delicious. The tasty Italian dishes were enormous and our waitress was a doll (she left me a shout wipe in anticipation of the sauce I was sure to get all over my white shirt.) Saturday night, we went out to explore the bar scene in Hartford. While it’s true that most of Hartford’s downtown is empty after 5 PM, there is quite a bar scene! We caught the end of the 13 inning Yankee marathon on Saturday night and enjoyed ourselves in a very loud bar with a very strange mix of music (who knew people still enjoyed The Thong Song?).

Sunday we met up for breakfast at a local coffee shop (Jo Jo’s) and lingered over our egg sandwiches and drinks. Sheila and Shannon toured the local mall in an attempt to stay dry while I did my first show. They met us for a Spamily meal between shows. Brian Bogin (who I replaced in Florida) had made the trip up & was feted with a meal between shows at the Trumbull Kitchen. A dozen, or so, of us descended on the restaurant en masse. The wait for our food, as is to be expected, was long – but worth it. Sheila’s pork shank was falling off the bone, but crispy on the outside. I have no idea what the kitchen did to Shannon’s meatloaf, but it was delicious (I think the slices were glazed and then thrown under the broiler for a minute). My order was confused and I had to take it back to the theatre in a doggie bag, but it was tasty even later. A culinary high-light in Hartford. Sheila and Shannon got the nickel tour of our backstage before they caught the show on Sunday night (special thanks to Mike for showing them the “super-secret pyro room”.)

Shannon, Maybelle & Sheila Marie backstage

Monday, we drove through the rain to Boston. We managed to mostly avoid the fools running the Boston Marathon in the cold and rain. We got to see Shannon’s Emerson haunts. (I still need an Emerson sticker for my trunk…) Shannon also hosted a walking tour of Boston. We hit many of the highlights: Paul Revere’s grave, the liberty tree turned DMV, Fanuel Hall, the North End and the Boston Gardens.

JV, SM and the Massachusetts State Capital

JV, SM & Paul Revere

We enjoyed the treats at Quincy Market. What could be nicer than a cold Sam Adams, oysters, clam chowder and a lobster roll with friends on a rainy Patriot’s Day?

We also shared a delicious cream puff between us for dessert. What’s not in this picture is the cream puff ejaculating all over poor Shannon…

Creampuff love

We also saw a big, creepy, black bird swimming amongst the Swan Boats and ducks in the Boston Garden. My internet work trying to identify him says that he didn’t belong there at all. I have failed to nail down exactly what he was. He wouldn’t hold still for a close-up picture what with all the diving and scaring ducks he was busy doing…

The creepy black diving bird

We wrapped up our Boston visit with a meal in one of Shannon’s favorite local places: Kennedy’s. Surprisingly, it’s an Irish pub. More rainy day comfort food was in order: hamburgers, shepherd’s pie and steak tips. Yummy. After dinner, we said goodbye to Shannon and picked up Dana and Steve for the trip home to NYC. It was great to have company for the drive.

At Kennedy's

This guy took the preceeding photo for us (as well as one to remember him by)

Tuesday afternoon I was back in the rental car on my way to Hartford and Spamalot. Yesterday, we held our weekly understudy rehearsal and today I have rehearsal with Graham. I’m hoping that the predictions are right and that there will be sun for my free afternoon on Friday. I’d like to see the Mark Twain House and maybe the capital (especially since it’s right across the street from the theatre!!!).

More photos from the weekend can be found here.

Sheila's photos from Philly are here.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Putting Out Fires

Putting Out Fires
Thursday, April 12th

Tuesday, 4:15 AM, my alarm goes off. By 5:20 I’m in the rental car headed for my 8 AM call in Hartford. Fast forward 15 hours. I’m upstage with the local crew setting up for Camelot while the principal men do a small little in-one scene downstage. The scene involves a prop campfire that is rigged to emit “smoke”. As the piece comes off stage, Ken (the PSM and my boss) says, between cues: “Is that on fire?!?” Vera, our prop department head goes running through the wings with the campfire which is actually on fire. I respond to Ken: “We got it.” Vera dumps the flaming prop on the concrete floor of the loading dock and runs back to the stage to do her cues leaving me and the local pyro technician. The local drops to his knees and starts blowing on the flames. I dash back to the stage, grab the fire extinguisher that we keep in the wings and return to the loading dock. By now the local has realized that blowing on the fire isn’t helping, and he’s stomping on our prop. “Excuse me.” I say and I give the now smashed campfire a couple of shots from the fire extinguisher. “Gotta go!” I tell him as I dash back to the stage to continue teaching the local prop man his cues. The crushed, burned and coated in chemicals prop sits forlorn in the middle of the loading dock. The prop is totaled. It will take as much as two weeks for us to get a new one. On the other hand, no one was injured. The theatre didn’t burn down. The local Fire Marshall (who’s backstage to watch our pyro effects) didn’t even notice. (I should point out that no actual fire is involved in the proper operation of the prop. There was apparently an electrical short in the piece.)

Tuesday was that kind of night. The Black Knight’s right arm wouldn’t come off no matter how much King Arthur hacked at it, but his right leg came off early. Only three of the four self-abusing monks made it onstage. I watched Fran leading one of her local dressers through the wings: she turned to go into wing one and he kept on going to the dressing rooms. “This way! Hey! This way!” she said before just turning to make the change herself. “There can’t be enough wine at the opening night party.” Ken said near the end of Act II. The audience, however, was laughing, whistling along, and stood for the King’s bow.

Wednesday was 200 times better. I’m sure that tonight’s show will be the best one yet.

We’re playing the Bushnell here in Hartford. It’s another older theatre that’s had some renovations and additions. The main part of the building opened in 1930. The auditorium seats 2,900 people and is decorated in a weird art deco style. The stage house is just big enough to fit our show and the added upstage loading dock serves as a cross-over. The dressing rooms are stacked on the stage right side with our offices along with wardrobe and hair in the basement. Attached to the old building is a new, smaller stage with lots of brand new looking dressing rooms and support areas. Apparently, the local opera is booked in the new space next week, so we’re in the old portion of the building.

The Connecticut state capital is right across the street. Government buildings surround the theatre in a sort of campus, with the town part of Hartford across a park. The hotel is about ¾ of a mile away. It seems like a pleasant enough little downtown and there seems to be some historical stuff to do in town.

Sheila and Shannon are coming for the weekend! We’ll spend Monday in Boston – already looking forward to the chowder.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Tuesday, April 10th

It has been so nice being close to NYC the last several weeks. Being able to get home for the day off has been great. I've been able to run lots of errands: eye appointments, picking up my summer clothes and shopping for travel supplies at the Container Store. I've also been able to be in touch with the rhythms of 44 Pinehurst.

The best part, though, has been spending so much time with my wife. I've rarely been so glad to see her as when she arrived in Philly the Friday after I hurt my back. She helped me out of bed, put on my socks and tied my shoes; but she also gave me all kinds of moral support. It's been great to be able to have breakfast and dinner together almost as many days as we have them apart. I'm looking forward to a couple more of those weekends. I appreciate her making the trek to where ever I've been as much (and dragging the dog along) as I've enjoyed coming home.

I'm looking forward to a couple more of those weekends before I get too far away.


Monday, April 9, 2007



Monday, April 9th
At long last, I have scanned some of the photos that the CVS in Baltimore failed to put on CD for me. Some of these go all the way back to Atlanta...

The marquis of the Fabulous Fox Theatre.
Side-view of the Fox in Atlanta.

This one's for Shannon. This is Maybelle, our cow.

Maybelle is resting on a genie lift...

Piper touching a horseshoe crab at the Atlanta Aquarium.

Amy & Johnaton touching sharks.

Amy & Callie at the Atlanta Aquarium.

Callie & Amy at the Atlanta Aquarium touch tank.

Shot night in Baltimore. Ken & Francesca mixing up the "cookie monster" shots.

Ken pouring shots.

Ken & Francesca w/ our Stage Management mascots: Kitty and Baby. They're dressed as Divine and John Waters (when in Baltimore...)

Hey Ken, what's in a "cookie monster"?

Please note the disco lighting...

The Spamily with Mike Nichols and Eric Idle. Thanks to Kevin for sharing this one.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

How We Do It - Spamalot on Tour

How We Do It – Spamalot on Tour
Friday, April 6th

OK, I’ll answer some of the questions associated with how we take a Broadway show, pack it up and ease it down the road to another city for a performance 46 hours after the curtain rang down. For those of you with theatrical experience, a bunch of this stuff might be old news, but I’ve tried to explain it (as best I can) from the ground up. There are sure to be mistakes all over, point them out if you notice them. Please feel free, also, to ask about anything that I may have left out or could explain more. Here we go…

Packing it up:

Trunks. Everyone on the tour is entitled to a trunk. (Currently we're travelling 62 trunks.) In addition to our luggage (which we travel with us on the plane or bus) the show travels a trunk for each of us. The trunks travel on the trucks with the scenery, props and costumes. You can have your trunk left at the theatre (like these) or delivered to the hotel. Before we move to a new city, there’s a sign-up on the call board for where you’d like your trunk delivered. Company Management then generates a label for your trunk with your name, phone number and where the trunk should be delivered in the next city. You stick the label to the top of the trunk and the prop department takes care of the rest. At the end of the tour, the trunk is yours (if you’d like it); so many people decorate their trunk with stickers from their travels. The one above is mine…

The scenery and props all have to be packed to travel. Most everything travels in some sort of box, crate or hamper. The boxes in the top photo mostly contain the rigging components of our flown scenery. The hampers in the lower photo are used to travel all sorts of stuff. Stage Management travels two hampers containing (among other things): the cots required for the dressing rooms, corkboards for our office, first aid and office supplies. The Company Managers travel a copy machine in one of theirs. Many of the larger props travel in hampers as do the soft drops. The squares on the lids of the hampers have circles cut out so we can stack the hampers in the truck.

The hard, flat scenery pieces travel on dollies like these. They can stand up (leaned against the bar in the middle) and be ratchet strapped onto the carts.

The default container from traveling stuff is the roadbox. A roadbox can roughly be roughly described as a wooden box 4’ wide, 5’ tall and 2’ deep on big swivel casters with two doors encompassing one of the long sides. The guts of the box vary wildly depending on their function. Stage Management travels two roadboxes. The first has several file drawers and storage space for all our office supplies. The second box is our “stuffer box” and primarily contains all of the program inserts we use when understudies or swings perform. (The stuffer is the paper that reads something like: The role of the Monk will be played by Nigel Columbus.) We travel 25 versions of stuffers (generally 6,000 individual stuffers of each variation). We run up a substantial bill at the Kinkos in each city…

Many of the smaller props travel in roadboxes. A couple of these boxes end up on stage (one on either side) and serve as the drop off and pick up point for the hand props during the show. In addition to sitting on shelves, the props hang on hooks on both doors, sit on top, and lean behind the box. They’re carefully laid out the same way in every city so an actor can find their prop in a hurry. They’re also fitted with lights on the inside. The prop boxes are locked up each night so none of our props go missing between shows…

Most every member of the crew travels a personal roadbox. These function as their office & workstation in each city. Some are very utilitarian and look like giant toolboxes. Others are much more customized. Below are a couple of pictures of Mike (one of our electricians) box. He has dimmable lighting, a stereo and a pull out desk for his computer in addition to his tools. His box also features a mount for a moving light so he can hang them up and do maintenance on them right at his box.

The wardrobe travels in roadboxes and in similar containers called gondolas. The gondolas are roughly the same size, but have no doors. One of the long sides has a removable soft cover instead. They have a rod for hanging costumes inside and most are fitted with lights. They’re giant closets on wheels. Some end up in the dressing rooms or the wardrobe room, but many end up in the quick-change locations on stage (like this one).

This one is in the men’s quick-change. It contains all the costumes that two of the ensemble men will need to change into on stage in the course of the show.

The Hair department also has some specially outfitted roadboxes for their supplies. The wig boxes have sliding trays with mounts for lots of wig heads. They also travel a roadbox sized wig dryer!

We also travel all manner of odd boxes built specially to contain things like the prams, a piano, lobby signs, keyboards and concessions.

Unpacking it:

The show travels in eight 53’ trucks. Each truck is packed the same way for every move. For example, one truck is called the “castle truck” because the main things in that truck are the parts of our major scenic unit: the castle. Of course, all sorts of other stuff travels in that truck as well. The stuffer box, for example always travels in the castle truck. This allows for the careful planning of the load-in and out; ensuring that things arrive in the order they’re needed on stage. It also allows our Head Carpenter to provide a manifest to customs officials for exactly what is in each truck when we travel internationally.

To load and unload those trucks, we employ 8 truck loaders (teamsters) for load-in and load-out. (The stage hands push the stuff to the truck. The teamsters push it onto the truck.) We also employ a bunch of extra stagehands for load-in and out:
38 are required (16 Carpenters, 16 Electricians, 6 Prop People). The load-in takes roughly 22 hours (over two days). It begins with a four hour “spotting call”. During that call, our Head Carpenter (Keith) makes sure that the fly lines at the theatre are spaced correctly for our show. He also hangs the 40 chain motors that support such things as our lighting trusses. After the spotting call, the next big priority is to get our show deck laid down.

The show travels our own “show deck”. It is the flooring of our set and contains the mechanics that make our automation work. The show deck is about 4” high and comes mostly in 4’X8’ sections that lock together. It contains 3 automation tracks. Two of the tracks run left to right across the stage. These are double tracks; meaning there are two tracks about 6” apart run on the same winch. There is also one track that runs upstage to downstage. This one is a single track. In each track, there is one “dog”. The dog is a U shaped piece of steel that travels in the track. The dog is attached to a length of aircraft cable that is, in turn, attached to a winch. The piece of scenery to be moved has a bracket attached, through which a “knife” is inserted into the open portion of the dog. (The cable runs from the winch, along the track, to the dog, on to a single pulley, and back to the winch. In the case of the double tracks, there is a second dog on the return leg of the journey.) Some pictures of the set up follow:

The automation control station.

One of the winches

One of the L/R double tracks

A close-up on one of the tracks. The dog is near the pink tape.

This is the back of the “mud castle”. The knife is in the downstage track; it’s the thing with the loop on top.

One of the reed palettes. The knife would go through the hole in the bracket.

All the cable has to be restrung in each city. The decking over the tracks is removable, allowing the carpenters access to the tracks.

The show deck also contains some LED lights along the downstage edge. These lights are guideposts for the actors. They help them maintain their spacing during dance numbers and also help them hit their marks for lighting. Many shows use numbers painted on the stage, we use LEDs.

The castle unit itself also contains some automation. The winches drive it upstage/downstage and right/left (depending on which track the castle is knifed into), but the castle can also rotate. Inside the castle, there’s a motor that can rotate the piece around the knife. This is controlled wirelessly from the automation console.

The “brains” inside the castle.

The automation console also controls two flown pieces. The #3 and #4 sets of clouds are flown up and down by automation. (#1 is stationary & #2 is flown manually.) The winches for these pieces are in trusses hung along-side our lighting package.

All of our on-stage lighting package travels in trusses. The trusses are hung from the theatre’s grid on chain motors. This way, there’s no need to re-hang the individual lighting instruments at each theatre. Just assemble and hoist up the truss, then touch up the focus. The front of house electrics, however, have to be adapted to each theatre. We utilize whatever positions the theatre has available. We have to be a bit flexible.

One of our side-light trusses.

The sound towers travel in a similar way. We have two columns of speakers (one on either side) that travel in their own framework. The frames break apart into manageable pieces, and bolt back together. We also travel front fill speakers and a center cluster. We travel an entire sound system.

Front view of one of the sound towers.

Side view of one of the sound towers. It also contains a video monitor so the cast can see the conductor. The upstage side is also a lighting position.

The lighting and sound boards occupy a space at the back of the house. We generally have to remove some seats to make room for them.

The sound mix position

The lighting console(s).

The portals are hard framed pieces of scenery. They’re also constructed of more manageable small pieces that bolt together. All the pieces are clearly labeled on the back to make putting them together easier.

Many props live behind the portals. They’re the sorts of things that need to be grabbed quickly. Things that an actor couldn’t go all the way to a prop box for.

The back of the first portal. Prop books, swords, etc.

Dressing them up:

We travel with 3 wardrobe people and 3 hair people. We pick up a crew of an additional 9 wardrobe people and 1 hair person for each show (12 people help load-in the wardrobe). These folks help dress our actors backstage and in their dressing rooms. To help them learn the show, our crew has created very detailed notes for them. Each of them gets a small notebook that hangs around their neck with step-by-step instructions and pictures of each of their changes. Often, the notes include a picture of what the actor should look like after his change.

Jaki modeling one of the wardrobe notebooks

Since the actors often do not have time to go back to their rooms to make changes, we build quick-change booths on stage. These little rooms have hooks and racks for costumes, chairs for the actors, lighting and are made private with portable walls.

Francesca and Jaki outside the SR quick-change booth. The actors enter between the white arrows.

The ensemble men wear tights underneath everything, so need less privacy. Here, all their changes are laid out, in order, on their chairs.

The men’s make-up station. Their make-up lives inside the colored boxes and their wigs hang on the white hooks. Make-up removing wipes, etc are on the shelf below.

The hair staff also provides and travels every one's specialty make-up. Each actor has a plastic tote that contains their hair and make-up supplies. As we prepare to leave each city, the actors return the tote to the hair room and it is packed into one of the hair department's hampers.
Making Music:

We travel 5 musicians (Conductor, 2 Keyboards, Trumpet & Drums). We pick up an additional 11 musicians in each city (2 Reeds, French Horn, 2nd Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, Bass, Guitar, Violin, 3rd Keyboard, and a sub Keyboard). We send advance copies of each of the musician’s books for the local musicians to study. The day of the first performance, Ben (our maestro) has a 6 hour rehearsal with the full orchestra. We also have a 1 hour soundcheck rehearsal with the orchestra and the cast so the sound crew can work out the kinks and get a feel for the sound of the new theatre.

Stage Management:

The call desk also travels with us. It breaks apart into two pieces. The top piece contains all of the electrics, audio and other gadgets. It’s a big box that both the front and back comes off. It contains our clear-com (headsets that allow us to talk to the crew), cue lights (to signal cues), video monitors (we have 5 video cameras: conductor, front black & white, front color, overhead and a side view), sound monitors, dressing room page system and an announce mic. The lower section is the desk portion. It contains storage for our calling scripts, valuables, first aid, etc. It also doubles a prop table: the backside has room for a few props.

The call desk.

Close up of the electronics.

In our office, we also have video and audio monitors as well as a dressing room page system. It’s from here that we make all the announcements and calls. Anyone in the office can also listen to the clear-com system and communicate with the stage manager who’s calling the show.

When we arrive in a new theatre, one of the first things Francesca and I do is put up directional signs. When the cast arrives, many of them will never have been in the building before and they’ll need to find all the various offices, their dressing rooms, and their way to the stage.

We also set up the call board in each city. The call board is the central location for all show related information. It’s where we post notices and where the cast signs in for each performance. It’s also where the company managers post all the travel information.

Running the show:

Our traveling crew is:
2 Deck Carpenters
1 Automation Carpenter
1 Flyman
1 Lightboard Operator
1 Spot Operator
1 Deck Electrician
1 Audio Mixer
1 Deck Audio
2 Prop
3 Wardrobe
3 Hair

In each city we pick up an additional:
4 Deck Carpenter
5 Flymen
2 Spot Operators
1 Houselight Operator
1 Deck Audio
2 Prop
9 Wardrobe
1 Hair

In general, our road crew supervises the local crew. We provide them with cue sheets and instructions. In the 2 hours or so before the first curtain, our crew and Stage Managers go over the cues with the local crew and show them the moves and pieces. (In the case of wardrobe, the training starts much earlier).

The cast is called two hours before the first curtain time in each new city. While the orchestra starts the sound check, Ken (our Production Stage Manager, my boss) gives the cast an orientation. We go over the layout of the theatre, any changes to the show, the schedule and any other news. Then, the cast puts on their microphones and sings several numbers with the orchestra as a soundcheck. Once they’ve finished soundcheck, the cast meets their dressers for the first time and goes over any extremely quick-changes. As the on-stage space does not change from city to city, there is no dance or spacing rehearsal. Ten minutes before curtain time, the cast members involved in the sword fighting rehearse their fight. Five minutes before the first curtain, the ensemble boys rehearse their first (very fast) change with their dressers. Then it’s show time and we all do our best for the opening night audience!

Space is at a premium backstage, so some of our larger scenic pieces are actually stored above our heads. They fly in and out on chain motors. When we need them, the crew lowers them down; when we’re done with them they’re hoisted back out of the way!

Mt. Olympus & the Rabbit Mound

One of the Camelot tables flying in the SL wing

The stage during preset

Packing it up:

Loading-out the show goes much faster than the load-in. It generally takes about 8 hours to pack up. The load-out call is about the same as the load-in (52 local hands total). Before the final show in each city, there’s a “box call”. This is when the props department collects all the trunks and other departments gather whatever empty boxes are on the trucks and get them ready for load-out. The first of our trucks return the night before load-out (the trailers stay somewhere nearby, the truckers leave and pull other shows while we’re staying in a city) and are waiting in the dock when the show comes down. The rest of the trucks arrive throughout the night as room becomes available for them in the loading dock.

Shortly after the last truck is loaded (usually around 6 AM) the crew departs for the next city to do it all over again. (We usually close on a Sunday night and open in the next city on Tuesday evening.) Our Head Carpenter will sleep on the bus or the plane and go right to the next theatre for the spotting call that begins the load-in.

Company Management:
We have two Company Managers (Karl & Jeff) who travel with the show. They arrange all of our hotels and travel in addition to the business end of running our show. Months before we arrive in a new city, they’ve been on the phone negotiating discounts with hotels (they’ve reserved hotel rooms well into next year). About 6 weeks before we’re due in a city, they distribute the hotel offerings (greenies). We have at least two options for hotels in every city. We’re also free to arrange our own housing. We’re paid a tax free “per diem” for each night we’re on the road. We can spend it however we like, but Karl and Jeff negotiate cheaper rates with hotels near the theatre.

They are responsible for 53 people (25 actors, 5 musicians, 3 Stage Managers, 2 Company Managers, 17 Crew Members and 1 Concessionaire). They distribute pay checks, mail (our mail is forwarded from the NYC office once a week), and information on each city. They handle our local and city-to-city travel. They also handle the business end of the show. They settle with the local presenter once a week (they reconcile the show’s expenses, box office receipts, etc.). They also handle all of our house seat requests and any other hospitality.

Wrap it up:
That’s my “How we do it” blog. I hope it was interesting! As I said, please feel free to ask me anything more specific and I will do my best to answer…