TIme keeps flying by. For my summer layoff, I’ve had a bit of work here and there. Thanks to a wonderful actor, I was asked to do an interesting gig in Napa a few weeks ago. It was for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival – sort of.
The actual event was a Concert and a site specific performance for Festival Del Sole (yes, “Sole” – it’s Italian). The Festival lasted 10 days and each day involved some sort of performance and either a wine tasting or a dinner at a winery. We came in on the 2nd to last day of the Festival. Our Concert performance was inspired by Romeo & Juliet, with music, opera, ballet and theater. We, of course, were the theater aspect. The roster included the Russian National Orchestra, 2 dancers from SFBallet, an opera singer, and our troupe from SFShakes. This was the most disorganized part of our day in Napa.
As I am with unfamiliar locations and events, I try to get as much info as humanly possible prior to the event. Unfortunately, all info I was given from the theater was incorrect or incomplete, and it left me feeling rather inadequate. Thankfully the director was very understanding, because when I relayed everything I could to her, she felt just as lost as I did.
Our second “performance” of the day was held at a Winery, and they were very open with information, but unfortunately for me, still not enough. I wanted designs of the grounds so that I could understand distances between locations, but all I could do was get a google map of the area and see what I could see that wasn’t blocked by trees. While the winery half of our day was the most delightful, both venues didn’t have enough info to satiate me in advance.
We teched at the theater, then the winery, then performed at the theater and returned to the winery for our final performance. The tech at the theater was…well…I posted something on a stage manager’s website that explains it all. I’ll include that here:
Names have been changed to protect the idgits.
Oh my lord – this was the most AWFUL running of a show I have ever been a part of. And yet another reason I hate it when the House IA Steward is called the House SM.
We arrived at the theater, Bob was sweating out a lot of alcohol, which seemed odd at 10am. The schedule had said that the symphony set up would start at 9am, and I assumed the chairs farthest downstage would be in place, or marked, so that we would know how much room we really had. Oh no, not at all. They didn’t start setting up the chairs until after 11am when we were rehearsing the R&J balcony scene (perfect timing…). And our “maybe 5′ of room downstage of the symphony” turned into 3 panels of marley, because that’s what the ballet dancers needed. That was nice, to have more space…
I had been promised 6 specials along the front of the stage, as it was requested by our contact at [Fancy NYC Mgmt] to use the aisles, front of the stage, etc – due to limited onstage space (which works for the balcony scene when you have no set – at least you have a built-in level change). Nothing was focused (this show was part of a festival that had been going since July 15), so my one electrician (who had never worked in the space before) had to find the lights and refocus to get things where we had been told to perform. Of course, there was no way to light the aisles, so there was a bit of restaging in the space, which was expected.
By the time our lights were refocused and the electrician and I set my requested looks, we ran our 17 minutes of scenes and then it was 11:55am, and we were due to move onto the next venue at 12pm. There was no tech of how trade offs will go or anything. And Bob, the House SM, who said he’d be with me during the process was setting up the symphony; I found him as we were leaving and I said, “I guess we’ll go over the transitions at 3:30pm?” He had no idea the show was at 4pm that day. There was also a dress rehearsal scheduled for 1pm that day, but no one had told us until 9pm the night before, and we were slated to “tech” at our winery from 1pm-3pm, so we just let it go.
When we returned to the theater, Bob and the other IA were still frantically setting up the symphony, and the ballet dancers were onstage, rehearsing. We hit half hour and nothing was called over the PA – so I went to my group of actors and gave them all of their calls personally (since we were only given 1 dressing room for my 4 men, 1 woman) – and there was no page mic to be found. After I’d make each call, I’d go up to still find Bob out on stage replacing bulbs in music stand lights, and seeing that the house still wasn’t open. At 3 minutes to curtain, the house was opened. I warned my actors that we were probably going to be 10 minutes late – because how long can it take to seat 600 people in a 1200 seat theater? Turns out it can take 25 minutes.
10 minutes after opening the house, I discovered that Bob wouldn’t be calling anything, but Steve, our [Fancy NYC Mgmt] Rep would be calling the show. There had been no time to check the wireless beltpack for me (since I would need to send my actors from the back of the house/Through the lobby), so thankfully I had purchased headsets for my walkie talkies and we used those instead. I gave one to Bob, and had Bob relay through the Comm to Steve, who then called to the Light Op. I had stressed to Bob that it was important for Steve to call LX 199, then LX 200 for my scene, then I would run backstage, take Steve’s headset and call the rest of my scene. I asked how it would transition from after my scene, and I had been told that the ballet scene was next – and that the music starts in a blackout, so it should be fine (as my final cue was a blackout).
I ran out front with my actors, radio’d to Bob that we were in place – and we waited and waited and waited for our B/O prep cue. Finally it went, I did the daisy chain relay for my cue 200 and sent my actors. By the time I got backstage, after being stopped by House Mgmt who I never got to meet, my next cue was late. I rushed up to Steve and said “Electrics 210 GO!” he seemed startled, and repeated what I said, then handed over the headset. Turns out, Steve is not a SM, and has never been one. Delightful! He just happens to me the manager for the Russian National Orchestra, the ballet dancers, and the opera singer in the bill. He admitted that he “knows nothing about theater.”
I called the rest of my scene, handed off my headset and went downstairs to our dressing room. Turns out, no one called any cues for the ballet scene, and for at least 20 seconds, the Romeo was dancing in the dark.
Our second scene was the top of Act 2 – I assumed Steve would do the top of the act calls, but he was no where to be found. I put on the headset and Bob said he would tell me when we had the house. Oh – there were no calls during intermission either. I found Steve at the end Act 1 and he told me it would be a 20. At 13 minutes in, I went up and asked if anyone was keeping track of intermission – and he says “It’s been about 10 minutes, right?” I corrected him and continued to make calls to my actors. When we hit 18, I called places and got on headset. 20 minutes, still nothing. 23 minutes, still nothing. 25 minutes and we now have the house. I hear from the Light Op that there are tons of people still standing. I call House to Half to see if that will get them settled, and he says “there’s a huge clog in the House Left aisle” – um, ok? That’s an usher’s problem in my mind, and we were given the house, so I wait a little bit longer in House 1/2, then call it out. Then I call my cues for my scene, and we finish with Bows, in which I was leaving our bow light up so that Steve would take over and call the next cue – which I had told people beforehand. But Steve doesn’t call any cues. And he doesn’t come to headset, and we’re all sitting there, in silence – so I say “Um, bring up the Symphony light?” And the lights change, and still no Steve, and the symphony is in the wings (and they only speak Russian and they’re not moving). I don’t speak Russian, and they are not paying attention to me. Finally some random older man in a hawaiian shirt starts shooing them onstage and hissing in Russian. At this point, I signed off and went downstairs to pack – as our “dinner break/travel to next venue” was due to start in 10 minutes.
The tech for the winery was a breeze compared to this – we took timings on distances from our “green room” to our waiting locations, I worked with the Event Coordinator as to when they would be ready for each scene (it was during a dinner) and I ran the basic lighting on a tiny board myself. Who knew that the most expansive area with so many variables would be easier than putting on a show in an equipped theater?
Would I do it again? Honestly – yes. Now that I know and have experienced the previous unknowns, I can be better prepared for next time. I will say I am so incredibly glad that I found headsets for my dinky little walkie talkies, or this could’ve really been a big mess. And triple thanks for Becky, an SFShakes staff member that came along at the last minute to help out. I definitely would not have been able to pull off the winery performance without her!