In rehearsals – The Lost and Found Orchestra

For the last two weeks, I’ve been in rehearsals for Adelaide Festival’s presentation of The Lost & Found Orchestra. My role is ‘Show Caller’ and I’m part of a stage management team of eight – two from The Lost and Found Orchestra and six from Adelaide Festival. Together we are managing this unique version, which introduces some new elements to the existing show.

For twelve years, the Lost & Found Orchestra have been performing this energetic musical piece, making incredible music with found objects (including garbage bags, tubs of water and even a tricycle). Their Technical and Stage Management Team are slick and know all the minutiae of the show intimately. The difference this time, is that the orchestra are being joined by a volunteer cast of 300 people to play an outdoor event in the centre of Adelaide. These volunteers have been coming in on weekends to learn their parts and they play some unexpected ‘instruments’ – balloons, water pistols, umbrellas, saws and many more.

Our job as the Adelaide Stage Management Team is to coordinate these 300 people and integrate them into the existing show as seamlessly as possible, under the direction of our Joint Artistic Directors on the project – Luke Cresswell (Director of The Lost & Found Orchestra) and Nigel Jamieson from the Adelaide Festival.

The Adelaide cast has been divided into sections and ensembles, and includes a large choir. They are playing their ‘instruments’ in and around the park, on stage and on the towers. Logistically, there is a lot involved in moving 300 people in their groups around the park – into the correct positions at the right time, with the right props and in the right order.

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Managing props in rehearsals

Lost & Found have brought their own operators for lighting and sound, so don’t need a calling stage manager – my role is to call the movements of the sections, ensembles and choir around the park and backstage area. I’ll be communicating with our Stage Manager, who will be on side-stage, and our five Assistant Stage Managers, who will be keeping the sections and ensembles moving to the right place at the right time.

Rehearsals have been exciting, with everyone working together in a big warehouse. There is a large team of people making sure that everyone gets to rehearsals at the right place at the right time and it has been working just as we needed. They are then handed over to the directors and stage management for the day to work through the show musically and physically. The stage management team have been busy notating and keeping track. Any small change can have a large knock-on effect and we need to be thinking ahead to how each movement will work, what the traffic backstage will be like, and where the instruments will need to be set.

On an event like this, the neatness of your paperwork means nothing, but its accuracy means everything. There’s no time to be typing up amazing running sheets and drawing beautiful maps, but you need to know that you can look back at your notes, and know exactly what is going on at any given moment in the show – especially when you are being asked a large number of questions by the cast at any given time.

Getting prepared for these rehearsals has also involved meticulous planning and preparation, with a team of people creating, purchasing and organising the prop-instruments. We’ve needed to be organised in the rehearsal room too, keeping a close eye on which props need to be where, and how to get them there. Setting them up in a place that (hopefully!) won’t get in the way for another movement that we haven’t rehearsed yet. It’s all about thinking ahead and constantly considering the implications of each action.

As we start rehearsing in the park this week, the event as a whole is coming together and we’re starting to really see how it all works. We’re able to start looking at the bigger picture and organise it accordingly. It’s easy to get bogged down in the small details on a show of this scale, but watching all the elements come together as one is where you can see everyone’s tireless work pay off. The true magic will emerge in performance, when the sun is setting behind the stage, and the music is filling the park with the audience immersed in the experience under the stars.

Lost and Found Orchestra is playing in Adelaide, Australia on Saturday and Sunday 3-4 March, 2018 in Elder Park. You can find more information about the event on the Adelaide Festival website.

This post has been published with the permission of the Adelaide Festival, however the opinions are all mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the Adelaide Festival.

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A week in the life of a Stage Manager- Production Week

Production Week is one of the busiest weeks for Stage Management. Here is a diary of what I’ve done this week. This production of Tartuffe is not technically complicated so this is a fairly relaxed sample of what a production week would usually look like.

Monday – Bump In

7:00 am – Pack lunch. And dinner. And snacks.

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Food = Fuel

For 6 days. I’ve found the best way to make sure I get time to eat, is to bring as much of it with me as possible. This way I also eat healthier food which helps with my energy levels for the week.

 

 

9:00 am – Check in at theatre.
Answer any questions that may have come up at the initial stages of bump in. There was no time for a pre-rig, so not too many questions here this morning, as they’re swinging bars and rigging lamps.

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Start of bump-in. A blank canvas.

 

9:15 am – Check in with Scenic Artist: sort out which props can she take from rehearsals for art finishing. Check in with Wardrobe: discuss new information and see if there’s anything we can use in rehearsals.

9:30 am – Set up rehearsals, set props for the day’s scene work.

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11:30 am – While the actors are on break, check in at theatre. Answer questions that have come up. There’s some complicated rigging going on, so it’s interesting to see how that’s progressing. catch up on paperwork, emails, messages and missed phone calls that have come in while I’ve been in rehearsals.

11:45 am – Back in rehearsals

1:00 pm – Eat. It’s important to make time for this.

1:30 pm – Catch up on more correspondence. Play a little hackey-sack with the cast.

2:00 pm – Rehearsals

5:45 pm – Send rehearsal report (which contains information that each department needs that has arisen in rehearsals today). Check in at theatre, see if they are ready for the Subscriber Briefing.

6pm – Subscriber briefing – A chance for State Theatre Company subscribers to ask questions of the cast and creative team before they see the show. Tonight there was some interesting discussion on the adaptation by Phillip Kavanagh.

7pm – Measure mark up: this involves measuring the marks for all the props and furniture on the stage. This needs to be done before the lighting focus, so the Lighting Designer can focus to the correct position. I will transfer the marks to the stage once the floor has been laid.

7:30 pm – Go home

9pm – Update tomorrow’s schedule with some extra publicity calls that have just been added. Catch up on pressing emails, the non-urgent ones can wait until tomorrow (or the next day).

Tuesday

11:00 am  – Check in at theatre and answer any questions.

11:15 am – Check in with our Wiggy and make sure that the actors calls give them sufficient time, making sure to avoid as much overtime as possible.

11:30 am – Check in with props to discuss some changes that need to be made.

1:00 pm – Eat

2:00 pm – Rehearsals – This is our last session in the rehearsal room. We are working on some scenes that need a little more detail. I’m making sure that my blocking stays up to date with any changes, and keeping notes if any changes are likely to affect what the creative team may have already done in the theatre.

6:00 pm – Send rehearsal report. Check in with production manager. Find out which things still need some work, what has come up that we weren’t expecting. What hazards do I need to be aware of?

6:30 pm – Eat

7:00 pm – Get theatre ready for cast.

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Getting ready for the plot

7:15 pm – Induct cast. This involves safety procedures, evacuation procedures, incident procedures. Make them aware of any hazards that exist. Chat about how the sessions are going to run.

7:30 pm – LX plot (with actors onstage). Often there will be no actors onstage during a lighting plot, we would use ‘walkers’ instead so the cast can have an extra session in the rehearsal room. For Tartuffe, the lighting is not too complicated, so we have decided to use the time on stage for the actors to work with the director, while I sit with our Lighting Designer to plot the lighting. As it is still a lighting session, we are not focussing on any technical moments, we are working separately from the cast. Meanwhile, the Assistant Stage Manager is starting to set props, set up the backstage areas, and make sure everything is safe. She is also putting some white tape on obstacles backstage so the actors can see them easily in the dark.

11:00 pm – Check in with the Designer about any notes that have come up, things that need to be fixed or finished.

11:15 pm – Send out updated schedule to everyone with tomorrow’s changes.

Wednesday 

9:00 am  – Respond to emails that came up yesterday, and answer some phone calls from the office.

11:00 am – Check in at theatre. Some new masking is about to go in that will affect actor traffic backstage as well where the Stage Manager’s Desk (SMD) can go. We tried to come up with some solutions that will solve both the sightline issues and also the traffic issues. It’s still a work in progress.

12:00 pm – We are trying to solve some furniture storage issues, as we have a 4 metre long table. This show doesn’t have any legs or masking upstage of the proscenium, so we’re trying to find some solutions for where to store such a massive table during the show when it is not needed.

1:25 pm – Half hour call.

2:00 pm – Technical rehearsal – The first time we put all the elements together, sound, lighting, costumes, actors, consumable props, final props. We step through the show slowly, making sure that we work sequences until we get them right.

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The view from prompt-side at the start of the tech.

6:00 pm – Eat.

7:00 pm – Continue technical rehearsal.

11:00 pm – Go home.

Thursday

11:00 am – Check in with Production Manager and have a look at some new masking that has been put in.

12:00 pm – Check in with all the departments about how things are going.

12:30 pm – Eat.

1:00 pm – Preset and do pre-tech checks.

1:25 pm – Half hour call.

2:00 pm – Continue technical rehearsal.

5:30 pm – Eat

6:00 pm – Preset for dress rehearsal

6:30 pm – Pre-show checks. We have blown a lamp over the marble. The lighting department change the bulb. This is why we do pre-show lamp checks early enough in the evening.

7:15 pm – Half hour call.

7:40 pm – Dress Rehearsal. It goes really well. Still work to do to tighten things up, but a very good foundation to work from.

10:45 pm – Notes in the green room with cast, creatives and Director.

12:30 am – Send some emails about tomorrow, and send running times to relevant people.

12:45 am – Go home.

Friday

11:00 am -Respond to emails and phone calls. There’s a lot of these as I haven’t had time to do any of this since Wednesday morning. Mostly they are questions from the office.

12:30 pm – Eat .

12:55 pm – Half hour call.

1:30 pm – Rehearsals onstage with a photographer in attendance to take production photos.

6:00 pm – Eat.

6:30 pm – Preset for the show & do pre-show checks.

7:25 pm – Half hour call.

8:00 pm – Preview # 1.

10:45 pm – Check on the marble floor. We found two cracked tiles before the show, and needed to tape them over for bare feet. We now have four cracked tiles. Workshop are coming in to replace them tomorrow.

11:00 pm – Check in with one of the producers and our Sound Technician about some sound issues that we are having. Come up with a couple of solutions and order in which to try them.

11:30 pm – Join notes with cast, creatives and Director.

12:30 am – Send show report.

12:45 am – Go home.

Saturday

1:00 pm – Print off script changes for cast & update the prompt copy with all script changes.

2:00 pm – Rehearsals. At this stage we are working through a list of things that need attention from last night’s preview, including working through the script changes, acting notes and tightening up transitions.

5:30 pm – Finalise schedule for next week & distribute

6:00 pm – Transfer blocking to pages that have had to be replaced in prompt copy because of script changes.

6:30 pm – Eat.

7:00 pm – Preset & run through pre-show checks.

7:25 pm – Half hour call.

8:00 pm – Preview #2.

10:45 pm – Notes with cast, creatives and director.

12:30 am – Send show report then go home.

The Final Push – the last few days of rehearsals

It’s the last week of rehearsals and we’re making a final push to finish the production elements before we bump into the theatre on Monday.

In the rehearsal room, the Director is layering detail into the scenes while the cast continues to make discoveries about their characters.

I’m making sure the prompt copy is accurate and up to date so we’ll have all the information we need in the theatre next week. I’m also starting to insert the cues as the design team provide me with synopses, so we can save time in the plots.

A key task at this stage is creation of running plots for the show crew. These detail all the cues they have during the show, including any relevant information that might help them. Ideally, a crew plot is succinct enough to not be overwhelming, but contains enough information that someone could pick it up and do the show with minimal explanation (but more about that in a future post).

We are also having a lot of conversations about how we can make best use of the brief period we have in the theatre before opening night. We bump in on Monday, with our first audience on Friday, so finding creative solutions to maximise this time benefits everyone.

This is made particularly complex by the fact that there are so many competing variables in the theatre. The sound team need a certain amount of quiet time; the lighting team need some dark time; the cast members need some time with the set, sound and lights; and workshop need some time where they can have the set to themselves, make noise and have light. It’s a juggling act and each show comes with its own demands. Thankfully, Tartuffe is not technically difficult, so we may be able to afford the cast some more time onstage, without stealing time from any of the other departments.

As we make the final efforts to be as prepared as possible for bump in, the important thing to remember is that we are all making something together. Although we all have different priorities to make sure we each deliver our elements on time, if we don’t lose sight of the fact that we’re all working towards the same outcome, we will get there.

Playing

It’s the end of week 2, rehearsals are now well underway and the production of Tartuffe is slowly accruing the attributes that will, at some point, coalesce and take on a life of its own.

The actors are immersed in the exploration of their characters, while the Director is constructing the world they inhabit. Alongside this, the set and costumes are being made, and all the while I’m busy keeping things on track – recording the blocking and props notes, scheduling the production and liaising with the Company’s other departments (Workshop, Sound, Lighting, Wardrobe, Publicity, Administration) about the show’s requirements.

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Back in the rehearsal room, at this stage everything that happens is an experiment. Damis needs to overhear a conversation between Tartuffe and Elmire. Will he hide in a cupboard, will he hide in plain sight or will he hide in somewhere in the architecture of the theatre?

While this debate takes place, I’m making sure that the cast members and Director have everything they need to keep experimenting and, at the same time, I’m keeping the production departments up to date as the show evolves. It’s a balancing act between keeping things outside the room moving forward, in terms of sourcing props and building the set, but not moving too far in case the parameters shift when an idea doesn’t take hold. It’s about finding the fulcrum that allows creative expression within a finite deadline.

At this point in the production, it’s important for Stage Management to remain flexible, because things are always being added, changed or cut at short notice. We have to allow the Creative team to play. However, it’s also critical that we have everything finished by opening night. Balancing the competing interests is not always easy, however if you are clear on exactly how long things will take, and know the latest point at which you really need a decision made, you can work out when the experimentation needs to move into something more solid.

For now, it doesn’t matter where Damis hides, but I know exactly when we need to start pushing for a decision. So until that crucial moment, I’ll give them the opportunity to play.