This weekend, New Hartford High School is performing Guys and Dolls. I advocated for the show, and I’ve been pleased with the process. My lighting students are doing next-level work, and for the first time I have two students on the fly rail. The set is really amazing – I expect applause when it is revealed during the overture. This will also be my daughter’s final effort as student stage manager; in all likelihood, the last time we’ll work together as creative peers on a show.
This week, I’m preparing for my sixth musical at New Hartford High School, the third one entirely designed and run by a student crew. This is an abridged version of the letter I gave the crew, as they begin attending rehearsals.
On cue, I stepped onto the historic Stanley stage. Butterflies rose up…I could do this. I’d taped a few cheats to my handheld microphone – keywords for lines I tended to mix up. I never looked at them.
Sarah brought a striking reality to her key scenes. She introduced an element of danger, the sense that what was happening on stage had real consequences – something was at stake…I have to think others in the audience shared my sense – before everyone sung Happy Birthday during the bows, there was a subtle gasp from the audience when it was announced that Sarah was celebrating her 16th birthday.
Please, brothers and sisters. Have some self-respect. What message is sent when the stagehands come out to bow? “Oh, there’s the people who couldn’t get into the show. Poor dears. Clap for them, Harold.” It’s embarrassing.
“Sarah, how did rehearsal go today?” “Fine, except I had to comfort a crying squirrel.”
An invisible show happens behind and underneath what the audience sees. Curtains fly, lights go up and down, sets move, all because of stagehands and technicians. The stage manager coordinates their activity prior to and during the performance. It requires a cool head, a wide understanding of theater craft, and comprehensive knowledge of the production.
If there’s a given in stage work, it’s that performers and directors get most of the attention (and the credit). Many of my theatergoing friends say, “I don’t really think about lighting.” Well, I’ve been thinking about lighting, a LOT.
And, at the end of the day… Thanks to my cast and crew for taking the journey with me. I’m going to drink some Scotch, sleep late a few mornings, then do it all again. Let’s do it together.
I know and like many people who are union stagehands, and certainly I risk offending them by expressing some of these observations and opinions. But this is the bottom line: for as friendly and cooperative as many stagehands are, at the end of the day it’s difficult to look at the service provided and square it with the bill.