A Dialogue: On Being the Only Person in the Theatre Able to Find Her Ass with Both Ha

A Dialogue: On Being the Only Person in the Theatre Able to Find Her Ass with Both Hands
Setting: Backstage during a thoroughly disastrous tech week at a local production of a Recent-Tony Award-Winning-But-Very-Technically-Demanding-Show, for which yours truly is running lights and calling cues. (Even though it’s the stage manager’s job to call cues and I am scrambling to keep up with over 300 board and 100 spot cues, because the stage manager can’t be relied on to scratch her ass or wind her butt.) (I also wound up being fight choreographer even though I’m totally unqualified, because I’m the only one on the production crew who’d ever done stage combat, and the director’s ingenious blocking of “just improvise” was resulting in people flailing around getting hurt. Gosh, fight directors are actually necessary for shows with two separate riots and a one beating to death on stage? Imagine that!)

**Totally Incompetent Stage Manager (Who Only Got the Job Because She’s Married to the Director And Who Won’t Give Me a Proper Fight Call) **: Ok, we have a big problem here – someone broke into the theatre, and a bunch of our props are missing.

Me: Oh, shit! What all did they get?
TISM: Box of cracker jacks, a few flags, two of the billy clubs, and the gun.

(Musical interlude: One of these things does not belong here…)

Me: The WHAT? There’s a GUN in this show? When? Why have we not rehearsed with it then - we open tomorrow! Why do we not have a weapons master? This is a public school - we can’t leave fucking firearms about!!! Even if it’s an inert prop gun, we shouldn’t be leaving it here - you don’t leave weapon props lying around! Where’s the props mistress, I’m gonna kick her ASS! Arrgh!
TISM: Calm down, it’s only a starter pistol.
Me: !!! And that’s better than us coming into a public school and losing aprop gun because…? It’s worse! It’s a projectile weapon, you idiot!
TISM: …but it fires blanks.
Me: A gun firing blanks at point blank range can still be very dangerous - Jesus, doesn’t anybody around here know anything about firearms? I don’t know jack shit, and if I’m the most educated person in the room, we have really screwed the pooch.
TISM: I don’t see why you’re so upset…
Me: ::uses hand to close hanging jaw:: Because, we’re going to have to tell the school administration about this - the only people who could have gotten in here are the summer school students.
TISM: Well, we don’t have to tell them what went missing if it’d get us in trouble…
Me: …
Me: So, let me get this straight: You brought a firearm into a public school and left it unattended. It gets stolen in circumstances that suggest a summer school student has it, a student who has no problem with breaking and entering or theft … and you don’t think we should tell the school that one of their delinquent students is now packing, even though by doing so you are putting all the other students and teachers at risk. Can I ask you a question?
TISM: What’s that?
Me: What are you gonna do for an encore, eat a baby?
Random Stagehand: Hey, it’s ok, we found a bunch of the missing props.
Me & TISM: Thank god!
RS: Well, everything but the gun.
Me: ::facepalm::
RS: But it’s okay, I asked [ Idjit Props Mistress ], and she said J— brought it in to use, but it’s not a starter pistol.
Me: Whew.
RS: It’s a real gun, but it’s been disabled so it won’t fire.

Me: … ::gulps air like a fish::

TISM: Oh, that’s okay then.
Me: How in the name of Ted Nugent’s fanclub is this possibly in any form okay?
TISM: Well, it’s not a working gun.
Me: And the person it’s being POINTED AT will know this, how, exactly?

(Enter Idjit Props Mistress and J—)

Me: J—, what’s this I hear about you bringing a real fucking gun in to use in the show?
IPM: ::Wails:: I can’t believe it’s gone, it looked so good - so realistic!
Me: ::Glare:: J—, I’m waiting for an explaination here - you brought a real gun into this theatre?
J—: What? Why on earth would I do something so stupid! I brought in a prop gun.
TISM: Oh, good, then we don’t have to tell anyone!
(Exit Stage Left, pursued by bear.)

What a horror story!

BTW - what are you doing running lights when you should be rich, famous, and reading your essays on NPR?

“What are you going to do for an encore, eat a baby?”

Good stuff.

I didn’t understand any of the theatre jargon, except for this. I know that play, whee!

Oh, that was a tasty rant. Well done. You could make it into a play: “One Act Play for Idjit with Prop Gun.”

Forget that a gun got loose in a school. Why weren’t the props locked up? They have legs, you know!

A good rang, Jenny, a good rant. Props to ya.

I’m still confused about the gun. Is it: a) a starter pistol; b) a prop gun which was never capable of firing; or c) an honest to god handgun that’s been “disabled?”

This could be very important - particularly if it’s c). It is a violation of (a felony even, I believe) Maryland state law to bring a firearm of any kind onto any public school property. The law makes no exceptions for firearms which have been “disabled.”

As bad as the conversations sound, the “setting” has me more horrified than anything. A big musical with hundreds of cues and dozens of actors NOT being run by the stage manager? Being run by the lighting person instead? WTF?

My wife does stage management, and the idea that a non SM would do cues for a musical is just beyond the pale. You have to let us know how it goes tonight.

tdn: You’re right, of course – hence the Idjit Props Mistress’ well-earned moniker. Her excuse is that the theatre is supposed to be locked unless we’re there, which also makes no sense, because if there is one unbreakable law of the theatre it’s that actors, while unlikely to flat out steal, will pick up, play with, and then misplace any props within reach.

A glossary for FinnAgain and others:

Tech Week: The final week before a show opens, characterized by very late nights in which the cast and crew attempt to run the show just as it will be performed. The cast will have been running to show for a while, but this is when the set, sound, and lights in the theatre are added in. Usually, the first half of the week is a miserable failure, around Wednesday the Director has a mental breakdown, Thursday everything either works perfectly or is comically disastrous, and Friday is opening night. Also known as “Hell Week” due to the late nights and last minute changes. (Rent Noises Off for more information – a fabulous play, a pretty good movie, and an eerie facsimile of what backstage vs onstage is like.)

Stage Manager: Does a lot of various tasks, and it varies somewhat, but for production week, this is the person in charge of the running a show. She is in charge of keeping track of all aspects of the production, such as scheduling, calling cues, and generally holding it all together. Our SM sucks at this.

Calling cues: is done over a closed headset channel, and is basically done by someone who is reading the script along with the play, telling all the crew when to do things, such as bring up lights, open curtain, change set, etc.

Stage Combat: Fighting for theatrical purposes, designed to look cool and not hurt anyone – can be armed or unarmed. (by “armed,” I mean that specially made fake weapons of many kinds are used - real weapons are NEVER used. However, plenty of damage can be done with fake weapons as well, and they must still be treated with respect.) Must be choreographed to prevent accidental injury. The fight director is in charge of assuring that all stage combat is done in a safe and effective manner.

Fight Call: Time before the curtain each night when any and all stage combat in a show is rehearsed, in slow motion and then again at full speed, in order to ensure safety and verify that everyone in the fight remembers their part.

Prop: Any item that an actor handles during the show. The Props Mistress is in charge of keeping track of these items, setting them where they need to be for use in the show, and securing them when they are done being used.

An inert prop gun is a fake that only looks like a gun – has no functional parts. A starter pistol is a gun that only fires blanks. If guns are being used, a production should have a Weapons Master – basically, a prop person whose only job is to care for, set, and secure the weapons. An actual gun should never, ever, EVER be used, no matter if it’s been disabled or not.

Stagehand: Someone who works backstage during a show – can have a variety of duties, including opening and shutting the curtain, changing scenery, herding actors, etc.

Stage Left: From the audience, this is the right side of the stage.

PUHLEEZE tell me you’ve reported the whole gun thing to the proper authorities. It’s probably the only way the incompetents you’re working with will ever find themselves in possession of anything resembling a clue. (And, after having that one jammed up their ass, they might be more receptive to the other clues you’re trying to hit them upside the head with.)

Jeez, Jenny! Calm down! I mean, the whole reason they’re IN theater in the first place is that they have artistic temperaments, and you know that means that trying to drag actual responsibility and practicality into it will just bring them down, man. They need to stay in their “special space” so that they can fully bring their muse to the fans, ya know?

Seriously, what a bunch of maroons! Are these fairly experienced drama people or is it a school group full of kids and newbies? Because if it’s the former, there’s no excuse at all…

Stage Manager: God. Someone who knows the show like the back of his hand. Knows the show better than the director[1]. The person who is ultimately responsible for everything. The person who not only anticipates potential problems, but anticipates the anticipation of potential problems and thwarts them before they have a chance to become potential problems. Not some one who doesn’t lock up a weapon.

Wait a sec, there’s a fucking gun in a high school play, and your cast hasn’t even worked with it yet, and you open tomorrow?

How the holy hell did these people get their jobs?

[1] Directors? Feh, who needs them, just give me a prompt book and a good crew, and there’s your show right there.

UncleBeer: this is why I was amazed to be the only one freaking out about the gun the first place – none of these yahoos seemed to realized that if the gun was real it didn’t matter if it currently worked or not – we were going to be shut down, cited, and I don’t know what all else! However, J— confirmed to me that it was his prop that was brought in and it was an inert prop – had never been, would never be, a working gun. He is the only one other than me who seems cognizant of how bad it would be to bring a real gun in, so I believe him. The Random Stagehand who said it was a disabled real gun was apparently taking the word of the actor who was to use the prop gun, but who hadn’t actually handled it yet. I think he did it just to watch me turn grey. (And I’m not sure what I would do if it had turned out that was ture.)

The situation is still pretty dire, however, because the prop looks real enough that you’d piss your pants first and ask questions later. As of when I got disgusted and left last night, the Stage Manager was saying she wanted to tell the school that we had a break-in and some theft and vandalism, but not explain what was stolen. I’m thinking tonight I will take the producer aside and tell her that if she doesn’t tell the administration what happened, I’m going to, because I have no plans to go down with the ship over this shit, by allowing the Stage Manager to make me an accessory in concealing this when some punk kid could turn up with our prop. Since it isn’t a real firearm, I’m thinking the worst they can do is kick us out over it, which frankly would be a relief compared to wondering if we are going to get arrested.

Another thing: What the fuck is this person doing (besides losing a fucking handgun) if she’s not calling cues? That’s 90% of the job while the production is up!

This does sound like a trainwreck waiting to happen. Except for Jenny, it sounds like every member of the crew is an incompetent boob*. Someone was actually thinking of changing the fight choreography on opening night? Let me guess, the upstage platform is a sheet of particle board on a couple of milk crates, right?

*There may well be a very competent crew with just a few bad people. That’s all it takes.

To clarify – the show is being put up at a high school, but it’s not a school show. It’s being done by a local theatre group that recently got ousted from their previous performance space, so they aren’t used to working in this theatre.

So, it’s not high school kids working with any of this stuff, and the production is otherwise unrelated to the school – this is just a place for them to perform. I had thought these people were pretty experienced when I signed on (as a favor to the director), and really, most of them are (lighting designer, for example, is great to work with – totally knows his stuff), unfortunately, these knowledgeable people are either not in the main positions of power or are being shouted down by the bozos. (And the producer, who I know is competent and would have had to authority to lay it down for the SM, had to miss the rehearsal last night, so she wasn’t there to back me up when I started raising hell.)

And as near as I can tell, Maus, the SM seems to think her job is to clog up the headset channel by keeping up an endless commentary on the show under her breath, WHILE ON FUCKING VOX. And then to get mad at me when I tell her to shut it the hell off so I can talk to the spotlight operators. The headsets are able to overlap, but it’s still annoying as all get out to have to talk over her.
BTW, thanks everyone for being here and letting me blow off steam. I <heart> the SDMB.

Damn Yankees?
Yankee Doodle Dandy?
Annie Get Your Gun?

This rant sounds like it should be made into a play…

Okay. That’s reassuring. Thanks for the add’l info.

Having endured a fair amount of shitty theater in my time, this is where I would have walked away, spitting epithets of idiotic unprofessionalism. There’s just no excuse for lazy leadership (and that’s exactly what it is) putting the performers at physical risk. And it sounds like that attitude is exactly what led to the gun issue, which is just completely beyond the pale.

On the bright side, you’ll have an amazing war story to tell later, presuming these yarble-headed yahoos don’t manage to burn down the building before closing night.