What is That Burning Smell?

It's 10:30pm and time for photo call. We're just had a lovely performance of a wonderful play that is getting great reviews and has a really stellar cast. I love working on this show. Yes it may be prop heavy, in rep with two other shows, and require the hanging of many many curtains over and over, but it's a great play and the people never complain about anything.

So it's time for photo call. We have about an hour to do about 14 or so shots. Photo calls are almost always after a performance. They usually consist of key moments of the play chosen by the director to archive the production and to use as future promotional material.

We're working hard, setting up props and scenery, trying to rush through it quickly to get the actors out of there so that myself, the stage manager and the production assistant can go ahead and pull down the curtains and head on home. We've got two more shots to go when someone notices a funny smell. It smells like burning gel.

We've had the lights on for longer than normal and these instruments are getting a lot of use, since this show reps with two others. It's entirely possible that a gel is getting all melty. First thing we do is kill the lights, then pull out a 15 foot ladder and the stage manager climbs up with a flashlight to look at the grid. We can't see anything wrong, so I run up to the booth and bring up the lights. We can smell the smell, but we can't find it. We've been holding photo all for 10 minutes at this point and everyone is looking at their watches.

So here are our options. We could stop and try and get the two shots tomorrow after we find out what is going on. We could scrap those shots. Or we could risk it and keep going, and make it as safe as we can.

So we surround the stage with fire extinguishers and we keep on going. I'm on stage right, ready to spring into action, while the PA is on stage left, and the other actors are hovering around ready to help if something goes horribly wrong.

The rule of theatre is that anything that can happen, will happen. But that night we got lucky. We snapped the last two shots, killed the lights, reset the five fire extinguishers, and headed on home. They never did figure out what caused the smell.

Tools of the Trade

Injuries Sustained While Wig-Diving

It's the first preview performance of the evil quick change show.

What do I mean by evil quick change? I mean 42 quick changes, most happening in 30 seconds or less, often turning a man into a woman. Heels, wigs, evening gowns, the works.
So, we have some pretty crazy changes. Lots of running from one side of the stage to the other.
When you're doing these kinds of changes, you'll find yourself basically tearing off a costume, chucking it behind you, and throwing the next one on an actor as fast and as neatly as possible.

So it's the first preview. Half the costumes aren't completed or need the quick change rigging altered. Everything is being moved from snaps to velcro, and we're working with four dressers in a very tight space for almost every change.

So we're moving along at a rapid pace and we've just changed a male actor from his female maid character (Jane), to his male character (Edgar). When the actor comes off as Jane, we pull off his dress and wig, and then put pants and a shirt on him and chuck him back out of the door. As this is the first preview, we don't quite have the rhythm down yet. We know we have to change him back to Jane on a different side of the stage so we head on over there for his next exit.

While we're over there, we realize that we don't have his wig. We can't find it. Three of us run back over to the other side of the stage and start frantically searching. We're running out of time, his change in coming up.

I grab my flashlight from my pocket and get down on my hands and knees and start searching under the stage in case it got kicked off in the frenzy. Success! I see the wig, toss it up to another dresser and abruptly stand up.

Crash! My head feels like its been split by a hammer and I see stars. There was a vertical bell chime hanging right above my head left over from a previous show, and when I stood up, I pushed it up and it hit the beam above, turning the whole thing into a very large vertical pole which head slams into. I'm standing at a very fast pace so I'm rushing and it seriously hurts.

The other dressers ask me if I'm okay and I keep going, being dizzy through the next three changes. I have a bump on the top of my head the size of Nebraska.

The moral of the story? If you're under a stage and you stand up quickly, look up first.

Tools of the Trade

In the Beginning There Was Cake.... and Vomit

I knew this was a bad idea. I mean, when you’ve got a student production written by two 19 year olds that were drunk when they had the idea for the play, you know in your heart that it’s going to be a mess.

Then, when those two cast themselves in the leads and there is no one around to reign them in, well, you can’t really say no to them.

Yes of course I can get you a real fully iced cake to trash on stage every night. With sprinkles? Um, well okay. Oh you want to foam at the mouth? And use sprite and aspirin to do it? Well okay.

I’m just the stage manager, I don’t really get a say. Oh theres no fight director? But you want to throw chairs at each other? Oh this will not end well.

It’s the fourth performance in a six show run of the first production I’ve even stage managed. I’m in college and I’m still trying to decide whether or not I want to be in working in theatre. Richard and Cody wrote a really interesting yet insane play.
They play the leads, and it’s about 40 minutes before the show. This show has a cast of 6 and most of the time, they are all on stage. I’m mostly there backstage to handle quick changes, props, and traffic. As we don’t have tech on this show, no one is in the booth to call it.
It’s just me.

35 minutes before the show and Cody stumbles in, late as usual. He doesn’t look too hot. He checks in with me, collapses into a chair, and promptly throws up everywhere. Great. Now I get to clean puke out of the green room floor. I go over and check on him. He has a fever and he looks like road kill. This isn’t going to work.
I grab Richard and ask if he wants to cancel. It’s his baby so it’s his call. He grabs the cast together and we sit and brainstorm. Can anyone cover Cody’s roles? Well he never gets his lines right anyway, so you’d just have to ad-lib for the most part. Can we cut Phil? Could we just nix his part entirely and have him cover Cody’s lines. Thank goodness the show is only 30 minutes long. Okay this might work, but Phil has that one line. It’s a cue line. We can’t cut that.

How do we handle this?

And thats when everyone looks at me. You can run on and say that line, then run off right? In your blacks, it’ll be fine. It’s just one line. Oh please no. I don’t want to. 20 minutes to show time. Okay Cody, please stop throwing up!
He’s not getting any better.

This is a Stage Managers worst nightmare. To continue a show while throwing someone into a part they’ve never played, and then having to actually step on stage yourself and give a cue line.

The show starts. Phil rocks it out in Cody’s part (Cody is still throwing up in the dressing room, but Phil is consulting with him about blocking and lines as we go). I’m frantically trying to keep track of Phil, make sure Richard has his props, check on Marlana and make sure she doesn’t miss her entrance and then, oh crap here I go.

Mad dash on stage ” The ratings are going crazy! The public loves these guys!”. And off stage I run again, collapsing against the stage left wing wall. I look at my hands, they are shaking. Oh god I did that. People saw me. I spoke lines. How did I not fall over? What the heck was I thinking when I signed on to do this play? Oh no. Cody is throwing up again. Let me find his bucket.

Tools of the Trade

Dover Parkersburg 610 Galvanized Metal Water Bucket (2-Gallon)

The life of a backstage theatre worker is often filled with insane stories, divas, injuries, freak outs, stage blood, quick changes, disasters and epic tales of success.
I get to live this life, moving from theatre to theatre, show to show. This is my diary.