Dec 23

Happily ever after

It’s over! Cinderella XX has ended its run. And a good thing, too; I don’t think I would have lasted much longer.
The Friday night performance went okay for me, although I was worried about Jo Brown. She was feeling increasingly ill and got through that show mostly on sheer willpower. Since we didn’t have to arrive at the theatre until noon on Saturday, I had planned to sleep comparatively late that morning, but I woke up at 5:00 a.m. with a sore throat. I was able to clear up the soreness by drinking a couple of glasses of water and went back to bed, but when my alarm went off at 9:00, I was still somewhat hoarse.
When I got to the theatre at noon, there was a mixture of good and bad news. Sandi was back and ready to reclaim the role of Fairy Godmother, but Jo was now too sick to perform. She had gone home to rest, and Becky Johnston would be staying on as Stepmama to the end of the run. The two Saturday shows went surprisingly well, considering that Sandi was stepping back into her role after over a week away from it. But she’s a trouper, and performed as if she had never been away. I, on the other hand, was struggling to keep my voice from cracking. The only place where this really mattered was the very beginning of the play, when the quartet enters and sings to the audience. That song is four-part harmony, with me as the only bass — so if my voice were to give out, there would be no hiding that fact from the audience. I got through it, but my singing sounded ragged in my own ears. (The other members of the quartet swore they couldn’t tell, but perhaps they were just being kind.)
The rest of the show wasn’t as risky, because I only had to sing when the entire ensemble was singing. I cheated a bit and just lip-synched part of the “Sneeze Polka,” one of the song-and-dance numbers in the Ball scene. By the end of the show I had figured out that I could keep my voice more or less under control as long as I was singing fairly loudly. Between that trick and lip-synching, I was able to get through the evening performance. On Sunday I had the same experience; I woke up with a sore throat, banished it with lots of water, and managed to produce enough baritone to sing two more shows.
The final performance began at 5:00 and ended about 6:30, and we had to be out of the Fletcher Opera Theatre by 11:00 p.m. And when I say “we,” I mean the cast, crew, scenery, props, costumes, and all personal items. Everything. So the strike had to proceed rapidly. Normally, I tend to think of a strike as something that begins immediately after the final curtain, but that’s only true of striking the sets. For everything else, the strike begins while the final performance is still under way. For example, we started striking costumes immediately after the first scene. Costume strike instructions were already posted on all the dressing room doors, so we knew what to do. As soon as we were done with a costume, we put the dry-cleanable portions of it back on the hangers and moved them to a wheeled costume rack near the door. Washable costume items like undershirts and tights were tossed into laundry baskets. Accessories like jewelry and shoe trims were placed in ziploc bags and safety-pinned to the costume hangers. Shoes belonging to the the theatre (like the jazz shoes I wore for the Prologue) had to be sprayed with Lysol, rubber-banded together, and placed in the box marked “Shoes” in the costume shop. Hats and wigs went into other boxes.
Up on the stage, the props people were striking props as soon as they were no longer required. After the show ended, we actors took off and struck our final costumes, scrubbed the makeup from our faces, and then packed up our makeup kits and other personal items and loaded them into our cars, leaving the dressing room empty and clean. Then we reported to the stage, where the crew had already finished striking the props and were now working on the sets. By 9:00 all of the sets, props, and costumes were loaded into two rental trucks. One of these, containing mostly costumes, went to RLT to unload those, and Marie and I went along to help. After all the costumes were moved back into RLT, we drove to RLT’s warehouse to help the others unload the sets and store them.
Ruth wasn’t able to participate in the Cinderella strike, because she was on stage in the final performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But we picked her up afterward, and the three of us went out to IHOP for an impromptu strike dinner.
Thus ended my second year in the Cinderella ensemble (and Ruth’s debut as an actress, but I’ll let her tell you about that in her own blog). Will I do it again next year? I really don’t know. At the moment I don’t even want to think about doing another show — I’m looking forward to having evenings and weekends again, and being able to do things like watch TV, spend time with my family at home instead of at a theatre, or even go to bed early if I feel like it. Ask me in June or July if I want to audition for Cinderella XXI. For now, I plan to put away my dancing shoes and makeup kit, grow my beard back, and return to my normal lifestyle. (If I can remember what it was.)

Dec 19

The light at the end of the tunnel

Greetings from the belly of the beast. Cinderella is now about two thirds of the way through its run — we’ve done eight shows out of thirteen, with five remaining. But those five will go quickly, because we start another weekend marathon tonight. Five shows in 48 hours, followed immediately by strike. So Cinderella will consume my entire weekend, but then it will be over.
The run has gone well overall, considering the challenges that have faced us. One of my earlier posts stated that Sandi, who was supposed to play the Fairy Godmother, had the flu. I deleted that statement because it was incorrect (a mistake on my part). Sandi was hospitalized due to an infection that was apparently more serious than the flu, because they kept her for a week. I don’t know the details, but we were told yesterday that she had been released. We don’t know whether she’ll be returning to the play. I would be delighted to learn that she’s well enough to rejoin us, but if she’s still recuperating, a five-show marathon is probably not the best thing for her. Well, we’ll see.
Two of the Mouse Ponies were sick earlier this week, and one of the king’s pages. Fortunately, those characters only have to appear in a couple of scenes, so they were able to perform despite not feeling well. (And they’ve all recovered now.) Since I haven’t had a flu shot (and can’t get one now, because all of the doctors’ offices are out of them), I was a bit concerned about the possibility that I might pick up a bug from someone else in the play, but so far that hasn’t happened. I suspect that (with the exception of Sandi) all of these illnesses are the result of the same flu virus than hit me during Thanksgiving week, and presumably I still have antibodies for that one in my bloodstream. Not an ideal method of immunization, but if it gets me through the run I’ll be content.
In addition to helping Marie supervise the Mouse Ponies, Ruth has been busy with her own play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which opened last night. It’s a good thing yesterday was the last day of school. I’m looking forward to seeing R&G, but I won’t have a chance to do so until tomorrow, after the 5:00 performance of Cinderella. It will be nice to sit in the house for a change and watch some other member of our family perform on stage.
Next week, after Cinderella has relinquished its hold on me, I think I might like to go see The Return of the King. And perhaps The Matrix Revolutions, even though no one seems to like that film very much. I still want to see it for myself, and I haven’t had time for movies since Cinderella rehearsals began. Heck, I haven’t even seen Pirates of the Caribbean — and Ruth already has the DVD of that one.
Oops, it’s 5:00. I’d better eat my supper and head for the theater. The curtain goes up in two and a half hours. Once more into the breach, dear friends!

Dec 13

The run begins

Opening night went well. In addition to being our first official performance of this year’s run, last night’s show was also our celebration of Cinderella‘s twenty-year history. Before the performance began, director Haskell Fitz-Simons and Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker came on stage and made short speeches. Meeker announced that he had proclaimed December 12, 2003 to be Raleigh Little Theatre and Cinderella Day, and Haskell read a proclamation of his own that made the mayor an honorary member of the cast.
Sandi was still too ill to perform, so Becky joined us again as the Stepmother, and Jo continued as the Fairy Godmother. At the end of the show, over a hundred former Cinderella cast members joined us on stage to sing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” We then surprised Haskell with a song in his honor (“We Love You, Conrad” from Bye Bye Birdie, with Haskell’s name replacing “Conrad”), after which confetti cannons were fired over our heads. The cast and crew then adjourned to the theatre lobby for a reception to celebrate the beginning of Cinderella‘s twentieth run.
Weekends are the most grueling part of the run, because we do two performances on Saturday and Sunday. (This means that beginning at 7:30 Friday night, we perform five times in 48 hours.) The 1:00 matinee ends at about 2:30, and by the time we remove our makeup and change into street clothes, it’s 3:00. Since we have to start getting ready for the 5:00 show around 4:00, it’s not possible to go anywhere between the shows, so we don’t. A catered meal is served for the cast and crew between the shows. So I’ll be at the theatre pretty much all weekend.
I have to be at the theatre by noon, so I’d better go get ready. More later.

Dec 12

Cinderella update

It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted anything. Anyone who is still checking this blog has undoubtedly concluded — quite correctly — that I’ve been so busy with work and Cinderella that I’ve had no time for blogging. When rehearsals for Cinderella started, I intended to keep up a steady stream of posts, chronicling the whole process from start to finish. And I managed to do that for a while, but eventually I lost my momentum and fell behind. So let me try to quickly bring you up to date.
In my last post on this subject, I described how week 1 of rehearsals was spent learning to sing the show’s musical numbers, and week 2 focused mostly on the dance steps. In week 3, we worked on the blocking of specific scenes, and in week 4 we put all the pieces together and began running through the whole play from start to finish. (It was at about that point that I fell behind on blogging, because run-through rehearsals mean that nobody gets the night off, so my schedule became more demanding.)
Week 6 should have been something of a breather, because we only had three rehearsals scheduled. Sunday (November 23) was a planned day off. Rehearsals were planned for Monday through Wednesday, followed by the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. But I started feeling ill on Sunday afternoon, and by Monday morning I was incapacitated by flu: coughing, sneezing, fever, and aching all over. I was too sick to go to work or to rehearsal on Monday or Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was able to get up and drag myself to work for a few hours, but the Wednesday night rehearsal was canceled. (I hoped to at least do some catch-up blogging from my parents’ house over the Thanksgiving break, but that didn’t work out either. Although I was ambulatory, I was still rather sickly and spent much of the weekend in bed recuperating.)
So week 6 of rehearsals was a total loss for me. I began week 7 not having been to a rehearsal for ten days. Not good. But I managed to catch up. The week ended with a makeup workshop on Friday for those who needed it (I did, since last year’s Cinderella was my introduction to stage makeup, and I was ready for a refresher) and a music-only session on Saturday to polish our singing.
Week 7 — this week — is the big one. Tech Week. It began on Sunday with Load-In, the all-day session in which we moved the whole production (sets, costumes, props, everything) to the Fletcher Opera Theater at the BTI Center in downtown Raleigh. Monday was the first dress/tech rehearsal: we ran through the play in costumes (but without makeup) with the technical crews (sets, props, dressers, lights, sound, and orchestra) for the first time. Tuesday we added makeup to the mix, and Wednesday was another full-dress rehearsal. Last night, Thursday, was the preview performance — technically a dress rehearsal, but in front of an audience of friends and family members.
The preview performance took place in spite of a rather serious setback. When we arrived at the theatre yesterday evening, we learned that Sandi Sullivan, the actress who plays the Fairy Godmother, was in the hospital with a fever of 104 degrees. But when the same show is staged annually for twenty years, it tends to build up a local reserve of actors who have appeared in the play before and can serve as understudies for the major roles. Jo Brown, the actress playing the Wicked Stepmother, has been in Cinderella every single year, and she played the Fairy Godmother for over a decade. For the preview, she became the Fairy Godmother again, and Becky Johnston, who played the Stepmother for three years, came out of retirement to step back into the role. If the audience reaction was any indication, the performance was a huge success. Jo and Becky both handled the last-minute substitutions beautifully, and the show went incredibly well.
Tonight is opening night, the first show for a paying audience. I’ll post more as soon as I can.

Nov 02

Princes and pages and mice, oh my!

My mother e-mailed asking whether the Cinderella cast rehearses every day. The short answer is yes. But there are a number of exceptions, which depend somewhat on your role in the play. The cast of Cinderella breaks down into a number of groups:

  • Cinderella and Prince Charming
  • The Fairy Godmother and her two helpers
  • King Darling III and his two pages
  • The Wicked Stepmother and the two Ugly Stepsisters
  • The Young Prince
  • The Mouse Ponies
  • The Ensemble

The Mouse Ponies are the six children who play the mice that get transformed into ponies to pull Cinderella’s carriage. The Young Prince is a boy who appears in a musical number in which the Prince reminisces about his youth and ends up singing a duet with a younger version of himself. The Ensemble is everyone else, the actors who populate the two big crowd scenes: the Prologue (in which the peasants celebrate Christmas in the town square) and the Ball. I don’t list the quartet as a separate group because it really has no separate identity after the song that starts off the play; the quartet members merge into the crowd of peasants and are not seen again as distinct characters. I should also mention that the Mouse Ponies and the Young Prince appear in the Prologue as the children of the town.
Everyone except the Ensemble and the Mouse Ponies is usually spoken of collectively as the Principal Characters — in other words, the folks who actually have lines. Of the 14 scenes in Cinderella, the Ensemble and the Mouse Ponies appear in only four of them. The entire rest of the play is carried by the Principals. So they definitely earn their top billing. But some of them are in more scenes than others, or are involved in more musical numbers. Cinderella appears in eight scenes, but the Fairy Godmother is in nine, and her two helpers appear in 13 — every scene but one!
What does this have to do with the rehearsal schedule? Well, the first week of rehearsal has consisted of learning and practicing the songs, which involves pretty much everyone. (However, the Mouse Ponies only sing with us on two songs, so we do those songs first and then let the mice go home. We also gave them Halloween off so they could go trick-or-treating.) But in week 2, we’ll concentrate mostly on the dance steps for the Ball, which doesn’t involve the mice. So they’ll get to skip those rehearsals. Moving into week 3, we’ll start to focus more on the blocking of specific scenes, and if the Ensemble or Mouse Ponies aren’t needed for those scenes, they’ll get the night off. For example, November 5 rehearsal will focus on the blocking of scenes 2, 3, and 4, which are Principals-only. So the Ensemble and the mice are off that evening.
In week 4, we’ll begin running through the entire play from beginning to end. This means that the non-Principals will spend most of the evening offstage, waiting. The adults in the Ensemble will chat, play cards, or read books, but what about the mice and the Young Prince? It’s the job of the Mouse Nanny (or as I prefer to call her, the Mouse Wrangler) to keep these seven kids corralled, quiet, and occupied when they’re not needed on stage. This year’s Mouse Wrangler is Marie, and I’ll write about that in another post.
There are several other reasons that we may not have a rehearsal on a particular day. First, that day may simply be listed as OFF in the rehearsal schedule for reasons known only to Haskell (the director). For example, November 20 and 23 are off days. Second, that day may be a holiday. This only happens once for Cinderella: we get the four-day Thanksgiving weekend off. Finally, the cast may be progressing well enough that Jane or Haskell decides that we can afford to skip a day. For example, at the end of yesterday’s rehearsal, Jane said we were doing great and gave us Sunday off! Hooray!
But I went to RLT today anyway. In fact, the entire family did. Schoolhouse Rock Live ended its run today, and the final performance (a matinee) was followed immediately by a strike. Strikes are all-hands events; the entire cast and crew is expected to participate, along with anyone else who is willing to help. Marie, Ruth, and I all worked on that show, so we reported for the strike, and Ben came along to pitch in. We spent the afternoon striking the props and costumes, dismantling the set, and stripping all of the lights from the overhead grid in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. We also helped move the audience chairs, and the risers they had been sitting on, back against the walls to clear as much floor space as possible. (The Cinderella rehearsals will move into that theatre tomorrow, and we’ll need all the room we can get to practice dance steps.)
After the strike was completed, everyone adjourned to the Green Room for the traditional strike dinner. A good time was had by all.

Oct 31

Deja vu all over again

Cinderella begins with a quartet of rogues coming out on stage and singing a song to the audience. The song is in four-part harmony, so one specimen of each vocal part (SATB) is required. Last year I somehow got picked to be the bass in the quartet, despite being a befuddled newbie who didn’t know the quartet dance steps and was terrified at being the second person the audience would see every night. The only explanation I can think of is that they were really short on basses.
The first week of rehearsals includes an audition for cast members who are interested in being in the quartet. This year’s musical director, Jane, was in the ensemble last year, so she remembers me. (And I’m the only one of last year’s quartet who came back.) On the first day of rehearsals, she asked me privately if I was planning to try out for the quartet again. I said, “Sure, if you need me.” It was fine with me if she picked someone else; after all, I’ve already done it, so I don’t have anything to prove. But the other bass candidates were all new to the play, so I had a distinct advantage over them (as soprano candidate Kerry pointed out when she saw that I was the only one auditioning without sheet music).
I suppose the result was inevitable. At last night’s rehearsal, Jane told me that I was in the quartet again. So this year’s Cinderella experience is shaping up to be exactly like last year’s: I’ll be playing the same part in the same play, singing all the same songs and doing the same dance steps. In fact, as I learned when I went for my costume fitting, we’re even going to be wearing the same costumes. Unfortunately, during last year’s production and the months that followed, I slacked off on my diet and regained about twenty pounds. I’ve held my weight steady since spring, but it hasn’t gone back down.
Well, I’ll have to fit into my old costumes. So I’ve gone back to a super-strict version of my diet and will try to shed ten or twelve of those pounds before the show opens on December 12. My resolve was challenged yesterday, when one of my coworkers brought a box of doughtnuts to a meeting I attended. I gritted my teeth and ignored them. And then, on my way from work to rehearsal, I stopped at the hybrid KFC/Taco Bell across the street — and instead of my usual 7-Layer Burrito and Double-Decker Taco combination, I ordered the KFC buffet and ate two plates of vegetables.
I’ve done this before; I can do it again. That’s my new mantra.

Oct 28

And so it begins

The first rehearsal for Cinderella was last night. It was just like I remember from last year. We sat on rows of chairs in the theatre’s dance studio. The artistic director gave an orientation speech, the stage manager reviewed the rules and guidelines for cast members, we all filled out contact information forms and got our scripts (just sheet music for us ensemble members), and then the music director took over and began rehearsing the pieces we’ll be singing in the show.
As I said, it was just like 2002 — but at the same time, it couldn’t be more different. At last year’s first rehearsal, the entire experience was new and strange, and I had no idea what to expect. I had never been in a Raleigh Little Theatre play (or a play at any community theatre) before, while most of the people sitting around me were experienced actors. If we were rehearsing any other play, I could have at least taken comfort in the fact that the play itself was new to virtually everyone, and we would all be learning it together. But RLT has been staging Cinderella for two decades, so many people in the cast had done it before — and some people had been in it a dozen times or more! This show had twenty years of accumulated history and traditions, and I didn’t know any of it. So that first rehearsal was nerve-wracking. I wasn’t the only first-timer, and everyone was really nice and patient about it, but I was still painfully aware of how much I didn’t know.
Now it’s a year later, and this is familiar territory. This time last year I was struggling to learn the music — but now I know the songs already, and people were listening to me to learn them. Many of the cast members are people I already know, either from last year’s Cinderella or from other shows I’ve worked on at RLT. (In fact, one of the actresses and I know each other because she’s in Schoolhouse Rock Live, and the evening before I had been shining a spotlight on her.) I even know a lot of the Cinderella history and tradition, because I spent hundreds of hours with last year’s cast, and I listened eagerly to their war stories.
I’m a Cinderella veteran. It’s a strange feeling. But a good one.

Oct 25

Casting call

Ruth and I both got contacted today. She has been cast as Ophelia in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, and I am in the Cinderella ensemble. Ben has also confirmed that he wants to work on the running crew for Cinderella again, as he did last year. As I mentioned in my last entry, Marie will be Mouse Wrangler, and Ruth will help her when she’s not busy with R&G.
I’m happy and excited about being in the show again, but I’m also kind of nervous. I hope I’m up to this. I was nervous last year too, but that was because I hadn’t been in a play for a quarter century and hadn’t been in an RLT show at all. Everything about the experience was new, and it was rather overwhelming for a while.
This year should be easier, because I’ve done Cinderella before. I know the songs and dances (or at least it won’t take me long to relearn them), I’m familiar with the script and staging, the costumes and sets and props, all that stuff. But when I did this last year, I was unemployed. I was able to focus all my energies on the play. This year I’m going to be working a full day at IBM, then driving directly to the theatre for evening rehearsals. It’s going to be tough.
But I knew that when I auditioned. Now that the die is cast, I’m bouncing between opposite emotions. Woohoo!! I’m doing Cinderella again! Aaaauuuggghhhh!! I must be out of my mind! Marie is going through something similar, realizing that she just effectively adopted seven young children for the duration of the show. We keep looking at each other dazedly and saying things like, “We’re going to be insane by Christmas.”
It’s going to be a lot of fun. But it’s also going to be a very intense, exhausting experience. I keep reminding myself that the other cast members have day jobs, too. If they can get through this, so can I. In my saner moments, I know that it’s going to be all right. But still . . . Woohoo!! Aaaaauuuuggghhh!!
The first rehearsal is Monday night.

Nov 21


One of the things I like about Raleigh Little Theatre is that it has some history. Since the theatre has been in operation for 67 years, it has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. You can see this if you walk through the theatre’s prop rooms — there are shelves and stacks of items like dishes, typewriters, brooms, luggage, and so forth, much of it recognizably from other time periods. For example, A Streetcar Named Desire is set in 1947, and our recent production of that play required props that were consistent with that date, including a tabletop radio and a telephone. The props department had no problem coming up with those.
But the larger items, especially furniture, have to be stored offsite because there just isn’t room at the theater for them. So RLT leases a warehouse a few blocks away, which is full of items like the beds, icebox, kitchen table, and sink used in Streetcar. Or at least it used to be. Sometime last week, thieves broke into the warehouse and robbed it, stealing dozens of antique and one-of-a-kind furniture pieces. They even got the king’s throne from Cinderella, which opens in less than three weeks.
This is the sort of news item that I wouldn’t have even noticed six months ago, but now it strikes pretty close to home. This theft directly affects a play I’m in, and I know all of the people being quoted in the news coverage of the crime. (Which is considerable, by the way; several Raleigh TV stations covered the story on their broadcasts last night.) In fact, I’ve actually been to the RLT warehouse. During the strike for Once Upon a Mattress, I helped the theater’s technical director move some furniture and set pieces (stuff that could be reused in other shows) to storage. So I had the opportunity to walk around inside the warehouse and see the items stored there. It was amazing. And now much of it is gone.
Marie and the kids have never been to the warehouse, but they felt the same sense of personal connection to this event. The TV news reports showed photographs of the stolen items, and when this table appeared on screen, we all recognized it. It’s Stella Kowalski’s dressing table from the RLT production of Streetcar. Ruth was a member of the props crew for that show, and it was her job to place a breakaway bottle on that table so that at the proper time, Blanche could break it and threaten Stanley with the jagged remnant. The robbers have that table now.
RLT’s property is insured, so this robbery probably won’t have a lasting financial effect on the theater. But those unique and one-of-a-kind items are going to be tough to replace. We’ll have to find another throne for Cinderella‘s king, but the play will open on schedule. (I know the king personally; we both sing baritone.)
It goes without saying that the people who did this are despicable scum. RLT is a nonprofit community theater that depends on local government grants and donations for its survival. It has a paid staff of only about a dozen, so everyone else who works on its productions is a volunteer. As our scenic designer was quoted as saying, the thieves were robbing the poor.
I still hold out hope that the stolen items can be recovered. They’re all unique and recognizable pieces, and RLT has excellent records of everything that was taken, including photographs. The thieves will have a hard time disposing of the items locally, and that many large pieces will be difficult to transport out of the area. It would be nice to see RLT get its property back and the thieves put behind bars. But whether that happens or not, the show will go on.
UPDATE: SAS Institute is donating its stockpile of set pieces and furniture (left over from the making of two computer games) to RLT. The collection is valued at about $50,000, or about three and a half times the value of the stolen items. Hooray for SAS!

Nov 09

Let there be light, part 2

So what does a light board operator (LBO) actually do? In my case, the answer turned out to be “press a button on cue.” I jokingly told my family that it was a job that a trained monkey could do. There’s a bit more to it than that, however.
My first light board experience was on Once Upon a Mattress, a musical comedy. This turned out to be an excellent show to cut my teeth on, because it didn’t require anything complicated from the LBO, but it involved two spotlight operators as well, allowing me to observe their jobs as well as my own. And because the LBO sits next to the stage manager (SM), I got to see what that job involves as well.
Raleigh Little Theatre has two booths at the back of the auditorium, on either side of the balcony. On the left side of the balcony is the light booth, where the SM and LBO sit in front of a big plate glass window that looks out on the house and the stage. The blue rectangle you can see through the window is the main curtain, which was down when I took the picture. So you can see that the LBO has an excellent view of the stage. The overhead lights (which are turned up all the way in the picture) are dimmed during a performance, so the glare on the window you see here is eliminated. The booth also has a wall speaker that plays the audio feed from microphones above the stage, so we can hear the show as well as see it. Behind the SM and LBO on a raised platform are Spotlight A and its operator. (The platform allows the spotlight beam to shine over the heads of the SM and LBO, through the window, and down to the stage.)
To the balcony’s right is the sound booth, where the sound board operator sits at a similar window, with Spot B behind him or her on another raised platform. All of these people wear headsets and microphones, so that anything said by one is heard by all the others. Also wearing headset-microphones are the two assistant stage managers (ASMs) located at stage left and stage right, who are responsible for overseeing the cast, running crew, and props crew (making sure that people, scenery, and props go on stage when they are supposed to). The house manager (in charge of seating portion of the auditorium and the lobby) has a headset-microphone as well. If you’ve seen Apollo 13, you already know how this headset communication works. It’s very similar to the “loop” used by the Mission Control personnel.
The theatrical equivalent of NASA’s flight director is the SM, who runs the show from the light booth. And I do mean runs — the SM is the absolute ruler of the theater when a play is in progress. On Mattress, the SM was a woman named Ellen, who arrived for my first rehearsal with a ring binder that turned out to contain the musical score and script for the entire play, painstakingly marked to indicate when every entrance, exit, scenery change, light or sound cue, and curtain took place. These cues were numbered in ascending order from the beginning of the play to the end. It was Ellen’s job to make sure everything happened at the proper moment by calling off these cue numbers.
For each cue, Ellen would give a warning about a minute beforehand, a “stand by” about ten seconds before, and then a “go!” Thus, a typical light board cue would go something like this:

SM: Warning for light board cue 160.
LBO: Light board warned.
[About a minute passes.]
SM: Stand by for light board cue 160.
LBO: Light board standing.
[About ten seconds pass.]
SM: Cue 160 . . . go!
[LBO presses the Go button.]

If that seems simple, remember that Ellen was also calling off sound, spotlight, and deck cues at the same time. “Deck,” meaning the stage, indicated cues for the stage right and stage left ASMs (SRASM and SLASM). So in practice, the communication on the headset loop sounded more like this:

SM: Warning for light board cues 160 and 161; deck cue 165; deck, light, and spot cues 170 and 172; and light board and deck cue 180.
LBO: Light board warned.
SLASM: Stage left warned.
SRASM: Stage right warned.
Spot A: Spot A warned.
Spot B: Spot B warned.
SM: Stand by light board cues 160 and 161 and deck cue 165.
LBO: Light board standing.
SLASM: Stage left standing.
SRASM: Stage right standing.
SM: Cue 160, go! . . . Cue 161, go! . . . Cue 165, go! . . . Stand by deck, light, and spot cues 170 and 172.
SLASM: Stage left standing.
SRASM: Stage right standing.
LBO: Light board standing.
Spot A: Spot A standing.
Spot B: Spot B standing.
SM: Cue 170, go! . . . Cue 172, go! . . . Stand by light board and deck cue 180.
LBO: Light board standing.
SLASM: Stage left standing.
SRASM: Stage right standing.
SM: Cue 180, go!

For Mattress, LBO was me. The ASMs and spotlight operators had to have printed lists of their cues, but the light board kept track of all of mine for me. All I had to do was look at the monitor to see what the current light cue was, as well as the previous one and the next two in the programmed sequence. The board knew what to do for each cue, and all I had to do was press the Go button (indicated by the red arrow) when Ellen gave the word. Most of the other controls on the board were off limits during a performance, but there were a couple of other buttons that I would have to use if I screwed up. I would press Hold if I realized that I had started a light cue prematurely; this would freeze the lights in their current state. And pressing Back would tell the board to return to the previous cue.
That’s what my job was like during Once Upon a Mattress. On the next play, A Streetcar Named Desire, things got a bit more complicated. I’ll tell you about that in part 3.