Category Archives: Backstage

All My Sons: a coda

From the TMN archives: Kevin Guilfoyle’s “Surrey with the Syringe on Top,” concerning the scandal in the swirl of disclosures that Great American playwrights had been doping:

[Arthur] Miller is quick to point out that it wasn’t always this way, and when the conversation turns to his early days, he becomes nostalgic. You should have seen me when I was writing Death of a Salesman. I had pecs the size of Iroquois saddlebags and my glutes were so rock-hard I could have sat on Joe McCarthy’s head and popped it like a rotten beet.’

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All My Sons: a mystery

ready to goMy third-act scene regularly generated chuckles, and I’m not sure why. I did take the scene rather briskly, and since it comes on the heels of the wrenching fight scene between Chris and Joe, perhaps some of the audience were looking for a release. Leta says that we’re willing to find humor in one’s admitted hypocrisy, but I’m not quite buying it. Here’s the passage (w/o stage directions) that almost always got a laugh:

JIM. What’d Joe do, tell him?

MOTHER. Tell him what?

JIM. Don’t be afraid, Kate, I know. I’ve always known.


JIM. It occurred to me a long time ago.

MOTHER. I always had the feeling that in the back of his head, Chris… almost knew. I didn’t think it would be such a shock.

JIM. Chris would never know how to live with a thing like that. It takes a certain talent… for lying. You have it, and I do. But not him.

—Arthur Miller, All My Sons, Act III

Maybe it’s because I mislearned the penultimate sentence as “You have it, and I have it.”?

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All My Sons: a gloss

MOTHER [KATE]. And now you’re going to listen to me, George. You had big principles, Eagle Scouts the three of you; so now I got a tree, and this one (Indicating CHRIS) when the weather gets bad he can’t stand on his feet; and that big dope, (Pointing to LYDIA’s [and FRANK’s] house) next door who never reads anything but Andy Gump has three children and his house paid off. Stop being a philosopher, and look after yourself.

—Arthur Miller, All My Sons, Act II
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All My Sons: an update: 3

So we had a solid opening weekend and now is the time of cleaning costumes. Although I have to deal with my own socks, we otherwise have the luxury with the Players of a team responsible for laundering and dry cleaning everything else. (Though I don’t know how Tina is going to deal with the suspenders that are sewn onto my suit pants.)

I’ve been sleeping well, but I felt the need for a power doze offstage during the end of Act I. My blood sugar just falls off the table mid-afternoon, I guess. In the James Lee, there are two more or less comfortable places to hang out between scenes: the interior loading dock area, just offstage left, furnished with a few chairs and a scary second-hand couch; and the makeup room downstairs, which usually has the outside door open for a breeze. Where you don’t want to be, at least in the summer, is stage right, in the shallow wing space with hardly anything to sit on; or downstairs in “the hole,” the combination lumber storage and dressing area. The hole is also where the dimmer packs for the lighting equipment are. The very hot dimmer packs.

The rest of this character’s accoutrements are fun, too. I have a tight-fitting pair of Harry Truman spectacles scrounged from somewhere: good thing that I don’t have to read anything through them, because they’re bifocals with a strong reading correction. And Beth has become my bow tie wrangler—just one of her jobs along with hair and makeup.

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All My Sons: an update: 2

Yesterday evening we did our first full tech run with all elements present—well, nearly so, since we didn’t have either of the two boys who are doubling Bert. I have a rather natty seersucker suit for a costume (and it’s apparently a venerable piece among the Players); my project for the weekend is learning how to tie my bow tie. I need to get my hair trimmed: I will run up to my salon in Bethesda on Tuesday at lunch, a day when I really don’t have the slack to spare. Every tech week has its special challenge, and this one’s turns out to be dealing with Chip and his dancing all over the deck taking publicity pictures while the scene is running. Beth is pushing against my instincts for what sort of colors my scene in Act 3 should have. The principals are doing great work. It’ll be a pretty good show.

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All My Sons: an update: 1

We did a stumble-through of Act I of All My Sons outdoors in the Saturday sun, which is appropriate as that act takes place on a hot weekend morning. Then we moved indoors to get through most of Act II. I/we haven’t worked much on the top of Act III, which is actually OK because I haven’t learned the words yet.

One of the advantages of working with Providence is that the company has generous access to the performance space in the James Lee Community Center for rehearsals and set building. Indeed, we start building set, in place, next weekend, five weeks in advance of opening. Every performance space has its good points and bad. The stage at the Lee is a conventional proscenium, I’m guessing twenty feet by fifteen; but the wing space is extremely shallow (about three to four feet) and there is no fly space: all the curtains only travel. Dressing and green rooms are off left; since the white cyc lies nearly flat against the upstage wall, I don’t yet know how actors get into place for stage right entrances. Something else I noticed: there’s no fire curtain.

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We said goodbye to Lori today.

Lori was one of the few people who bothered to read pedantic nuthatch. She once put Karen’s nose out of joint by passing along the tip, “Did you know that David Gorsline is blogging his rehearsal notes?”

Lori and I were connected through a web of theater people in Maryland. We were admirers of each other’s work, but we hadn’t done a project together, or so I misremembered. But Brendan reminded me that the three of us did a role-playing gig for the American Physical Society three years ago. It was an easy mistake, because Lori was so deeply into character as Lise Meitner from the moment we got to the hotel. Her Meitner was a withdrawn woman embittered by years of doing good physics while the men in her profession took the credit and the prizes. It was a committed, crafted piece of acting for something no more consequential than light entertainment for a cocktail reception. But Lori was serious about doing her work.

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The buck fence is gone

“You know, Moisés, how much has really changed in Manhattan in the last 10 years?”

Moisés Kaufman goes back to Laramie, ten years after.

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Incorruptible: an update: 4

S. FoyIt’s been about 10 days since we closed Incorruptible, the last show of the season. In the brief interval before the one acts festival opens the 2008-09 season, the Stage honored actors and designers for the just-closed season, and Leta picked up the directing award. Good on ya, mate.

Lessons learned from this project:

  • I need to me more specific about what and when to accomplish during dry tech time. We got everything done, and by the time actors arrived for wet tech, things went more or less smoothly. But beforehand, there was a little too much milling around before I got down to asking lights “So what cues do you have for me?” Perhaps the trick is to schedule separate time slots for props, sound, and lights.
  • Props always kill me. I was much better prepared this time, especially once I got the table maps set up. But we did have some last-minute scurrying. The last thing I did Wednesday night before preview Thursday was weighting and tying the body bags.
  • Following practice at RCP, I use numbers to cue lights and letters to cue sound. It’s not quite as necessary at the Stage, because I don’t have to pass cues to lights: I’m running the board myself. Next time around, I would skip some letters that sound too much alike: we had two cues at the end of show where a lot is happening designated M and N, and sometimes my sound op was confused. Also, I figured out that sometimes it makes sense to letter more than one effect—like a fade-down followed by the next music track on a CD—as just one cue.
  • I’m going to recommend to the Stage that they invest in a wireless headset system. It’s not important within the booth, but it would assist communicating with (a) the director during wet tech and (b) box office staff on show nights. We spend too much time literally running back and forth from the house to the booth.
  • I have an old PDA with a voice recorder that I used to use when I was acting. It would have been handy to have it around for this show.
  • A small video camera trained on the lobby doors. I can’t see this area from the booth, so I can’t see latecomers making their way to their seats just as I drop the house lights, nor can I ever be sure that the doorkeeper has closed the lobby door.

I also need to make sure that the Stage board gets these recommendations.

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Some lists: 2

Leta (via Lori) turned up a Top 10 list of saints incorruptible.

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Incorruptible: an update: 3

We can see the end of the tunnel. Sonya brought in the remaining props yesterday evening; all we have left to do is to pack the body bags and to dress up the letters. Andy and Andrea simplified the intermission changeover, so Leta and I got through it in seven minutes. The light board is new to me, and I like it better: compared to the previous one, it’s a lot easier to jump back into a cue when you have wandered off somewhere you don’t want to be. (As happened yesterday when I double-bumped the GO to start the second act.) Overall, last night’s run was pretty clean; a little more polishing and cleanup and we’ll be ready for a preview audience on Thursday. I’m not yet sure who my sound operator will be tonight, but we can deal. Neil put together a kit of pictures for the press (link updated 18 August 2008).

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The teeth within our mouths

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room.

Ian Frazier’s vintage “Laws Concerning Food and Drink…” hits the spot.

(Link via Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard.)

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Henry Phillips received a patent for his screwdriver and screws on this day in 1936, as Randy Alfred summarizes. The fastener and tool were designed with power tools and automated assembly lines in mind, and indeed General Motors adopted the system for the 1936 Cadillac. Supposedly it’s harder to overtorque a Phillips screw.

The Phillips cam-out—when you’ve gone far enough and the tool pops out of the screw—has led to plenty of workshop profanity. And loosening a machine-driven Phillips screw with a hand-held screwdriver has apparently reminded many, judging from their language, of the tenacity of a female dog protecting its newborns.

Still, remember Henry Phillips gently. His screws are holding your life together.

Not to mention your set.

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Incorruptible: an update: 2

We moved rehearsal props and set pieces into the theater now that the show before us, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, has closed. The cast got through their first run of Act 1, scene 2 off book, and everyone stayed focused and on task. No small accomplishment, what with two different crews doing construction (mainly deconstruction) work upstairs. Bang! Every time the crews move on to something else, we get a new leak or see daylight through the ceiling. It wouldn’t surprise me to come in one evening and see parts of the lighting grid on the floor.

Meanwhile Andy was making his own noise, working in the shop adjacent to build our set. And I’m trying to feed the cast lines in two different voices, a flutey one for John (Br. Felix) who was scheduled to be out, and a more commanding prompter’s voice, when needed.

The rush hour commute from Sterling to Silver Spring hasn’t been bothering me too much. I’ve started keeping track of how long the drive takes, to confirm my general observation that the congestion gets worse with each passing day of the week. So I more or less know what to expect, and I can be pleasantly surprised when I can get there in only a hour. (?!) The Traffic View of Google Maps helps a lot, too.

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Mucho agua

When today’s biggest storm blew through Sterling at 3:00, the wind and rain whistling on the gravel roof of our office building sounded like someone pulling romex through a tube. DCist has a series of posts on the carnage.

Trees were down all along the Georgetown Pike corridor, so I was detoured onto Utterback Store Road and Old Dominon Drive, but once I got to the Beltway, my commute to Silver Spring was rather easy. At the Stage, we had water in the building, but not for the expected reasons. Rather, a contractor working on the sidewalk upstairs had basically punched a hole in our ceiling. Fortunately for our productivity, the water was at the other end of the suite, in the green room, so we could work while a crew cleaned up.

Back at home, a couple of my clocks were flashing 12:00, but the power cut must have been only a flicker. And most importantly, the house remains watertight. Although the overgrown tuliptree in the back, quite sodden, now looks like it wants to climb onto the roof.

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