One of the things that I can say, consistently across the board with every theater I work at, is that people are superstitious. There are plays you can’t mention, ladders to avoid, and wishing an actor “good luck” before a performance is a horrible faux pas. I should have remembered all that when people asked me if I was nervous about first preview. Instead of saying “I feel prepared,” or “This is a good bunch,” or “fingers crossed!” I said, “It’s an easy show. Everything’s gonna go well.” For fans of horror movies, this is the equivalent of saying, “What’s the worst that could happen.” Whether it was my poorly timed words, or just bad luck, at places the monitors in the booth died. For those unfamiliar with booth dynamics, monitors are small speakers in the dressing rooms and next to the stage manager’s console that broadcast the show as it happens. They are, quite literally, my ears for the show. My booth window was cracked, which means I got some sound, but not the finer points. Basically, I was flying deaf. With no intermission coming up to troubleshoot the problem, the only options were to hold and fix the issue, or keep running the show. “The show must go on” is a cliché for a reason, and one small glitch in a sea of complex lights, sound, and costuming wasn’t worth stopping for.
I’m not sure if anyone else remembers the crazy Phelps Olympics where he took something like 8 gold medals. (It was one of the few times that I’ve obsessively watched the Olympics.) During one of the races where he won, I remember his frowning face as he came out of the water. Later the story circulated that his goggles came loose, and he was literally swimming the race blind. He said he was able to do it by counting strokes and hoping he remembered the dimensions of his lane.
Tragically, I don’t have Michael Phelps’ ability to wear Speedos. But during first preview, I felt a sense of kinship for his gold medal winning blind swim. Calling a show is a bit like a dance, or an orchestra. There are rhythms and movements, and you have to be attuned to them to make a cue work with the show as it’s happening, instead of against it. A well-called show is something no one notices. That’s the goal – seamless timing in conjunction with the actors onstage.
Up in the booth with a mostly silent show in front of me, I felt a huge sense of gratitude towards the actors down below. They are a phenomenal cast, led and shaped by an amazing director. They have worked so impressively hard to find the rhythms, the highs, and the lows of this play. I didn’t need to hear every word to remember where we were in the story. Their talent and consistency made it possible for me to metaphorically count my strokes. The actors didn’t miss a beat and, because of them, neither did I.
That intrinsic feeling of support is one of the things that always makes me happy to return to Magic for another show. Working on a new, or relatively new play provides constant challenges. Without prior productions to look at, there’s no roadmap for success, so every question or issue that comes up doesn’t have a cheat sheet for answers. The directors, designers, and production team at Magic work overtime to find and fix problems before they’re even noticed. They work long hours, even on a tech-light show, to ensure that no one behind the scenes is unsupported, and that no one in the audience sees anything but the humor and caliber of the performance. By the time I get in to rehearsal today, the monitors will be fixed, likely along with five other things. That dedication keeps small problems from becoming big ones, and their hard work sets a bar that I gladly rise to, sound or no sound.
I’ll never stand on a podium and accept a gold medal, but being surrounded by such driven and inspired people, having a great preview where the audience laughed and applauded, and the watching actors successfully transition into performances is the greatest achievement I could ask for in this hectic, superstitious, crazy theater world.
Gillian Confair is the Stage Manager for Bad Jews.