#BestDayEver

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I recently had the pleasure of being involved in the cast recording of The SpongeBob Musical and was wrapped up in the simple and rather infectious phrase, “its the best day ever”, other wise known as the SpongeBob theme. Its not the cloyingly annoying phrase you might think. I mean I can remember hearing the joy of the “happiest company on earth”, Kinky Boots, and being driven mad by the variety of zippy hashtags, like #youchangetheworldwhenyouchangeyourmind #justbe #werkkween. I felt super left out of that joy, it was another person’s celebration. Please note, I was a little miserable at the time Kinky Boots opened on broadway as I was working on a show that maybe was not the happiest place on earth, but that’s not this story. In fact this SpongeBob phrase as sung by our extraordinary cast is simple and genuine, when you hear it you actually think its possible that it might just be the best day ever and that’s a pretty super feeling. We were several hours into the night session when the cast started singing Best Day Ever and the Producers, Creatives & Technicians in the control booth were clicking away on devices and pushing the clock to not incur too much overtime and as we worked through the song there were in fact involuntary smiles that came across faces. They didn’t even know it, they were grinning, tapping their feet, glancing up from their screens as this beautiful phrase repeated. As the day wound down I became very sad watching this company part ways unsure of our next step in this world of Broadway real-estate where you feel as in control as a extreme liberal on the Senate floor. It’s a cast that never deserts one another, they all look at each other in the eye and make the moment true and vibrant. I know, I know, who’s cloying and annoying now?  As a stage manager you get to see the best and worst of everyone, so this feeling of company that came with The SpongeBob Musical felt unique and our time together zoomed by way too fast during the show’s out-of-town Chicago premier this summer. It did come with a lesson however, a lesson that has taken me a time and a couple glasses of rosé to formulate.  In my future endeavors I am going to try to be the very human being who stage manages and meets the demands of the *company instead of being that Stage Manager who has a solution for everything before anything occurs. I’m just not a by rote kind of a girl. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have major quirks and I like things done a certain way but I am not going to let those things interfere with me having the best day ever in this stand alone world of Broadway Theatre.

*A company by my definition is the entire group of cast, crew, creatives, musicians, managers… It is not just the cast as is often referred to on postings & notes.

To achieve greatness through respect

respectAs a parent and a working professional I am constantly struggling to be awesome in my work and home. We owe it to ourselves to be brilliant whenever possible, right? I mean that is what you do right? Strive for brilliants. I have recently achieved catastrophic failure in my family life, when seen through the lens of this “brilliant” filter that is. My son Cooper, who has God’s special touch in the form of autism, was so upset with me recently he attempted to “run away” via New Jersey Transit after I left for work. Now, I must preface this story with the fact that my son has a penchant for train travel with or without me and has an internal compass and a memory for directions that defies odds. In fact over the Thanksgiving Holiday he showed up at my stage door in the heart of Times Square to surprise me. This was a tremendous surprise since his journey into New York City required riding the New Jersey Transit train from our town in Maplewood NJ into Pennsylvania station NYC where he then he hoped a subway to 50th Street station on the red line and backtracked on foot to our stage door on 47th street. So the fact that Cooper retreated to the trains to run away was not the shocker. The fact that he openly defied his mom’s rules that he was never to ride the trains without an adult was bad, but still not the sting that made me evaluate my “brilliants”. The failure came from my internal pressure to deal with my son’s behaviors earlier that day  with good old fashion “normal” discipline when he was being very badly behaved and not listening to anyone. I was very stern in tone, attitude and threat. I told him I hated his not listening and that this wasn’t how my boy behaves. Then I gave him a cold shoulder when he tried to turn things around just before I left for work. I was bound and determined to let him know I was the boss. This superiority shouldn’t seem so outrageous, right? After all, I didn’t beat him. However this was the reason Cooper ran away without his phone after I left for work. My wife Doreen had the wherewithal to reach out to a group of friends to help find him and reported our son to the Transit Authority who did find him in Newark Penn Station while he waited for his connecting train to Long Branch NJ. Cooper later revealed to me that he was planning on running away to our friends house in Red Bank NJ right after he finished visiting Bay Head NJ. Again proving that his compass was fully in tact since Red Bank is a stop on the train line on the Jersey Coast which terminates in his beloved Bay Head.

I mentioned that my son has special needs so traditional discipline is not at all effective, in fact, later that night as I was coming home from work Cooper spared no pains to tell me that he ran away because I said I hated him (translated from “I hate your behavior”) and I was mean to him, so he said he didn’t like me anymore. Okay, I don’t need my son to like me all the time, but I do need his respect and I felt that is what I was loosing by dealing with him in a petty manner. So the next day, after I licked my parental wounds, I took my son for Pancakes and leveled the playing field. We reached a reasonable compromise, that did in fact include an escorted train journey in exchange for his hard work on how he behaved at home and respected his family. I also told him I had some work to do, but most of my being angry comes out of fear. Oh, the blank stare I received in response to that statement was priceless and resulted in him asking me to help him cut up his pancakes.

This exchange with my son made me think a little more deeply about other interactions I have in life and the fact that respect is always creeping in as a factor. I recently heard a stage hand say to an actor who was struggling with his performance that day and expressed how tired he was, “never talk about being tired in front of a stage hand.” I completely understood this stage hands point, he started working at 8:00 that morning doing physical labor and has a young family who makes a full nights sleep difficult. His average work week runs from 50-60 hrs or more depending on how many jobs he is working at any given time. The average cast member at our show is at work 24-30 hours a week and has access to multiple forms of body work from gym memberships to PT and massage. However, the problem in this communication is a lack of respect. This dancer looks at this stage hand carrying some props  or pushing some scenery, looking at his phone and sitting around at work while this performer is running around changing clothes, dancing and singing for nearly 2 1/2 hours. The stage hand doesn’t know the work the dancer puts into maintaining his body and training his instruments. Not to mention the vulnerability of putting yourself in front of an audience 8 times a week. So that conversation, given mutual respect could have gone; “oh my God, I’m so tired today.” and the response could have been “I hear you brother, I feel the same way.”

Is true mutual respect even possible when you mix together such different people? I started thinking about respect and how as a manager and as a human being this one word “respect” and its action of being “respectful” is way under utilized. Will I be a more effective manager if I truly start from a place of respect? Not insisting on everyone toeing a perfectly straight line, but building a mutual respect for for the line each individual toes? In the theatre we are mixing so many disciplines that it is easy to loose sight over what everyone contributes, but I think we must always try everyday or we may end up with people trying to run away from us as managers instead of being a part of the process together.

Vibrating Motown Style (a midwestern girl’s revelation)

Aside

There are times in my life where I learn that I am far more sensitive to unidentifiable sources than my mid-western roots should perhaps allow. Take vibrations for instance. What in the heck is a vibration? I never grew up in a world where I acknowledged that people or experiences can make a room vibrate so differently.

In the last two years, I have been on a crash course of vibrations and recently I had an overwhelming wash of vibrations handed to me within one hour on a silver platter. I gained the career-changing opportunity in the fall of 2012 to join the “Motown Family” as a Stage Manager on the Broadway Show, not surprisingly called MOTOWN, THE MUSICAL. This cast and its creative team operate from the gut, each person’s talents off the charts and they know it, not in an arrogant way but in a God-given chosen child sort of way. My opportunity recently extended to be the Production Supervisor for the National tour of MOTOWN. We started rehearsal for the tour in Chicago in the usual way; music, choreography, and sneaking in scene work whenever possible. One productive day ran into the next, the room vibrating with the excitement of new energy. The pulsation of the room kept climbing as each creative added to the mix; the music turned into staging and the staging turned into acting and acting into storytelling. The story this wildly talented bunch of performers were assigned to tell was Mr. Berry Gordy Jr.’s story. What happened at Hitsville as told by the founding force of Motown with the help of loads of amazing hit songs. The show is a ride through history, a passionate plea for all who come to see it to join in a celebration of many of the most elegant and talented stars of the music industry both onstage and offstage. The struggles both professionally and personally this self-proclaimed Detroit hustler went through to bring so much to this world in the way of music, acceptance, and blurring the color barriers that consumed our country. I am not writing this build-up to somehow testify about Mr. Gordy but rather to illustrate the feeling that many of us have who have the opportunity to partake in this life-changing theatrical journey.

This day started with more vibrancy than most days in spite of the cold Chicago spring and the dim artificial lighting in our basement rehearsal space. Our show’s director, Charles Randolph-Wright, came into the room with a plan and the rest of the creative team was more than ready to comply. The show’s resident Choreographer, Brian Harlan Brooks (AKA, BHB), started setting the plan in motion. The touring Stage Managers seemed a little thrown by a rehearsal that started with such clarity before they had even noticed the clock struck ten o’clock, our typical rehearsal start time, the cast also a little puzzled by the urgency fell right in line working the shows opening number. Already the room seems to come alive with new vibrations. Everyone working, creatives with laser focus, managers a buzz with activity and then the man appeared in the doorway that made all of this energy make sense, Berry Gordy Jr had come to meet his newest company of actors. Many of these performers he had met in auditions but he hadn’t seen them since they were to assume the role of “Motown Family”, the closest I have ever seen to theatrical mafia but the only thing these young talents are going to “deal” or “knock off” are hits, dozens of Motown hits. Charles spoke briefly and with great admiration and then turned the room over to Mr Gordy. Now I have had the good fortune of spending time with Mr Gordy throughout the Broadway process so I was able to take my eyes off the Hitsvillian Head Honcho and scan the room. Each one of these young black faces living their lives as Mr Gordy spoke of their talents and what this tour meant to him. Whether it was them, or their parents, or their aunts and uncles who had grown up with this generation of music and change in our country they all knew, they felt the “vibrations” in the air that they were in the presence of a man who changed the face of America. Smiles were unstoppable as they spread across all of their faces. The vibrations bounced off the walls as the performers portraying the Temptations and the Four Tops stepped forward to perform the shows opening number for the same man who created a path for legends like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. The man who is able to describe the fierceness a young Michael Jackson brought to his performance with personal experience and fatherly passion. All of the white performers and support team who did not perhaps experience the life-changing effects of Motown’s music felt the power in the room that day and, not unlike myself two-years earlier, realized the beauty of the journey they were embarking on.

That my friends is a vibration, an experience that causes your heart and body to come alive and take notice of everything around you.

Youth and Lebians, Performers & Stage Managers… a narrow view

Lesbians in heels and dancers in boots. This is a modern realization that I made today at rehearsal for our show, Motown, The Musical. Two gorgeous black women doing side by side developpe in big rubber boots. Supremes with a beautiful bevel ready to weather a storm.

“Buffalo Gals won’t you come out tonight”

“I have outlived my usefulness” is an expression I often use when I am talking about the trend following business of theatre. As the years progress I find myself taking solace in the 30 year Stage Hand and confused by edgy young explorers that fill the stage. It used to be that the understanding Stage Manager went along with the actor who needed a “mental health” day after a long stretch of readings, pre-production for another show or just too many late night cocktails followed by matinees. Now the busy has taken on a new tempo. I’ve got rehearsal for “my show”, “I’m in studio all week”, “I’m doing a benefit for…” The list of My, I and Me seems endless. I sit in awe of all these young performers can accomplish in two evenings a week and on average four daytimes a week. It’s as if Broadway is not enough, these dynamos want to be stars of stage, screen, concert; the more solo the recognition the better. The days of “making it to Broadway” as being at the top of the heap doesn’t really resinate in many young minds.

“Oh God I need this job”

My own part of the theatre business has also trended in so many ways. I started as a stage manager thrilled with the idea that I could make a difference to the creative process. I could not only be the eyes and ears for the director but I could help set a tone for a room. Wanting, willing and trying to stay a step a head. Legal pads full of information, loads of phone calls made at the close of each rehearsal to make sure notes were being communicated. Knowing how to manage people and their needs could make a rehearsal day sing. Problem solving was easier somehow. Now we as Stage Managers are often administrators to a host of creatives and assistants that all have their hands on the rutter. Instant communication has made it impossible to stay attentive to the room and re-cap at the end of the day. The information will be passed around ten times over by the time the day closes. Stage Managers today are so often computer savvy and text-centric that most information comes and goes from their minds without ever speaking to another person. I often wonder if my own people (stage managers, not lesbians) even have the spirit of the art in mind or is the administration what they love?

“racing with the clock”

So I guess I should just learn to be content with a lesbian in heels, just so long as she retains her flannel.