Good Night Sweet Peter and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

He knew us all as individuals when we ourselves struggled
to be a who, that had a why and sought a path to our where.
We were microscopic balls of id and ego
fighting for our place in and out of the spotlight
the spotlight he shone for us full of pink & blue.
He snatched us from our heroic young roles across the country
and had us feed together from the belly of comedy and tragedy.
The mission, a place in the pantheon of theatrical greatness
or maybe a chance to find our way without the rigor of a mold.
We were to be our own person, finding our who, what, where, when, yes and, why.

His direction, the slightest touch at the helm,
should not have made a difference in this great sea before us but it did.
Such a subtle shift in our art that you had no idea what was happening
never a lecture took place, not a lesson on a page, nor a chapter in a book.
He attached us to our greatness, knowing our weakness
but never letting us weaken ourselves.
We said we knew it all, that our situation was different, yes but,
every story was a repeat musical phrase to his ears.
Yet, he never dismissed us, he listened and watched us work it out.
He poked the bear of curiosity and made us find our own truth
be our own professor to build our own lectern.
Grow and not turn back…

One person is missing and I’m turned upside down
I can no longer connect the dots, my dots are missing
they are now millions of stars that fade in and out, too fast to identify.
One who I could rely on is missing from my greater landscape,
it’s now a fallow field missing the nutrients of my history and my present.

He was snatched away leaving our hearts struggling.
We thousands have no claim, do we?
He was a man who staked a claim,
yet he made no claim to our greatness.
His greatness was in the great amount of joy
he found as we all satisfied our curiosity.
A curiosity he understood long before we examined it.

Peter Sargent was a man who helped define me as a theatrical professional. He continued to be the man that I wanted to make proud. I wanted to give back to him, with my career, what he gave to me as a constant in my professional journey. He is gone now, unbelievably taken by death so quickly it still seems unreal.  I feel the loss more every day, there are no texts or e-mails or phone calls. No sitting side by side during Webster’s yearly pilgrimage to NYC where he deftly tells me about most of the seniors no matter their discipline. No more annual dinners where I could laugh with him, share my life with him on and off stage. I suppose if I were more evolved I could continue to make his “memory” proud as I continue my career, but honestly, I selfishly want to make him proud in person. He is not a memory to me, he is a man alive and well who help shaped me into who I am today and I miss him dearly.

http://news.webster.edu/employee/2019/peter_sargent_remembered.html

 

A stage Manager with a touch of “style”

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I have, very recently, had the opportunity to address what “style” I am as a stage manager. It has taken me the better part of my twenty-seven years as a professional stage manager to realize it, but these truths I hold to be self-evident that all situations require a different hand and are by no means created equally. I am wholly imperfect and wholly accepting of it, so the rest of this writing is not going to be an attempt to sway you that I have come up with the stage manager silver bullet!

You may or may not wonder why it took me so long to figure this out? I think it’s because my career, which has been incredibly rich, has also been so incredibly varied. I have been hired as everything from the big picture technical assistant stage manager to a production stage manager for interesting niche projects. Okay, never so niche… but small and personality-driven, thank you, Everett Quinton, for that distinction. I have had no major preference for one type of project over the other, although I love a snappy tune for the long runs.

You see, in just the last two years I have worked on the very tempestuous but successful Motown The Musical, The star-powered laugh-a-lot hit Fish In The Dark and the sellout theatrical event Little Shop Of Horrors. Sorry, this is not going to be a tell-all-blog about Jake Gyllenhaal & Larry David; sadly for the gossip world, I found both of them to be incredibly talented men who took their jobs to heart in very different ways. Each of the shows I have mentioned were wildly different. I am constantly learning; I learn about myself, I learn about the business, I learn about stage-managing and I learn about humanity with every new challenge. So discovering a style in all that change is tricky because “my style” is not only dictated by the demands of the production it is also dictated by the people that surround me. I think this is why I am often a cleanup hitter in most job interviews. An example of this is a job interview I had for a big musical after Motown closed. I was very excited about the project and the prospect of being involved. There were so many great people working on the show. In the interview when the director asked about how I would deal with a particular group of the actors, let’s say kids (just for conversation sake), I responded that I would handle the kids however best suited his (the director) & the production’s needs. I didn’t have a magic formula for how I dealt with children in shows, although I had had a good handful of experience. I believe that my response to his question may have cost me the job since the director, whom I had a great interview with, went with a person who had a very specific experience with show kids. I don’t regret my answer; although I was pretty bummed I didn’t get the gig, I really do believe in my response. Fast forward to Little Shop Of Horrors, a job that I was given because of my previous work with Dick Scanlan, the show’s director. I had not worked with Dick as a director before; he was Motown’s script consultant, having had undeniable success as a book writer for Thoroughly Modern Millie. Dick and I met for brunch to discuss the show and touch base on each other. It was a great exchange of information and at the end, I asked Dick what he was looking for from me during the process, I mentioned that I try to stay adaptable to the needs and the tone of the director. Dick very simply and clearly said he wanted me to control the flow of the room so he could invest in the creative process without being a detail man (these are my words, trust me when I say Dick’s words were far more elegant), and we went our separate ways. I proceeded as planned and hired stage managers to work with who would be the nuts and bolts. It was a sublime experience and went just according to plan between Dick and I. In fact, it was Dick’s delight in the process that made me realize that the power of adaptability is my “style”. Look, it is not for everyone, in fact, many a day I look back on Stage Managers I’ve admired and had the pleasure of working for like: Beverly Randolph, Steven Zweigbaum and Clifford Schwartz, to name a few, who had their checklists, swagger & duties down to a tee. I have often wished my style could be as clearly defined as theirs, but it’s just not. Please, do not confuse “personality” with style… I certainly have a very specific personality and have my entire adult life! But when it comes to my work I’ll keep changing colors based on the room that the Production Stage Manager or the Director would like me to keep. I will continue to find my way through every day with the knowledge and faith that I am servicing the production the best I can.

a few thoughts for young stage managers

NewMemStageManager

What would happen if we put down the screens in rehearsal
If our young stage managers were able to absorb “the room”
soak up its magic… energy… urgency?

Try, the masters of our future, to let your
imagination dance among the interest of others
as they live and as they reveal.
Take a step back from building and bettering.

What would happen if the line weren’t always perfect
if the column didn’t add up but you knew the why of it?
What if Instead of dotting the “i” you watched a flower grow?

What would happen if you let go of perfection
and let respect guide your decisions?
What would happen if the power went dim
and only your light was available to hold the room?

I am inspired to write this blog not as a chastisement to our future stage managers and certainly not as an affront to all of my friends and colleagues grooming these very efficient managers in Universities across the country. I am writing it as a reminder to young stage managers that our business allows us to be a unique part of a creative process through the support of actors, directors, designers and a production team. In this age of technology: computers, instant communication, instant information and beautiful paperwork so many young stage managers have become machines and don’t recognize that they are a part of a magical journey.  Don’t get me wrong, I love good paperwork and when I have a choice I love working with a certain Stage Manager who does some of the best paperwork I’ve ever seen. My question to these flashlight clad knights of the future is beyond the paperwork do you know how to communicate with a stage hand with as much respect for their knowledge as you do with  a director or an actor? Do you take the time to understand why the same step, song or moment is worked and re-worked beyond comprehension? Are you okay with being seen and seeing everything and not being involved with the decision, but still willing to understand and uphold that decision? Ours is a curious part of the artistic process but no less a part and if you burrow behind your smart this and i-that you miss so much of what is happening. Lift your eyes and see how an actor digests information, how the story is being told, how the blocking evolves. See what a designer sees so you can maintain their vision, see how a prop is being used so you can make sure the right item is manufactured, see how a costume, that is yet to be worn, could change what is being asked of the person wearing it. I promise you this information will change how you write that report, how you communicate that need, how you enjoy your day.

Please note: I am authoring this blog as a working Stage Manager for the past 27 years and while I work in a commercial theatre setting now and so much of what I do day-to-day is completely mechanical I do try to practice these principles whenever possible. I am  using as my inspiration young stage managers that I have worked with over the last ten years or so, many of which have wildly successful careers, so I am not trying to be an arbiter for what will bring you success. I am suggesting that as you start working in this business don’t forget that it is an ART and you are an artists.

Elaine Stritch: One interesting broad

I am not sentimental when it comes to my work. I have been star struck twice: once meeting Lauren Bacall (who I would meet again several years later and even receive a call from…awkward) and meeting the great Angela Lansbury, who I had the pleasure of later working with on the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music‘. A Little Night Music was work that came with a wealth of legends; Stephen Sondheim, Trevor Nunn, The great Angela Landsbury, Bernadette Peters and of course the classic, Ms Elaine Stritch. Working with Elaine was to have a triumphant tale to wield at many a cocktail party. Like driving up in a Rolls Royce with a VW engine. Broadway royalty with a mid western core.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to work with her. Her reputation for Stage Manager abuse arrived long before she did and I had just worked with Angela who was the classiest woman in show business. However, Elaine and Bernadette pulled our little revival out of the dumpster so three kids and a bump to PSM are you kidding me, “I always wanted to work with Stritch!”

I did not take over as the PSM for ALNM until Stritch and Bernadette had gone into the show. I got to watch the reigning PSM, Ira Mont, get shouted after all the time. Berated for his timing as Frid, the butler, who was not available to be at our re-mounting rehearsal. Sent all over town in search of the perfect non-alchohlic beer and an english muffin with egg and cheese. Breakfast of champions at 2:00 in the afternoon. I am here to tell you that getting an english muffin at two o’clock in the afternoon was no easy feat in Manhattan. I watched the associate director, the talented Seth Sklar-Heyn and Ira try every tactic in the nursery school hand book to control our little octogenarian. I was finally sent in the front line on my day off to run lines with Elaine. I arrived at the Hotel Carlyle right on time prepared for the worse and ended up having an amazing time complete with being sent home with a bag of stolen jars of jam from the Carlyle to take home to my kids. Elaine made a point of telling me how her Mom and Dad would always come back from their trip into NYC with these small jars of jam and how she loved them. I was set, she liked me what could possibly go wrong?

Shortly after Stitch & Bernadette went in Ira left the show to do a play that he booked upon our closing notice being posted and damn Seth went off to tend to the Billy Elliot garden. I was there in the basement bunker of the Walter Kerr with the smell of fear pulsing from every pour. It was as bad as you can imagine. New leading man for Bernadette, New other leading man for Bernadette and a new butler for Elaine. We muddled through and Bernadette embraced her new co-stars, the handsome and talented Stephen Buntrock as FREDRICK and the craft master Bradley Dean as Carl Magnus. These two men made friends of all with their talent including huge kudos from Steve regarding Bradley’s rendition of ‘In Praise Of Women’ . Okay breath Julia, clearly it’s going to be fine… maybe Elaine has mellowed. Nope! I was given the nick name “Jonesy” and was on call as soon as Elaine arrived, which was overwhelmingly early. Most of her requests had little or nothing to do with me but I was her most familiar conduit in the early hours at the theatre.

Diet Quinine with just a tablespoon of gin to kill the flavor of the quinine… that’s how we rolled! Notes from Stephen Sondheim that he would e-mail were received with shouts of “Jonesy, you don’t know Steve how I know Steve…” I would come up with some witty retort like, “you’re right Elaine, I don’t, but I’m going to give you the note anyway.” She would throw me out and later send someone to fetch me so I could then listen to the most fascinating stories about how “Judy wouldn’t leave until four in the morning. We all knew she was going to go early.” Come on, who talks about Judy Garland this way. Or she would read me a funny note from Woody Allen ribbing Elaine Kaufman of the NYC restaurant Elaine’s. She would scream at me in her undergarments that she wanted her regular hair person back or she wasn’t getting dressed so I did in fact have to ask a fellow SM to loan me their hair person (previously our hair person) to come calm our girl down. So many conversations half dressed or from the toilet, too many to count. Elaine went up terribly on her lines during her first several weeks at ‘ALNM’ so the shows ASM, Mary MacLeod, would stay close by in the wings during the danger points. Once during the song ‘Liaisons’ Elaine went up badly and yelled “Mary” looking for a prompt. Mary, the steadfast soldier, was right there with the words but all I could think about were all of those Musical Theatre Queens that thought Elaine was giving them a shout out, “Mary.”

The stories are endless from every Stage Manager who ever worked with Stritch and without even knowing them I can tell you they are true! Every wonderful tale added texture to our lives. I would say Rest In Peace Elaine but there are two things that I believe our givens, Elaine Stritch will never be completely at peace, there will always be something and a good catholic girl like Elaine (please note: she was a catholic values prude in her own way), God will give her whatever she wants.

Elaine all I can say is, once I join you in heaven I sure do hope you already have a stage manager! Broadway already misses you… and I guess I do too.