Friday, February 18, 2011

Nuts, bolts, etc.

With the Picasso exhibit opening at VMFA, I have been remembering a conversation I had a few years ago with an art curator in town. Until then, I really had no idea what he did. He was in the midst of hanging a contemporary art show and was talking about the challenges of lighting and position and location he was facing. As only a very casual visual arts patron, I thought you just slapped the stuff on the wall and were done with it. Hearing about this fellow’s long nights working with a somewhat temperamental artist on a very tight timeline gave me a whole new appreciation of that particular behind-the-scenes aspect of his job.

I wonder about the transfer coming up of “Jitney” from Pine Camp down to Sycamore Rouge and what the behind-the-scenes challenges are associated with that. Given that this was a move planned well in advance, I expect (hope) some consideration of what moving to a new space would entail. Twenty-five years ago I was a small and tangential part of a couple of moves of “Quilters” (yes, that one again…) from one venue to another and then to another space within the Empire. Each move required a little reworking of set and blocking and props and, as I remember it, the rustic set that perfectly filled up Shafer Street stage seemed a little lost and spread out on the main Empire stage.

One of my favorite productions of all time was “The Syringa Tree” which I saw in its original configuration on the Little Theatre stage in the Empire and always wondered how the staging on the Willow Lawn stage changed / enhanced / inhibited the show. As a reviewer, I often think it’d be cool to do a dual review of a show that’s moved – one venue versus another, one installation versus another, as it were. Of course, I’m lucky to get to any production in any space these days, let alone one production in two. Still, a boy can dream.

Speaking of more nuts and bolts matters, “The BFG”’s opening tonight has me appreciative (again) of the key role of stage manager in the smooth operation of any production. Wendy Vandergrift is stage-managing “BFG” and she is awesome. The energy, focus and good-humor she brings to the job makes everything (at least from the outside) seem like a party, even though I’m sure she’s just as tired and cranky as everyone else as the crush of tech week comes to a close. As a stage parent, no one is more important to me than the stage manager and yet, as a theater critic, I never mention the stage manager. (And probably never would – how can an audience member tell whether a show is well stage-managed?) That’s a weird little piece of cognitive dissonance I’m feeling right now.

There’s still lots of theater to see out there but make a space for “BFG” in your plans, if for nothing else to see the adorable Ellie Wilson (Gretel in “Sound of Music”) being, well, adorable again!


Andrew Hamm said...

I also saw that Theatre Gym performance of The Syringa Tree. Magnificent; also one of my favorite theatrical experiences of all time.

Staging a show for one space and then moving it to another is always harder than you think it's going to be. Sometimes you don't know you're re-staging it; I didn't know As You Like It would be re-mounted outside, but I did know that Midsummer would. For Midsummer, we utilized the flexible space of the chapel at Second Presbyterian to make a playing space the approximate size and shape of the stage at Agecroft Hall. In retrospect, that ended up being a lot of sacrifices indoors for an outdoor payoff that was months away.

For this summer's Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, I have been given the honor and responsibility of inaugurating not one but two new performance spaces, an outdoor stage in a new community called Hendrix Village, and a just-completed performing arts center in Little Rock called the Argenta Community Theater. Again, it's As You Like It, with seventeen actors and a musician (me). Again, we have a flexible space in the first place, so we're constructing a stage the approximate dimensions of the Argenta stage. But this time we're not going to build one show for another space; we're going maximize the uniqueness of each space as best we can. It will make rehearsals a bit confusing, but hopefully I can draw on past experience.

Sparky said...

"Wendy Vandergrift is stage-managing “BFG” and she is awesome. The energy, focus and good-humor she brings to the job makes everything (at least from the outside) seem like a party, even though I’m sure she’s just as tired and cranky as everyone else as the crush of tech week comes to a close."

As her spouse, I might be biased (just a teensy bit), and I wholeheartedly agree...Wengen's the BEST! I learn another lesson in patience from her with every show she does. As you might imagine, we share many conversations about her workdays and about rehearsals, and of course I hear her unfiltered emotions and thoughts(i.e. I get the crankiness); an outsider would never guess what lies beneath the surface. What everyone else observes is a fairly calm exterior, and how deftly and diplomatically she handles challenges.

The secret to the energy, focus and good-humor? She truly loves what she does. As with everyone in theatre, there are shows which might not be among her favorites, and then there are shows like BFG with Cooper and Ellie and all of the theatre magic packed to one tiny package - and those shows are the rewards.

Thank you for taking the time to mention her. BTW, you might want to keep an eye on Cooper; I think Wengen has worked out a deal involving pizza and our beagle that might lead him to jump the Timberline ship and follow her home!


Katie said...

Thanks, Michael, for sharing Wendy with us! As Ellie's mom, I truly appreciate Wendy's kindness and good humor, especially as she deals with our young ones. She has helped make this show a wonderful experience for Ellie (and everyone else) and we are all grateful to her!