No Props, No Show: The Backstage Story

Despite the 23 and a half hours I spent working as the assistant stage manager on Lucas McMahon’s ’08 senior independent project, “A Taste of Honey,” I never really got to see the show. When friends asked what the show was about, I just mumbled that the acting was “really good” and changed the subject. I spent most of my time hanging out in the upstage right wing, which meant I couldn’t see the actors whenever they moved to downstage right. Additionally, I was running around helping actors locate props and was therefore unable to see what was going on onstage. Several weeks ago, I expressed an interest in becoming a technical assistant for the show. Scene and lighting designer Evan DelGaudio ’08 responded with an email informing me that I could be assistant stage manager, and at the time, I had no idea what responsibility that title entailed. When I showed up at 12:30 p.m. on “tech Sunday,” stage manager Katy Svec ’10 informed me of my duties. I was responsible for getting the props to the right places at the right times and performing various other duties that the actors weren’t able to do, such as raising the back curtain near the beginning of the show and turning off the cone-head light during intermission. One of my original duties was to take the ghost light off stage at the very beginning of the show, but we soon discovered that if I took off the ghost light I’d end up stage left and be unable to raise the curtain on the opposite side of the stage. Eric took over that duty, and I stayed stage right. The Friday and Saturday night performances were the most exciting part of the experience, and I realized the consequences of my responsibilities. It mattered if I forgot to put the chocolates and flowers stage left and Charlie Walters ’10 had to walk onstage without them. Whether or not I remembered to put the flower bulbs under the bed during intermission would change the entire scene. Although it felt like a lot of pressure, it was exciting whenever one of the actors used one of the harder-to-place props. It was nearly impossible to stop laughing during the performances when funny things happened onstage. For instance, during the first show, Eric took large bites of cake and biscuit and choked throughout the lines that came just after. When Ellie attempted to throw a ring at Annabel, it accidentally hit the bed board and flew offstage to the right of the audience. We had to take down the set immediately after the Saturday night show so the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” crew could rehearse in Steinbach. Although I was dead on my feet after stacking chairs, carrying wood and sweeping until 11:30 p.m., we actually had fun. Actor Demetrius Lalane ’11 and lighting board operator Emily Hutcheson-Tipton ’10 sang “Seasons of Love,” and everyone dived into Katy’s homemade cake. “A Taste of Honey” had countless props — from empty whiskey bottles and flower bulbs to an ugly doll and clove cigarettes. After Katy gave me a detailed account of where everything should be for each scene, I set about creating two prop tables, one for stage right and one for stage left. I organized the props and then used tape to mark off where they should be on the tables. It took a long time to find all the props we needed for the show. Certain things, like Anabel Bacon’s ’09 backpack, we ended up making right before the final dress rehearsal. And due to an unfortunate occurrence on Friday night, Eric Sirakian’s ’10 sketchpad had to be mimed. Raising the curtain was far harder than I imagined it would be. The timing wasn’t so difficult; I soon memorized the line I was supposed to start raising it on – when Ellie Shepley ’08 tells Annabel “…and we have a lovely view of the gasworks!” But the raising itself took real muscle power. Securing the rope to the hook on the side of the stage was another matter entirely. I’m not very good with knots and got extremely confused trying to remember which ways to cross and twist the rope. During the Friday show, the curtain slipped a few inches as I was attempting to secure the knot. Although my heart was beating fast throughout, I managed the task. Few pay attention to the techies tiptoeing about backstage, and that’s the way it should be. But it is nice to know that the hours I spent poring over prop sheets and obsessing over the whereabouts of the tin cup with the spoon in it really helped made “A Taste of Honey” the extraordinary production that it was.