Hit by a Bus Rules: No Mistakes, Just Opportunities

Alandra Hileman’s Theatre Rule of the Month: If you act like it’s intentional, no one will know it’s a mistake.

Bob Ross Mistakes copy

I feel like my last couple blogs have been sort of downers, so today I wanna talk about something more fun and positive: mistakes!

I love technical mistakes in theatre. Love them. When they’re in someone else’s show, this is often the schadenfreude of “I’m so glad I don’t have to solve this, but let’s see what their stage manager (or whoever) does.” If it’s in a show I’m not enjoying, technical flubs sometime re-pique my interest in what I’m watching. And if it’s my own show, even though there is sometimes panic, there is also a bit of an adrenaline thrill that comes with trying to solve a problem on the fly.

But my absolute favorite thing about technical mistakes is when they are covered well. Sometimes it’s a mistake that is obvious, but I enjoy the skill of cover as much as I would have enjoyed the actual effect. I was recently at the premiere weekend of a new stage show attraction that plays at a popular theme park run by a giant mouse. This show is based on an animated film, of course, and involved one incredibly specific quick-change for the lead character in which her dress transforms min-song, much like the current Broadway Cinderella dress transformation but with more icicles. The performance I saw reached the big musical swell after the bridge of the song, there was a lot of twinkling and flashing lights, everything blinks to black for not more than two seconds and then the lights popped up – the dress hadn’t changed. I could see that the actress had tried to trigger it, but something hadn’t worked. However, to her credit, the actress just continued to sing the huge final verse of her song, and very simply, at the end of every line where there was a sort of instrumental punctuation, she would subtly tug the release until finally, with two lines of song left and in full view, the release “let it go” and the dress transformed, right at a big musical swell. The actress was relieved, the audience was thrilled, and the show didn’t miss a single beat.

The other best kind of technical mistake is the one covered so well that even someone like me, a veteran SM with years of technical experience and just a generally observant person, doesn’t even realize it’s a cover. Just last night, I was at a show and in the first scene the lead actress is supposed to have a laptop which doubles as a prop and lighting source. In the course of the banter between her and her stage husband, they begin looking for the laptop, until she sent him into another “room” of the house and he returned with it. Realistic married life, right? Nope! I found out from the SM later that the laptop had been left charging backstage, but the actors were so entirely unfazed when they realized what had happened that they created a perfectly in-character scenario that would allow the ASM backstage to hand it off.

Those are just two incredibly recent examples, but I have dozens of war stories about technical flubs, good and bad, and the often ingenious ways in which they were resolved. I’m sure I’m not the only one, so please comment with your own favorite flubs and covers, and let’s find the joy in mistakes!

Read about Alandra’s mistakes on Twitter (@LadyBedivere), and find out about larger projects at ajhileman.com

Everything Is Already Something: Allison & Anthony See Thunder From Down Under

When last we left our heroes, Allison Page & Anthony Miller, they had swilled down Fireball and countless other ill-advised beverages while watching Hoodslam, a wrestling event in Oakland, California. That was several months ago. (see Part 1, Part 2). They’ve grown so much. Or something.

Special crude illustrations by Peter Townley, based on awful descriptions by Allison, because they didn’t allow photos.

Allison: A little over a week ago I was alerted to the fact that a certain event pertaining to my interests – a show, if you will – a production…THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER was coming to San Francisco. In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bunch of Australian male strippers dancing to routines set to music while wearing themed “costumes” that they eventually remove. Naturally, I immediately suggested Anthony come along for a second installment of glorious audience-membering. Anthony, you’re welcome.

Anthony: I had proposed a few different shows over the last few months, but the schedules never worked. After the third time I got grumpy and was “Grumble grumble, I’m tired of suggesting things grumble grumble.” But then I got very sad because maybe Allison secretly hated me. So when she did message me, there was a moment of girlish excitement, “Ooh Allison Page messaged me, I must be a likable person.” This is a real thing. Her message simply said “THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER”, for whatever reason, I knew exactly what she meant. I have no idea why, but I immediately said yes, let’s go see male strippers.”

Excerpt from our pre-show fish ‘n chips convo:
Al: I don’t know how much storytelling we’ll see tonight.
Ant: No. None. But we’ll have to find some way to make it relate to theater.

Al: As you can see, we had our mission. We also had our first drinks. Anthony, a shot of well whiskey and a beer, I think. And I had a Cucumber Pimm’s Cup.
In line at Cobb’s Comedy Club (a fascinating venue choice) we noticed a distinct lack of men. In fact, Anthony’s the only one I saw. I took a photo of him in line in case I ever needed it for…some reason.

Ant: It was strange how comfortable I felt, standing in a line of a hundred people and they were all women. We would randomly start giggling about it because it was so apparent. But this was not a polite line, oh no, these ladies were there to party. People who didn’t regularly smoke cigarettes, were bumming smokes from their friends, they were swigging flasks of whiskey, smoking blunts and vape pens. It was awesome, it was as if the absence of men allowed them to be devoid of bullshit and cut loose. Turns out, I had seen nothing yet.

At one point, a nice old lady was pulled on stage. Not as old as this, but I really enjoy the addition of slippers in this drawing.

At one point, a nice old lady was pulled on stage. Not as old as this, but I really enjoy the addition of slippers in this drawing.

Al: We made our way through the line, into the theater, and were ushered up to the balcony at a small table in the back…with 4 chairs. 2 women sat with us a few moments later and we each tried to pretend the other duo wasn’t there, aware that we would all be looking at the same pecs.

Ant: Our seats were about as far back as possible, which was just fine. Better stay as far from the sweaty Australians and their feverish fans as we can. To me, the audience is part of the show. I will say this about the two ladies at our table, they were drinking kamikazes at a pretty impressive rate.

Al: Once the lights dimmed, the crowd start shrieking. A high squeal like a thousand semi trucks hitting their brakes at once. There’s a video montage. I can’t stop thinking that it was someone’s job to make it. The screen changes to a vision of digital rainfall. AC/DC plays. Nothing’s happening yet, it’s all fluffing, you could say. In fact, I just did.

Ant: I have seen a lot of crowd reactions in my life, I have seen grown men cry at a Paul McCartney concert. But nothing comes close to the the sound of 450 women going batshit. The shriek became lower, guttural, primal even. It was as if the audience immediately established that the men worked for them. I wonder if anyone else made the connection that AC/DC is an Australian band, I wonder if they just chose it because it had “Thunder” in the title.

Al: The opening number begins. We’re giggling with anticipation. I suddenly realize I have no idea what the Australian flag looks like. “Cry Me A River” plays. There are 5 guys, one seems to be the leader. He looks like Christian Slater 20 years ago. The men go out into the audience. So far, they’re still clothed.

Ant: My first thought is I’m a little dissapointed they’re not better dancers. Some of them are better than others, maybe I’m spoiled by musical theatre, but I wanted more precision. Not to take away from their sweaty, rippled bodies, but seriously, you know what’s sexy? Synchronicity.

Al: Then the butts come out. If you look at my scribbled notes, they say “HERE COME THE BUTTS” which I don’t think was code for anything. They’re pretty good butts, but they’re flexing them really hard and I don’t know if that’s the best strategy, you know? All tightened up like that? Is that the best display of a butt? Who am I to say. But I say no.

Ant: I made a mental note to renew my gym membership, because dang. I am not a fan of the butt flexing, why would you do all those squats just to make your ass narrow? Perhaps if they made their butt cheeks dance in time with the music.

Al: A host emerges. He proclaims that for all the things we’re about to see, there are two things we WILL NOT see: “YOUR STUPID HUSBANDS AND BOYFRIENDS”. This is a repeated theme throughout the night. This show is SO heavily aimed at women, it’s kind of amazing. It’s like Magic Mike but, ya know, no Channing. Or Joe. They constantly stress that it’s “Laaaadies niiiiight ouuuut!” and that these guys are nothing like your shitty partners/boyfriends/husbands who are very clearly not good enough for you. Ya gotta give it to ‘em in light of that packed house: it’s marketing that seems to work for them! I wonder who’s writing that copy. I am available for that gig, TFDU, if you need me.

Ant: It was profound in a way, to watch these women totally bro-out. They were yelling and screaming, they were slapping asses and high fiving. To me, this was equality. Men were being objectified and everyone was having a good time. I am willing to bet most of these women at some point that day had to take shit from a dude. Now was their chance to vent, to fight the ding dang patriarchy. To stand up and say “STATISTICALLY, I ONLY MAKE 73 CENTS TO YOUR DOLLAR, NOW DANCE, BITCH.” Perhaps i’m reading too much into this.

Al: By now we’ve got our second drink. For me, some Sweet Tea Filled With Liquor situation, and for Anthony a Moscow Mule. And I’ve started keeping track of things that could technically classify this as theater:

There’s an audience
There’s a stage
There’s music
There are costumes
And believe or not, there are kind of stories sort of? More on that later.
Anthony, what am I forgetting here?

Ant: (Puts on glasses) The closest theatrical comparison would be the popular theatre of the early 20th century. Specifically, Vaudeville, Burlesque and the Musical Revue. The dances have themes and costumes and it’s all tied together with a host. It is a theatrical production.

Al: There’s a fair amount of time killing going on. The host does 10 minutes of non-comedy and then ends up with this belter: “Are you ready to see some naked Australian men?” The crowd goes bananas. It’s like a Beatles concert but the fans are 25-50 year old women desiring tall muscular men who dance stiffly to “Welcome to the Jungle” while dressed as Tarzan…and then a man in a gorilla suit comes out. Interesting artistic choice, that. Can’t believe they bought a whole gorilla suit for that one 20 second bit but you do you, Thunder. You do you. I hope it was on sale.

Ant: Maybe I have a warped sense of morals, but it all seemed very harmless. It didn’t strike me as sleazy, but kinda good, clean, fun. I mean am I really supposed to feel threatened by dudes dancing in tacky costumes? It all seemed very silly, but in an entertaining way. It isn’t just sexy dudes dancing, it’s sexy dudes being very silly. They know they look ridiculous, but I assume women also appreciate a man willing to make an ass of himself.

Al: Soon after, the first shirt of the evening is shredded. Ya know, they grab it on both sides of the collar and tear it in two on their own bodies. You know. You’ve seen TV.

Ant: I think being able to do it while doing body rolls is pretty impressive.

Al: Agreed. I said, aloud, “If someone doesn’t do Pony I will burn this place to the ground.” Can’t remember if I meant it.

Ant: I had no doubt they would play “Pony”, if I was a stripper, I would dance to “Pony”. I also believed Allison would burn the place down if they didn’t.

Al: The first audience member of the night is pulled on stage and given a lap dance. I guess I was mesmerized for a moment because my notes stopped. Then picked back up with “He shoves her hand down his pants,” something which happened several times, the point of which I never quite grasped. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Then, as opposed to the brief showing of butts earlier, the pants FINALLY came off. I laughed really hard because I’m 12 years old I guess. The thong is Miami Vice colored, honestly.

Ant: It’s like what you think male stripper would wear in the 80’s, in a movie about this quiet, shy guy who is a sexy dancer by night. I wonder how many hands he’s shoved down his pants.

Al: There’s a “Spartan” bit. It’s a low point for me. Sword work leaves something to be desired. I mean, and they’re obviously plastic. But at least they’ve got capes.

Ant: The capes look heavy, you can’t properly dance in such heavy capes.

Al: This is when I notice that their dancing is more like a series of poses.

Ant: Totally! It was here I became a little disappointed. I mean I’ve heard of The Thunder From Down Under, they have a regular show in Vegas. I guess I expected something slightly more legit. Or at least really good dancers, clearly Magic Mike has misled me. It was if they were relying on the fact they were very attractive men. I should also note that if anyone else noticed this, they didn’t care. It was raining men god dammit.

Al: Another woman is brought onstage. I admit to probably woo-hooing during this bit. Wasn’t bad. There was a lot of carrying her around and tossing her over here or over there. Quite exciting. Ends with a guy pretending to perform oral sex on her while she’s still wearing pants? Sure, whatever.

Ant: I admit I clutched my proverbial pearls a few times, between the aggressive air humping, the assisted crotch grabbing, and the simulated oral sex. I feel like it would be horrifying to be this woman, having australian junk aggressively waved in my face. Again, it all seemed so silly. It was becoming clear that on the male stripper naughtiness spectrum, these fellas were on the tamer side. I have seen strippers two other times in my life, but those were lady strippers, the difference here is that I didn’t feel skeezy being there.

Al: The host comes out again while the dancers are presumably getting dressed for the next number so they have a new outfit to take off. The women start shouting for him to take his clothes off, like they want to eat the threads of his clothing to steal his soul or something. A woman in front of us starts pounding on her table and when he says “No, no ladies, I won’t be taking my clothes off, my mother might find out,” she suddenly shouts “I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!” Yeah, that absolutely made me laugh, won’t pretend otherwise.

"I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!" lady shouts as Allison & Anthony look on.

“I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!” lady shouts as Allison & Anthony look on.

Ant: To be fair, no one is there the hear his jokes. No one is advertising sexy naked Australian men AND witty repartee with the host. As I said before, I really appreciate watching women behave loud and boorish. I had no idea that I did, until tonight.

Al: “Uptown Funk” plays. The men wear bright silk jackets. They dance a bit and exit. The host then brings three women up for a fake orgasm contest. Again: KILLING TIME. He asks one of them, “Are you single?” her response…”I have cats.”

Ant: Those were some pretty crappy fake orgasms. I’ll say this about the “Uptown Funk” number, the pants and shirts removing cues were very well timed. The part of the show that never gets old is when the dancers go into the audience. The ladies go batshit every time.

Al: One of them climbs up the host. She wins. Next comes, and I need to stress that I’m not making this up, a SWAT team number. Yes, they all enter with fake guns and in SWAT team gear. It was pretty weird. I maybe cowered a bit. Then I got distracted thinking “Do they called it a SWAT team in Australia?” Then there’s a high concept lap dance Anthony appreciates.

Ant: This makes me re-think my feeling on “sexy” versions of costumes. Every Halloween we cringe at the bajillion costumes for women that are a sexy version of everything. Sexy jelly bean, sexy Dorothy, sexy United States Senator. This show brings a certain balance to it, they really do run the gamut. There were sexy firemen (A staple I assume,) Sexy jungle men and yes, sexy Swat Team. There was just something so right about the reversal of roles. Men were there and objectified for the specific entertainment of women. It was kind of glorious.

Al: Next, there are firemen and fire hose sound effects. I express disappointment that the bottom half of the firemen outfits look suspiciously like khakis. At some point we receive our third set of drinks, identical to the second. “Come Together” plays. An interesting musical choice, though soon we are blessed with “It’s Getting Hot In Here”, to which Anthony claps along. Finally, after waiting and hoping for this moment all evening, I hear the dulcet tones of Ginuwine’s “Pony”. It’s a dream come true. Except it isn’t. He kind of phones it in. Listen, I don’t know much, but I know that if you are stripping to “Pony” you need to 1) BRING IT and 2) HUMP THE FLOOR. If you don’t hump the floor during “Pony”, GTFO.

We end our evening with predictable cowboys “dancing” to “Sweet Home Alabama” in chaps, obviously.

I admit to having had a pretty great time. There were drinks, and we were far enough away that we didn’t get too close to any dangly parts. I couldn’t help but feel, as the host professed “THEY’RE ALL SINGLE, LADIES, AND YES, WE’RE REALLY AUSTRALIAN!” that they must get tired of all this pandering sometimes. And all that waxing. They were pretty stiff (HAR HAR) in the dancing department. And the routines weren’t anything that any guy I’ve ever met could accomplish just as, if not more, effectively. I think Anthony had a good point when he said “You know, I think it’s just about the confidence. They just have the confidence to be up there, and not be fully clothed, and that’s what the women are reacting to.”

I have to agree with this. They clearly DGAF about being nearly nude. And good for them. No one’s paying to see my clenched butt cheeks…that I’m aware of. Based on the audience reaction, and the fact that there’s no way these guys are ALWAYS in the mood to do this, I have to say it’s theater. They’re putting on a show. Sure, it ain’t Hamlet, but nothing is. Even Hamlet, sometimes.

Also, my favorite part of the whole evening was the “sexy” illusion completely being broken by the stage manager, Nicole, who had to run onstage at least a half dozen times to move a chair to a different position on stage, DURING A LAP DANCE. I laughed so hard every time she ran on in her all black backstage-y clothes, to assist in a sexy-time dance. That was the best theater of all.

Nicole, angelic stage manager, always ready to assist.

Nicole, angelic stage manager, always ready to assist.

Allison Page & Anthony Miller are both writers and theater-makers who saw nearly nude men together. Just Google them, it’s easier.

Hit by a Bus Rules: All I Want for Christmas is U(Haul Discounts)

If Alandra Hileman has to have these songs stuck in her head for a month, she’s gonna make everyone else suffer too.

It’s the middle of finals, winter holidays are upon us, and I just started a new job that currently involves listening to 60 children perform a 60-min musical version of Elf. So, rather than some profound musing on the “reason for the season” (obviously corporate consumerism, or Chinese food if you’re Jewish) or meaningful and heartfelt analysis of the best version of A Christmas Carol (it’s the Muppets and I will fight anyone who says otherwise), I thought I’d honor the unsung techies of Christmas plays, pageants, and light displays around the world with, well, some songs. So here’s to you, Christmas crews.

STANDBY GO (To the tune of “Let It Snow”)

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the booth is so delightful
And since there’s three acts of show
Standby, Go, Standby, Go, Standby, Go

When they finally take their bows
How I’ll hate going out on the storm
But as long as concessions allows
The free shots will keep the techs warm!

The audience is slowly dying
And someone’s child is crying
But since we love theatre so
Standby, Go, Standby, Go, Standby, Go

WE THREE CREW (To the tune of “We Three Kings”)

We three crew on stage right are
Bearing sets, we travel afar
That flat’s a fountain, that one’s the mountain-
Try not hit the star.

Ohhhhhh, oh!
Tape of glow, and tape of spike,
Tape that sticks with wondrous might,
Platforms leading, blackouts fleeting,
Shift scenes and get out of sight.

THE LONGEST TECH (To the tune of “Deck the Halls”)

Deck the stage with boughs of holly
Cue-to-cue-to-cue, and hold-please-hold
10 of 12 is never jolly
Cue-to-cue-to-cue, and hold-please-hold
Don we now our blackest sweaters
Cue-to-cue, cue-to-cue, step back one
Sound just hit the triple letters
Cue-to-cue-to-cue, that’s scene one done.

Now that you too have these sappy carols stuck in your head, I strongly recommend you get yourself down to PianoFight next Monday, December 14th, at 8pm, for The San Francisco Theatre Pub Annual Sing-Along: Guess Who for a festive night of all the holiday songs you WISH Nordstrom would rotate into their muzak.

Alandra Hileman’s favorite carols are the ones that sound like horror movie soundtracks, like this one: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rS8onRSlHqU“>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rS8onRSlHqU

Hit by a Bus Rules: Uncharacteristically Thankful

Alandra Hileman is probably gonna lose her “Crotchety Curmudgeon” merit badge for this.

Like all dyed-in-the-wool theatre folks who have decided they want to try to make some sort of career in this crazy field, I also spend a disproportionate amount of time bitching about all the things I hate about theatre. This week alone has included half a dozen rants with and about other theatre folks, some of which have become so ubiquitous in the circles I travel that even one of my professors greeted me with “So, I hear you’re having a hard time with that thing.” Additionally, a combination of my messed-up brain chemistry, some crappy life-events, and my ongoing attempt to win “Introvert of the Year” has made all the things I hate about theatre and people and theatre people feel a million times more terrible than any of them actually are, so I’ve been staying pretty far off the grid lately.

However, were it not for a large number of folks within my theatre circles closing ranks to help me out, I probably wouldn’t even be functional to write an article for today. So, in a pretense at the spirit of the season, this article is actually NOT going to be a bitch-fest. (Sorry, I know y’all were excited.) Today, I’m gonna write about why I do still love theatre and the people in it, even when I kinda wanna strangle them and myself.

The Inappropriate Conversations. I am a creepy, morbid, foul-mouthed individual who knows a lot of random facts about generally disturbing things. Thankfully, in theatre I have found people who not only will not judge me for having in-depth strange ways to murder people, the mechanics of an orgy, the Victorian cult of mourning, or alternate uses for MaxiPads (kneepads! wound dressing! cleaning up any spilled liquid!), but will gladly participate, usually with their own crazy dramaturgical insights. Some days, nothing brings be more joy than knowing I have an entire Facebook full of people who will respond to questions like “Which serial killer’s life would make the best theoretical musical?” with thoughtful, clever answers. (Feel free to toss in your bid in the comments.)

The Magical Kits. Every theatre person I know has a Mary Poppins bag/box/car trunk full of random stuff that we will always share to help each other out. I have had to make requests for anything from the mundane (ibuprofen, lighter, band-aids) to the specialized (razor, Leatherman tool) to stuff you normally don’t just carry with you (rubber gloves, wood glue) and had someone seemingly materialize it out of nowhere, no questions asked. More than one I have seen people take off the black socks they were wearing and hand them to an actor or technician who needed them in a pinch, which is kinda gross, but also a testament to how cool the theatre community can be about helping each other out.

The Underground Network. I like to joke that every stage manager in the SF Bay Area knows all the others, but that’s not too far from the truth. If/when I get asked to work a gig that I’m unavailable for, I have a list of close to a dozen names I can recommend, unless of course one of those folks is already the one who recommended me. I know finding SMs and PAs is one of the most important but also hardest parts of any production, so I love that all of us who work in those fields try to keep each other employed and the companies we know staffed by sharing contacts.

The Empowerment. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am insanely insecure about basically everything I do in my life. I have always had a really hard time saying that’s I’m good at anything with two exceptions: reading (seriously, I’m baller at both speed and comprehension), and organizing for theatre. I still want business cards with the tagline “I will organize the shit out of your show,” except that’s not really professional to say, although given the above comments about inappropriate conversation I could probably get away with it in certain circles. But really, theatre is one of the few areas where I, and many other young women I know, have not only felt like we are good at what we do, but also that we’re allowed to be the best. I’m still learning how to say it out loud, but the support is there.

The Solidarity. Look, I’ll be vulnerable for a second here: The real reason I didn’t get my article up last month was because I was in the middle of such a bad depressive down-swing that I was barely making to classes or the show I was stage managing, and I definitely wasn’t getting anything extra-curricular done, and then my fur-baby very suddenly got sick and died. So, I panicked and sent emails to every “boss” I work under at the various small theatres I’m involved with and basically said I was going off the grid. And every single one of them wrote back immediately with reassurance that it wasn’t just me and to do what I needed to do and let them know if they could help. And, unlike most other communities I’ve been around in my life, I knew they meant it. I’ve finally started getting back into the swing of things, having meetings and writing again, and generally getting back to my normal mode of operations. But I couldn’t have done that without the community of equally depressed, messed-up, weirdos who were there when I needed them.

So that’s my sappy thank you to the all the theatre folks out there. Now get off the lawn; it’s part of the set.

If you need visual proof-of-life, Alandra Hileman will be at Olympians on Wednesday night to see her play and rest of the glorious Crew finally assembled; get tickets and info at www.SFOlympians.com.

Hit by a Bus Rules: Okay…This Looks Bad.

Alandra Hileman is now taking applications for sidekick. Please provide your own cape.

Every so often, someone will refer to stage managers as the superheroes of theatre. I laugh at this (we’re just doing our JOB, c’mon), but deep down inside I’m always kind of excited, because if you’ve ever talked to me for more than 5 minutes, you know I love comic books and superheroes. And if you for some reason decided to continue talking to me after those first 5 minutes, you undoubtedly got an earful my favorite superhero and personal role-model: Hawkeye.

I know, you never would have guessed.

I know, you never would have guessed.

So I thought I’d do an overly-simplistic little break down of the superheroes that I personally feel like I share the most traits in common with, especially when stage managing. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

Hero: Hawkeye a.k.a. Clint Barton and/or Kate Bishop (Marvel’s Avengers/Young Avengers)
Powers: The Greatest Archer in the World
Weaknesses: He’s deaf, they’ve both got PTSD
Why?: I mostly relate to the Hawguys because they are normal humans (no radioactive spiders or alien genetics in sight) and also walking train wrecks. Their lives are in utter shambles 99% of the time, they cannot deal with interpersonal relationships outside of work to save their lives (sometimes literally) and the whole “superhero” thing came about because each of them has one oddly-specific skill that they are uncannily good at because they practiced the hell out of it. Sounds familiar. They also both wear a lot of purple, which I can completely get behind.

Hero: The Hulk, a.k.a Dr. Bruce Banner (Marvel’s Avengers)
Powers: Genius-level intelligence, turns into a Giant Green Rage Monster when angry
Weaknesses: …Turns into a Giant Green Rage Monster when angry
Why?: A super-smart guy who completely loses his ability to think rationally and handle stress if you push his buttons too hard? That is a painfully accurate description of me from when I started stage managing years ago. Now, over the years, I’ve gotten a lot better at managing the stress and keeping my emotions under control during difficult situations…mostly by just going in and assuming everything is going to be terrible/stressful/piss me off. (That’s my secret…) Bonus: Bruce/Hulk also wear a lot of purple.

Hero: Ozymandias, a.k.a. Adrian Alexander Veidt (Allan Moore’s Watchmen)
Powers: The Smartest Man on the Planet
Weaknesses: Hubris and playing God
Why?: Okay, bear with me – the stage manager isn’t necessarily the smartest person in the room, but they are often the most well-informed, since they are the hub of information. So when you know the concept and the vision, but you also know the limits of the budget and the restrictions of space, time and the laws of physics, it’s very easy for you to become the frustrating know-it-all asshole who is ruining everyone else’s fun, and if you’re not careful, the power of “knowing everything” can go to your head and make you think you know best. And, incidentally, guess what color Ozymandias’ costume is?

Again, I’m sure you never would have guessed.

Again, I’m sure you never would have guessed.

So, aside from all having wardrobes in varying shades of bruise, why are these the guys I relate to? I mean, there’s a massive augment for each of these characters NOT even being a hero in the first place. Dude-Hawkeye started out as a bank-robbing circus performer. Girl-Hawkeye nearly ruined a multi-year covert op in one move. Hulk killed an entire planet once. Ozymandias is the only real successful one of the bunch, and he’s arguably the actual master “villain” of Watchmen. So with options like Captain America, Captain Marvel, Superman, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, and so on, what draws me to these losers? I like to think it’s because at their core, all of these characters are really just humans, trying their damnedest against the impossible odds, which is really what I think so many theatre-makers are too.

But let’s be real, it’s probably those sweet grapey wardrobes.

Hit by a Bus Rules: The Post-It Note Apocalypse

Alandra Hileman is about to reveal personal secrets that will probably make her unemployable.

The title of this column comes from a sort of unofficial but universally understood rule of stage managers, the concept being this: in the event that, on the way to the theatre, you are hit by a bus and can no longer run the show, your master book and all your paperwork should be in such good order that anyone else with a basic understanding of the backstage side of things could come in, pick up your book, and run the show. Obviously, there is no one standard way to create a call book or issue a rehearsal report, but however you do it specific to your company/show/personality should follow enough of the universal language of stage management that another stage manager could figure it out in a pinch.

I am terrible at this.

When I first really started stage managing in school, I went full out: digitized script (separate from my blocking script) with typed in cues, color coded highlighting (carefully chosen to still be visible and readable under blue booth lights), set-up/take-down checklists typed in triplicate and posted by all the doorways. I really took the spirit of the “hit by a bus” rule to my little type-A anal-retentive heart, and I was determined to be the best of the best and turn myself into an unstoppable force of stage management.

And this is what my call-book for the shows I’m currently running looks like right now:

Messy SM Book copy

I have a somewhat synesthesia-eqsue association between colors and cue types that usually changes on a show-by-show basis. This time around, yellow is lighting, blue is sound, green is naptime, and so on. You’ll notice which color ISN’T featured in the photo above.

Anyway, the Post-It notes were only supposed to be a temporary solution because we were writing cues into my book in little bits and snatches of whatever available time we had (including at 1am in the hotel lobby the night before the sound designer had to catch a 6am flight – 0/10 do not recommend). I kept trying to block off time to write things in properly…and then it was opening night. So, I just started calling the shows from my “temporary” notes.

So at this point, we just finished week 4 of 6, and I’m terrified that my visual-recall memory would be MORE screwed up by trying to write my book out properly now that I’m used to where on the page to look for cues in any given scene. So, I’ve decided to leave it be and just pray that none of my commutes go viciously awry in the vicinity of CDL-only vehicles. To be fair, I have a really good sense of it at this point – I know not only what the color-coding system is, but the exact scenes where it’s wrong (because I ran out of yellow). I’ve moved things as blocking changed (MOVE DOWNSTAGE DAMMIT) and when cues got cut because they were unnecessary, I got to just pop the Post-It off the to the trash. And I pity my crew members every time they ask if they can look something up, because these are the shenanigans they have to deal with.

This decline and fall of my fictional stage managerial empire, in a terribly cliché and slightly forced-sounding way, is pretty much the perfect parallel for the rest of my general life-crises. The incredibly logical and organized life-plan I had all the way back in high school has pretty well devolved into a chaotic mess of events that constantly get rearranged, are frequently unintelligible to anyone but me, and are often bizarrely and specifically color-coded. And, just like my cue book, I’m hoping I can get it in order before someone drops it and it implodes in a flutter of tiny colorful squares and tears.

But at least it would be a colorful apocalypse.

Hit By A Bus Rules: Symmetry and Sleep Deprivation

Hey Everybody! We’re debuting a new regular blogger today! Alandra Hileman will be alternating with Will Leschber and bringing us a much needed theater tech perspective once a month, while giving Will a little more time off to focus on his new family. Let us know what you think!

Alandra Hileman should have typed this introductory blog before working 14-straight days of tech. Oops.

Standby for Awkward 1st-Person Introductory Blog.

Blog GO.

Stage managing is weird. We often call it “herding cats,” a mental picture which is much more hilarious and fluffy than is the reality of trying to answer questions for 13 actors, 5 designers, 6 crew people and 2 frazzled directors at the same time while also setting props, plugging in a fog machine, spiking a giant dinner table, and offering a quick prayer to St. Gensius (patron of thespians, secretaries, and apparently lawyers?) that you’ll actually get to visit the bathroom BEFORE you have to call the start of the show. I once attempted to research the history of stage management, only to find that somebody didn’t do their paperwork, so it’s all pretty theoretical and hazy. (Oh good, the fog machine is working.)

This summer, I am up in the mysterious land of Davis, CA, stage managing the two shows of Davis Shakespeare Festival. During my first week of rehearsals up here, I was also asked if I was interested in joining the SF Theatre Pub blog team and bring in a little of the backstage tech-and-management angle to my column once a month. I thought this was a nice symmetry, since my first “professional” (paid, non-school) theatre job was stage managing one (out of two) shows for a local Shakespeare festival, during which I wrote one guest blog about stage management. So I’m still perpetually exhausted and broke, but at least I’m moving forward in my career.

Speaking of career, it should be noted that I fell into stage management accidentally. (Well, technically, I was pushed, but that’s a story for a layer blog…) I ended up there primarily as the result of combination type-A personality, good organizational skills, general-overview knowledge of every job in theatre, and deciding very quickly that I was not cut out to be an actor. Despite the fact that my heart is much more in writing and directing, I’ve stuck with stage management and other jobs of that ilk because there’s probably more security there than in any other theatrical field. If you are even remotely good at stage managing, you will get work. Or even if you just vaguely don’t suck depending on how desperate a company is, and with the sheer number of theatre companies in the Bay Area, there are a lot of desperate ones. I try to set my personal bar a little higher than that “doesn’t suck,” but I’m also inherently lazy and introverted, so at this point I’ve just managed to land nicely in the middle of “competent and doesn’t make actors cry,” which I can live with.

The trouble for me was that once I started being known as a stage manager, I couldn’t shake the title, even when it was no longer my primary focus. In another fascinating bit of symmetry, in the months since I started my M.F.A. program for Playwriting, I’ve also started getting a massive influx of stage management job offers again, reminiscent of the SM gigs I kept getting offered right after I finished my undergrad with B.A.s in Drama (emphasis in Play Development, i.e. writing) and English (emphasis in Literature, i.e. not even remotely related to running over 500 light, sound, spot, mic, and curtain cues in a musical). So I’m coming to accept that fact that I am going to be forever introduced or thought of as a stage manager first, and a playwright/photographer/director/board operator/anything else second. And I guess for as much as I gripe about it, it really does come down to my unconditional love of and support for theatre – otherwise I wouldn’t be living in a hotel room for the summer just for the opportunity of getting to work in some vague capacity on one of my all time favorite musicals while living off Black Cherry Mountain Dew Kickstarts and sleeping less than 5 hours a night. Right?

Alandra Hileman is a freelance stage manager/writer/photographer/bunch of other things who occasionally updates her website (ajhileman.com) and frequently cries herself to sleep at night thinking of all the shows she’ll never have the budget to do properly.