Friday, September 19, 2008

Out of the Box

Yesterday, or was it the day before? Even though we've opened Candide, time is still very fluid. I think it's because I don't get home from an evening show until midnight or 1 am and then I have to get up at 7:30 am to get my kids to school. Yes, I know tons of parents who stay up even later and still have hugely productive days. Not me, I've always been one who needs sleep.

Anyway, yesterday, I think, I wrote about some of the challenges of tech week including mops, chalk, fly cues, light cues, etc. Another challenge that presented itself to us right from the start of rehearsals was boxes. Nestled around the stage in four different nooks are eight boxes--4 cubes and 4 rectangles (or double-wides as we call them) all exactly alike. With these boxes the actors create a classroom, a canoe, a gondola, Venice, a galley ship, an inn and more. From these boxes, the actors pull many of the props and costumes used during the production.

It sounds easy but then you realize that the actors are constantly moving boxes from one part of the stage to another. From the very first rehearsal my assistant, Alec Ferrell, and I had to track the movement of every single box in order to know into which box to place props that might not be used until the end of the act. For example, a box sits at the top of the ramp at the end of act one. Out of that box comes a rag and some clothing. But how did that box get from the floor of the theater to the top of the ramp? We tracked boxes using letters. Every box had a letter and every time it moved onstage, I would draw a picture showing the placement of every box (and what props were in each box). It sounds tedious but it came in handy when we moved to the stage.

A lot can happen when the cast moves onto the set. Blocking (the movement of the actor on the stage, which is recorded by the stage manager in the prompt book) changes frequently and with this show, so did the box movements. Props that were placed in box F say, had to be moved to box D because box F was no longer being used. It became even more complicated as box F was used for some stuff at the top of the show but then box D took over. Confusing? Yeah, tell me about it.

Needless to say, I became obsessed with boxes. As we worked slowly through the show it was easy to place the correct box in the correct position for the upcoming scene. But where did that box come from? Had we tracked its progress so that when we ran the show it would be in the right position?

The actors also had to deal with the boxes since they were the ones moving them. As we would set up for a certain scene, I would inevitably hear, "There's supposed to be a box here that isn't here." And I'd go for my notes tracking which box indeed sat there for that scene. One actor told me he has 14 box moves before his character enters.

We have everything working smoothly now mainly because Alec and I don't let anyone else on the crew touch the boxes as we set up. I just hope the understudies have been tracking box movements as well as character blocking because on Candide, there is no thinking outside of the box. See, I really do need to get more sleep.

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