Monday, August 15, 2011

Tragedy in Indiana

This past Saturday, disaster struck at an Indiana State Fair with a freak wind storm that collapsed the stage with a 70-mph gust, killing 5 people and injuring around 40. Luckily, the concert was between sets, with Sara Bareilles off the stage after opening for Sugarland. The sudden burst of wind toppled the rigging and speakers over within seconds. Here is a video of the collapse; be warned, it is disturbing:

While weather forecasters and officials have started to point fingers, it is for the rest of the nation watching this tragedy to realize that the National Weather Forecasters gave their warnings; that most outdoor stages across the U.S. are inspected and approved after setup, before use, and that while human error may have been in play for not evacuating the fairgrounds earlier, it is up to us to realize that nature can't be predicted. No one could have noticed this sudden gust approaching, no more than we can see flash floods on their way in. While the fairgrounds were paying attention to the worsening weather and were prepared for 40-mph gusts, no stage is built for sudden wind attacks of that velocity.

It is, in fact, surprising to me that this sort of disaster does not happen more often. While we say a prayer for those who died- 4 immediately, and one stagehand later on Saturday evening- we can also give thanks that many more people weren't killed.

Working in theater is a dangerous business. Every day we face fly systems with thousands of pounds of scenery and lighting that, if weighted incorrectly, could fall; we hang scenery and lights from very high, hard-to-reach places, which can be scary for the person on the ladder or in the genie lift, as well as for those below. Many places use harnesses and hard hats. Carpenters face power tools on a daily basis; electricians risk shock and electrocution often. It's a career path that requires careful work, quick thinking, and nimble hands and feet.

For more information on the deceased, visit here

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Andrew Lloyd Weber's SUNSET BOULEVARD

The Gateway's current mainstage production is a dark, somber piece compared with the summer's earlier offerings. Based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film noir, Sunset Boulevard is set in 1949 L.A. and tells the haunting tale of Norma Desmond, a silent film actress who has faded from the screen of the '20s. When desperate screenwriter Joe Gillis stumbles upon Ms. Desmond planning her return to the studio, he convinces her to hire him...and when the tables are turned, he is hard-pressed to escape from 10086 Sunset Boulevard unscathed.

Our production features Loni Ackerman, a powerhouse who made her Broadway debut at age 19 with George M! and went on to star in Evita, Cats, So Long 174th Street, The Magic Show, and No No Nanette. I have seen the show 14 times so far and still can't get enough of her portrayal of Norma Desmond and the psychology behind the faded movie stars' slides from hopeless un-reality to an elegant woman the audience can hope for, especially with the recurring "New Ways to Dream" and the famous "As If We Never Said Goodbye." For Loni's recent interview about our production and more, please click here.

Joel Robertson deserves a hearty bravo for his depiction of Max, the ever-watching, mysterious servant to Ms. Desmond, the only man who truly shares her dreams, and the one who built up her world around her. His melody "The Greatest Star of All" is reminiscent of the grandeur of old Hollywood and the birthing of film entertainment that Norma and himself played a prime part in.

Robert J. Townsend gives a solid performance as Joe Gillis, the slippery writer falling for the American Dream of luxury; his successful delivery of the title number anchors the musical underscoring throughout the show. The supporting cast, including Gail Bennet as the sweet Betty Shaefer and Phillip Hoffman as great director Cecil B. DeMille, whisks the audience scene by scene through the thickening atmosphere to a stunning closing sequence.

Although I find the character psychology fascinating, and like to look for similarities in Andrew Lloyd Weber's choice of musicals (the idea of the entertainment business driving people to madness, for example, when we also look at Phantom of the Opera) I have to say this was probably a script better left for the screen. Mundane conversation in song form doesn't always make it interesting. Musical director Jeffery Buchsbaum and orchestra have done a stellar job using the score to support the script; I often hear a strain of a certain melody and think to myself "pay attention, this is a plot-affecting moment." I did tell my parents to listen to Phantom before coming to see Sunset, and I would recommend brushing up on the story of John the Baptist as well.
After the rough changeover for electrics into Sunset, I've been able to relax somewhat. Running spotlight for the show is a new experience because we're using regular Source 4 lighting instruments as spots, which involve their own challenges. We're also spotting from high side angles close to the stage instead of the usual back-of-the-house platform.

I found the first few nights frustrating to watch as the stage crew was still getting their feet and are short-handed at this point in the summer, but one of the things all interns have to learn at some point is when to mind their own department and keep their heads down. Now we are well underway and more settled into the run of the show and our routines of maintenance and building and somewhat normal living. Just 12 more days until I go home! Leaving Sweeny Todd maybe be bittersweet but I'm very ready for Vermont.

Here is the Gateway's video preview of the musical drama:

Thanks for reading! For the NYTimes review on Sunset Boulevard, visit here. For tickets, calendar, and more about the Gateway Playhouse, check out their website here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gateway Summer

It has been a few weeks since I last posted an's been a busy time here at the Gateway! We closed Spamalot in Patchogue over a week ago with great success. Loading out of Patchogue and having a complete changeover from student production Tommy into mainstage Sunset Boulevard on the Bellport stage made for a very intense week. This changeover in particular was hard because not everyone was prepared and we had a week straight of rushing to get things done on time. I've said it before and I will say it again: I'm learning a lot this summer, especially things to avoid.

We then went into a midnight tech and Friday morning opening of Dora's Pirate Adventure: Gateway's own Dora the Explorer musical, live. More to come on Sunset and Dora in another post!

This changeover marks the end of the summer for many people here at Gateway. A lot of interns have left and are leaving over the Sunset run, which is a relief in some ways, and makes things harder in other ways. The stage crew, for example, is short-handed. Luckily we have some great high school kids who have started to work in the shop and help out more and more often, especially since Tommy closed. The extra space and peace is certainly welcomed by those of us in the staff house and kitchen!

I have 2 more weeks here on Long Island; through the run of Sunset Boulevard and then until Sweeny Todd opens. I am sad I won't be here for the run of Sweeny Todd, but at least I'll get to see it and work on it a little. I will be celebrating my birthday opening night, and heading home for a few days before school starts up again.

There's lot of activity on the class of 2015 facebook page for the incoming class, which is very exciting! I'm ready for a great senior year, without too many outside commitments to take me away from the McCarthy stage and the exciting projects I have waiting there. I will be back in Vermont with friends and family for the first time (for more than a few days, anyway) in 8 months!