Monday, November 17, 2014

Load-In for OPC

This week at the A.R.T. we are loading in the set for OPC: Obsessive Political Correctness, a new comedy by Eve Ensler. The stage crew has been working in the theater around student productions to start the rigging we'll need for the show-- all of the action in this play takes place far downstage, close to the audience, so last week involved some time in the ceiling of the house where lights usually hang, gathering hanging points for 2 pieces that will fly in and out.

Today we started with the flooring. The Loeb stage has a series of hydraulic elevators that lower to various levels (e.g. when we have a pit band, need to access our trap and storage rooms under the stage, etc). We lowered these elevators-- which are the main playing space for O.P.C.-- 1" to build a very level deck on top. The scene shop did a really nice job laying out and marking this deck, which isn't always the case in theatrical productions, so we had very little trouble placing the pieces to fit our slightly angled and curved stage area. The last part of the floor is a bunch of tiles textured, edged, and painted to look like stones. These are laid out in a pretty specific pattern that the scenic designer created. Laying these out took a long time, but again, our scene shop was very prepared and we ran into a lot less trouble than one might imagine. 

The rest of the set, some of which we already got into the building today, involves large walls made of pallets and boxes. (There are a lot of large moving pieces as well, but those will come later in the week, as they are all based on the ground instead of flying, and not part of the static set). Since the protagonist in this play is a "freegan," our set includes donated and found pieces in the spirit of her radical lifestyle and beliefs. It will be interesting assembling the rest of the set this week and seeing what this show is all about in the month to come!

For more information on the American Repertory Theater and OPC, visit the A.R.T.'s website

Monday, October 27, 2014

War Stories: An Anthology of Military Science Fiction

Today I am taking a break from writing about my life in the theater to write about my brother Andrew's life in the writing world. Recently his first book, War Stories, was published. I have been reading through these short stories over the summer. I am a pretty fast reader, but each of these stories required some digestion, and so I finished the last story "War 3.01" today. Although I am fulfilling my sisterly duties by spreading the word about Andy's book, I also was very fascinated and moved by many of the stories here.

I have to start by saying I am a recent fan of short stories. They draw you in and get you invested and excited but never bored, and they're the perfect length to read in one shot and then put the book down for a bit (which is good for me when I'm backstage or reading on breaks, etc). War Stories did not fail to uphold this expectation, which is probably the smallest bit of praise I can give.

The book is divided into several sections: Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force, and Aftermath. Each one includes a few short stories from various points in time, ranging from very near future to deep science fiction. The multi-faceted worlds created in the book alone are enough to read it and be satisfied. I have favorite stories from each section, and I can say I was entertained and drawn in to each story as a military science fiction piece, but the really remarkable thing about War Stories as a whole is that it focuses on the human condition during and after war. I don't think I have ever read a story involving combat and been so thoroughly immersed in the psychology that emerges from those actions and events. Whether it be relatives or friends or lovers of the combatants, a bystander, a tech, or the soldiers themselves, War Stories forces the reader to consider the problems that war creates that we often ignore in today's society.

I found Aftermath to be the most important section of this book for that reason: seeing the trauma that soldiers and civilians alike endure because of war, our society today too often turns a blind eye to our veterans and other victims of war. People don't know what happened, they don't want to know what happened, they couldn't possibly understand, and they give up. Life is easier without thinking about someone else's problems. War Stories takes the reader's enjoyment of the genre and action and walks the line very carefully to draw the reader's mind into these issues.

Through storytelling, we learn. This is one of the oldest and most respected traditions in human history. By looking into stories of the future, we can see our own reflections and the lessons we have yet to learn. Pick up a copy of War Stories today and let yourself learn about each character. Become their friends, their lovers. You won't regret it; here we have the seeds of change starting to grow in our war-obsessed world.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fall 2014

Finding Neverland closed a few weeks ago at the end of September. What a ride! After months of technical rehearsals, previews, and performances, after weeks and weeks of drilling the routine of this show into our heads and getting to know the cast and stage management, we closed the show. It was a long, stressful summer but the response was amazing. Neverland will go to Broadway next spring.

After Neverland's last performance at the Loeb Center, we started strike by wrapping and packing all of the props and furniture for the show. We removed all of the black masking drapes around the set, cleared the deck backstage of the large pieces like the bar and dining room table and fences, and stored our house costume booths, props racks, etc. Next came the surround walls, which made up an almost trapezoidal shape that encased all of the scenes, and the walls embedded that spun to reveal different faces. Those came out easier than we expected: they were, after all, only connected by a central pivoting point. With enough hands, even the largest pieces are easy to move. As we moved on to the many flying pieces onstage, we had people from the scene shop and our crew, assisted by overhire freelancers from the area, also continuing to pack and wrap pieces. Even the walls had delicate pieces on them, so lots of foam and large plastic cling wrap were used to store and ship them safely. 

The last few days of strike involved packing trucks. Although I was there for one of those days, I also had a family member pass away (in fact right near the end of the last week of performances, I was out for a day or so to be at the hospital) and left for a funeral. It seems that September 2014 was destined to be the end of many things. 

When I returned to work, we were starting 2 weeks of badly needed maintenance at the Loeb stage with staff and one or two extra hands. It was originally scheduled for the spring, but with Neverland coming in hot there was no time to clean and organize our tools and hardware and do annual checks on our rigging gear and more. We started with cleaning the stage and inventorying our tools and major hardware, which was a challenge because as we cleaned and other departments (lighting, sound) cleaned up from Neverland as well, tools and such came trickling back. 

We moved on to winch maintenance, which was an interesting learning experience for me and perfect in repetition and muscle memory because we have 29 winches to inspect every year. These winches can hold around 250lbs. They are very, very old, and controlled through a giant board we call the Dinosaur. We use them often to haul tools and equipment up to our 60' grid, and to dead-hang (that is, hang and not move during the show) soft goods like borders, legs, and other masking. We used them during Neverland to fly the dining room table and bar during Intermission for the acts they weren't used in. Maintenance involved greasing some of the shafts that turn when the winch is in motion; checking each aircraft cable (which is about 80' or more) the entire length for dangerous kinks and wear; listening to the motor run; checking all of the attachment points and cable terminations. It was a good experience to start learning more about motors and such, and I'm certainly looking forward to maintenance in the spring where we will inspect our chain motors, which are newer and more heavy-duty. 

Other tasks over the past two weeks have included cleaning out the trap room where the orchestra lived during Neverland, where we stored a lot of gear during the show that wasn't being used. This was particularly good for me and some of the younger overhires, as we were left in charge of that room and did some major organizing, and learned about some of the gear we didn't even know we had. We cleaned our crew/locker room, we cleaned the scary places below the stage elevators. We also worked a little with the HRDC students who have the stage currently for their student shows. All in all, a relaxing yet educational couple of weeks, and a great relief from the hectic run of Neverland, for all of us. 

Next up is OPC, a show by the author of the Vagina Monologues that promises to be witty and interesting for those of us invested in saving the environment. We've heard rumors of the set the scene shop is concocting, it will be an experience for sure. Until then, the stage crew has some time off, during which I'm picking up some freelance gigs (after all, it isn't like I'm not used to piecing that kind of work together) and visiting home in VT for a solid amount of time :) 

Thank you for reading!

Monday, September 8, 2014


I am pleased to announce that I have been hired as the newest full-time staff member on the stage crew at the A.R.T.! As a branch of Harvard University, A.R.T. will be able to offer me stability and benefits, something I have never had before.

For the past two years, I have been a freelancer in the technical theater field here in Boston (and for 4+ years before that back in VT!) working in various fields from lighting, stage management, and carpentry, to production management and run crew, with a very large number of companies as their seasons and productions required. Now, I will be performing much the same tasks for the A.R.T. on Finding Neverland, but I have more responsibility to maintain the space and keep my eyes open for details and safety on this show. Once we strike FN, I will remain working with this same company, performing maintenance on the space and working with staff and overhires on the upcoming season.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Finding Neverland

 Here we are 20 performances after opening Finding Neverland at the A.R.T. This is an interesting show--based on the movie of the same name-- because it was mounted once in London already, but didn't do so well, so when our producer decided to try it again here in the U.S. he brought it to Diane Paulus and a new creative team for revamping. It seems to have worked. Despite the fact that many changes will still need to be applied and worked through, this show is heading for Broadway next.

Finding Neverland is the story of how Peter Pan came to be the beloved children's tale known across the world. It features J.M. Barrie, a writer struggling with his work and his marriage, and a young family that he becomes attached to. Add a demanding-- yet inspiring-- boss, a disapproving mother, and an anxious wife, and we have quite a mixing pot of characters and turmoil for Barrie to consider. I like the interweaving of imagination and reality in this musical that shows so clearly how a creative person draws from their life for each piece of artistic expression. The music is awesome, a delight to listen to every night from backstage. And this cast is remarkable: actors and singers from Broadway, dancers from various amazing places, and 4 very talented kids. 

We have another month of performances to go here in Cambridge! Don't miss out! For more information on tickets, cast, and creative team, please visit the A.R.T. website.

Monday, August 25, 2014

From August 7th

Next week we open Finding Neverland here at the ART, a new musical based on the movie with the same title. It's been a long process to get to this point! The strike of Tempest was fairly tame, and led directly into a huge, extensive load in (and in some ways, continuation of the build) of the Neverland set. 

We started with the stage rigging. The Loeb is a very flexible space without a permanent fly system, so the staff is used to spot rigging and building arbors. For this show, we have 14 drops of various shapes and sizes that fly in and out in addition to 6 very specialized pieces for a big number at the end of Act 1. The stage crew installed most of these linesets early in the summer, complete with head blocks and loft blocks, arbors and guide cables, all of the elements to make a safe and balanced system to fly heavy pieces. The carpenters worked on most of the specialized pieces, since in many cases we had to work around and cut into the building itself. 

The deck for Neverland is also very specialized to allow various effects. While it was being loaded in, I was sent to the scene shop to work on a flying drop called the Kensington Garden drop: a multi-layered, complex piece with stiffeners and intricate details. It was a tough, hot week. When I came back, I continued to work on perfecting the rigging systems, usually from 60' above the deck in our grid. While all of these things were being installed, the lighting and sound departments were getting their massive amount of gear ready as well; the carpenters continued to work alongside us. They put in massive surround walls that encase the playing space. One cool thing they put in is a series of walls on the sides of the stage that turn on a center point. This can change the setting drastically depending on which painted side is facing out and also depending on what angle the walls are set to for each scene. They can be totally closed, enclosing the playing space, or open to have more traditional wings.
Draftings for the Kensington Garden drop I worked on
Painted sections I cut out, reinforced, grommeted, and magneted
Backstage during the final nursery scene

The rest of our scenery involves large wheeled pieces-- most notably a 17' long dining table and a huge bar piece, both of which are danceable. During Act I, we store the bar up in the air, and part of our huge intermission shift is swapping it with the table. We have a large wagon, furniture pieces, a wheeled 3-part fence, lots of large and small hand props, light up props and accessories... all in all, Finding Neverland is a HUGE show to maintain and run! There are 5 of us on the deck moving scenery and flying pieces; 1 person running automation; 2 ASMs; several wardrobe and sound people on deck; and a stage supervisor. With a 20+ person cast and TONS of scenery, there is not a whole lot of room backstage! 
The dining room table, hanging upstage during Act II

We spend most of our time shifting things to get ready for the next scene or number. Each of us on the crew get a pretty thorough workout between pushing sliding furniture and benches, wheeling doors and bushes, lifting chairs and stools, lifting chaise's and sofas for storage, operating line sets, operating hand winches, catching ladders and props, and moving quickly in general. Getting to this point during our tech and previews has been very intense in terms of workload and hours for us. Add the hope that this show will go to Broadway, and the pressure really heightened on cast and crew during the month. From the feedback we've gotten so far, there is more work to be done, but the show has a lot of potential. 

For information on tickets and more, please visit the ART website.

Monday, May 19, 2014

From May 10

We are currently sitting in tech rehearsal for THE TEMPEST at American Rep, a show that we built and sent to Vegas earlier this year. With magic designed by Teller (of Penn & Teller) and music written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, this production promises to be a blast. 

The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare shows. It is widely regarded as Shakespeare's farewell to the playwrighting world, a remarkable example of authorial self-representation in a fantastical work. Prospero, the Duke of Milan, was betrayed 12 years ago and stranded on an island with his young daughter Miranda. His love of knowledge and constant study allows Prospero to use magic to employ spirits (the mischievous Ariel) and to manipulate the forces that be to restore his daughter to power and cast down his enemies. Among the many themes in this show, the ones that have always stood out to me are forgiveness and redemption. 

ART's production of The Tempest is already a hit. The music is dark and striking. The magic is eerie and hair-raising. The acting is superb, for an American Shakespeare. And call me biased, but the set and lighting are pretty awesome.

Coming home to Cambridge is very exciting for everyone involved. Moving from the Vegas space to the Loeb center certainly presents some challenges-- a different show deck, some elements of the set used in one space but not the other, changes in lighting angles and sound levels, some blocking changes for the actors, but overall it's fairly nice to mount a show that has already been assembled once. 

This has been a long week! I started Sunday with the electrics crew, unloading trucks from Vegas and rental gear. Luckily, most of the lights were hung in advance for the show since ART's last big show (The Shape She Makes) was in a different space, so all we had to put in the air were some moving lights, color scrollers, and cabling. Sunday was also a lot of organizing what came off of the trucks-- props and scenery, costumes, lighting equipment, sound gear. On Monday and Tuesday I worked for the scene shop loading the set itself in. It was a fair amount of heavy work. The theater is set up as a big proscenium, complete with raised deck (this was a process to create with ART's moving seat wagons and the various elevator portions of what could be stage space). There is a beautiful show deck, second and third levels, spiral stairs and various things for the cast to climb on and play on. Without giving too much away, I will say there are pillars sloping outward giving the set a fantastic, sprawling feel. Add exotic touches like a high crow's nest and clamshells, and we've got a dark, watery scene for the show. 

Since Tuesday I've been working on electrics again. I'm also a spotlight operator on the show, so having myself and the other spot op, Kevin, be familiar with the hang and focus for the show is a good idea so we can fix things and perform maintenance during the run. Electrics has been challenging because there are a lot of pieces that light up in the set and also, the set is extremely tall and therefore the lights are very high in the air and hard to get to! Here on day 3 of technical rehearsals we're in good shape, but everything from complex LED's getting wired to confusing changes from Vegas to our rental spotlights being cruddy, have really made this load in a challenge. Rehearsals are going smoothly however, since we're all working on inserting the show into a new space instead of doing it for the first time.

These busy weeks are the best! The Tempest runs for one month here in Cambridge. Don't miss out! For production photos, videos, and tickets, please visit the A.R.T. website here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good News

I'm very excited to be working for A.R.T. again over the summer-- this time for 2 shows, The Tempest and Finding Neverland, which is the first show of their next season. I'll be running the 2nd spotlight on Tempest and on the stage crew for Neverland. Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, so that is exciting to be working on. Finding Neverland promises to be an action-packed show: it is the first show of next season for the company.

For me as a freelancer, having this kind of steady work lined up through the end of September is awesome! Although there are a lot of employment rules that A.R.T. has to follow, through its connection with Harvard, I believe the staff there is realizing that as a growing theater company, they need to expand their staff as well in order to not have to re-train new overhires every few weeks or months. It is great to be working with them steadily for a little while.

Happy Spring!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Stuff

Now that Witness Uganda is over, I have some free time before my next set of shows to work a few freelance gigs, do my taxes, and complete some long-overdue visits!

Two weekends ago, I went home to VT to see Logan, Bram, and the family. I also spent some time with my college roommates in Burlington and visited my Grandma. The amount of snow they still had was insane! It was still falling!

So I spent a lot of that visit shoveling and snowshoeing. It was the best snowshoeing snow I've seen all winter, and I do like snow, so it was a nice visit despite the fact that at the end of March it should be springtime. I started pruning our apple trees for this season, which was much easier being 3' taller when on top of the snow!

Back in Boston, I've been working some random gigs and also taking the time to do my taxes. I wish I had thought further ahead and gotten someone lined up to prepare them for 2013, since I moved, worked in 4 different states, and had mixed income (both W2s and 1099s). It was really tricky, and H&R Block was fairly helpful but I am learning a lot about saving receipts and counting mileage (in certain situations only). I'll be very happy when tax season is over!

Now I'm in Ithaca, NY, visiting my boyfriend Alex and taking some time off. It's amazing how good time outside of the city feels. I'm also able to relax a little because I have work lined up through September, which is insane for my usual crazy overhire gigs! I will be on the run crew with A.R.T. again, first as a follow spot operator for their last show of the season this year, and then on the deck crew for the first show of the season in the summer/fall. You can read about next season here. Looking forward to working with them again! 

More news to come! Thank you for reading.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Witness Uganda

I had the pleasure of working on the run crew for American Repertory Theater's recent production of Witness Uganda, a new musical relating the story of an aid worker with the Uganda Project.

Working on this show was great. Not only was it a memorable production in terms of music and quality, it promoted a very profound cause. Watching it night after night, I was amazed I didn't get tired of it, as we often do when working for months on the same show. I was very pleased my parents and relatives were able to come see it.

My title during the show was stagehand, but I also ran the follow spotlight for several big moments (to add another spotlight to the dedicated one). This meant a lot of pulling ropes and moving scenery, and then traveling through the building to get to the catwalks above the audience. It was pretty crazy, but we took steps to ensure everyone's safety during the run-- my own included. I certainly am in good shape now!

The set was pretty interesting for this show. We only used the area downstage of the proscenium, effectively making the stage much smaller and more intimate. The band was on platforms stage right. The main scenic element was a simple wood deck that rose and inclined to represent a hill (and various other things, sometimes). The scene shop used the "pit elevators" built into the theater to control this, and built a motor for the tilt part. It required two people to operate, and eyes onstage to make sure nothing and no one was under it. There were also projections on a huge screen/scrim setup, black masking that covered the screen horizontally and vertically, a few wood-and-steel, rustic scenery pieces that tracked on from the sides or were brought on by hand, and some dramatic, gauzy fabrics that moved across the stage as well. There were a lot of props in the show. Spanning between New York and Africa, there were a fair amount of culture shock elements to communicate, and the props and costumes really made that emphasis clear.

I'm hoping to continue working with the run crew at A.R.T. on their upcoming shows, Tempest and Finding Neverland. I made a lot of great friends between the crew, cast, and the Harvard Institute students involved. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a steady job for a few months during a show run-- right now I'm back to freelancing between Emerson and a few other places. Fingers crossed for the future!

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Wow, it has been a while since I've written! After finishing The Importance of Being Earnest, we jumped right into rehearsals for the next Moonbox show, which was Company. I had a few more responsibilities on this show including booking rehearsal spaces, which is mainly what I spent December and January doing. I did have some time off to go to VT for the holidays, though :)

I worked freelance during that time as well, mainly with BeNt Productions and Emerson College. I taught a workshop on freelancing in technical theater at KCACTF Region 1 this year, which was a blast. Over 25 people showed up to hear me talk about my experience in the past few years, both while in school and after graduation, freelancing in this field-- I tried to cover everything from how to start networking and getting on the radar and choosing where to go, to tax forms and tool kits and advice on resumes and lifestyle. It was a lot, but I planned for a long time beforehand and it turned out to be quite enjoyable! Please feel free to comment/contact me for the information I presented.

In January, I worked on the strike for Robin Hood at the American Repertory Theater and wound up with a run crew gig for the next 2 months on their next show, Witness Uganda. So I'm working backstage at the shows instead of building the sets or focusing the lights, which is something I haven't done in a long time! That show, which promotes and benefits the Uganda Project, closes this weekend. I'll probably write a separate post about my experiences on that show, which have been great.

In February, Moonbox opened Company, which was a huge challenge for us. We all learned a lot, I hope-- I know I did! Company ran for month at the Roberts Theater down at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Lastly, my most recent news is personal: I am, as of this past Monday, the proud Auntie to a second nephew! Logan Christopher Liptak was born in the early morning to my sister-in-law Kate and my brother Dan; their first kid. I'll be heading home next weekend after Witness Uganda is closed and struck, and I can't wait to meet Logan.

Thanks for reading! More updates soon on my recent shows!