November 27, 2006

Where does the money go, Part III

$200 buys a new saw blade for our "cold saw"” used in metal fabrication. We house a full metal working shop and build many of our structural elements in steel and aluminum. This is often less expensive, stronger, and lighter than using wood. For the Cherry Orchard we are framing the walls in aluminum and skinning them with rigid foam. This wall unit, which is about 47 feet long, 2 1/2 feet deep and 15 feet tall will weigh (finished) about 3000lbs and will fly out overhead about 30 feet above the stage. I just helped our shop foreman move one of these pieces shown. At 12' (l) x 2 1/2' (w) x 15" (h) it was a breeze to move and probably weighed about 100lbs. Once finished and dressed it will be heavier.

$250 buys ten filters for the air cleaning systems in our production shops. The Huntington uses over 250 filters a season to help keep the air our employees breathe clean.

$1000 - The Huntington Production Departments employs over 30 full time technicians and craftspeople a season, plus many part time employees who work on individual shows building as many as nine productions in a season. Production's annual labor budget approaches $1.5 million. $1000 pays an average weeks salary and benefits.
Today in our paint shop leaf stamps (about 20 unique stamps, above) were made to help create the back drop. They also are nearly finished creating the templates (below) for the drops and side tabs. They will lay these underneath the scrim and use them as a pattern. Some of them have been scored and will be laid on top of the muslin, and then "pounced" with charcoal so that a pattern or outline will appear when the template is removed.

$1250 Our Properties craftspeople build some fancy custom fine furniture for our productions at a fraction of retail cost, and we will often re-upholster existing furniture to unify a piece into the show's design. $1250 purchases upholstery fabric and draperies for the style of production typical of The Sisters Rosensweig. Right now they are working on building gravestones (above) for the Cherry Orchard. The forms are first cut and carved to the designers specification, and then will be textured and then painted. All scenic materials are also treated with an appropriate form of fire retardant so that they are safe to use in a place of assembly.

November 22, 2006

How much is that doily in the window

Part II

$750 buys the decorative elements for one wall of a living room set. Home improvement manufacturers provide us with many of the specialty moldings, banisters, turned railing posts, niches, wood veneer, door knobs and plaster medallions that you’ve seen on sets such as The Hopper Collection or Sisters Rosenswieg. These items often come in wood, plastic, or plaster in order meet the unique demands of flexibility, durability and weight that theatre productions require, and it’s cheaper to buy them than it is to manufacture ourselves. The railings, stair parts, and door hardware on a set such as our 2006 production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (photo: T. Charles Erickson) might run as high as $8000.

$300 will allow us to add rubber soles and heels to the shoes of 7 actors. Most shoes come from the store with slick leather outsoles, which would be dangerous for actors onstage and off. They therefore almost all get "rubbered" by a shoemaker, except for sneakers and other shoes with adequate traction. Union requirements specify that anyone who dances in our shows must have brand new shoes for each production. The shoe bill for our 2004 production of Bad Dates was exceptional. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

$1300 buys an unpainted full stage muslin backdrop. A blank full size painter's scrim costs about $1900. Our scenic artists create all of the Huntington backdrops here on site, such as the reproduction Fragonaurd painting in Liaisons or the sky drop in The Hopper Collection. Right now and for the next 4 weeks Roberto and Lori and their crews are painting the drops, trees, and interior set for our January 2007 production of The Cherry Orchard as seen below (photo: Ralph Funicello). They are working in both our Huntington Avenue paint shop, and in one of WGBH's old studios. This show takes up a lot of floorspace, and we need every inch. I'm hoping to have lots of progress photos for you over the next month or so. Scenery, Props, and Costumes all have cameras and will be clicking away during their builds. Paints will have a camera at each of the shops they are working in.

And one slightly off topic note. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire was in town on Sunday to see our production of his Rabbit Hole and speak at the Humanities Forum following the show. Literary Manager Ilana Brownstein passed on the following comments from him to the staff in an email earlier this week:

"David is thrilled with this production in its entirety - cast, design, direction, and support - and wanted me to specifically thank all of you for the wonderful experience. He particularly enjoyed being able to see his play with a cast who found different highs and lows than his NY cast did; he felt it revealed brand new things to him about the play and its inner life. He's felt very well taken care of, even though he was only involved minimally and from afar, and offers his gratitude to the entire Huntington family for the success of this show. "

It's nice to get a rave review from the playwright! Thanks to you, too, David. We've about 14 performances of Rabbit Hole left. Don't miss it. Kitchen Cupboards, from Ikea, $3600.

November 21, 2006

Where the money goes

I prepared substance of this post (and the next few) as a tool for our Development department to illustrate what the production department spends it's budgets on. Looking back on it last week for an update I thought it might be fun to share it with you, along with some photos of our productions over the last few years. Enjoy!

$50 Buys two gallons of scenic paint. Our paint shop uses an average of 40 gallons per show, over 300 gallons in a season. Left over paint is mixed and treated with flame proofing compounds to be used as a fire retardant back paint on our scenery to meet fire code and help insure the safety of our staff and patrons. In this picture you can see the scenery representing the Baths created for our 2005 production of The Rivals. The dimension seen on this exterior is 30% real, 70% paint technique. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

$100 Buys some beautiful wool fabric imported from England from which to tailor a man's suit. For the entire suit, that's about three yards - then we add linings, interlinings, buttons, zippers, etc. Not to mention the tailoring itself! Some of that is done in house, some is sent out. We purchase “stock” fabrics, such as linings, muslins, and the above wool cloth each season in bulk, often from overseas, for the quality and reasonable cost. Pictured here are the sharply attired Roosevelt Hicks (James A. Williams) and Harmond Wilks (Hassan El-Amin) in our Fall 2006 production of August Wilson's Radio Golf. Photo: Eric Antoniou.

$175 Condoms for a musical. Yup, condoms. There seems to be something in the water here, with 10% of the production staff this year welcoming a newborn family member, but that has nothing to do with our support of the Trojans. Musicals often require wireless microphones which consist of two parts; the first is the mic, which is often placed in the actor’s hair or wig. The second is the transmitter, which is hidden on the performer in any number of locations, such as the small of the back, inner thigh, or even under a wig. You can imagine these locations can get moist and steamy as we have not yet developed actors who don’t sweat. Electronics and moisture don’t mix well so to protect the actor and equipment the transmitter is protected by an (un-lubricated) condom. One per actor per show. Shown here is the full cast of the Huntington Theatre Company's 2005 production of Falsettos. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

$350 Gets us 18 sheets of ¼” MDF, or 19 pieces of 24’ 1” tube steel, or 650 board feet of 1”x 4 “pine, or twenty four 30’ tape measures, or six “kegs” of screws and fasteners. Materials for our scenery can range from $14,000 for a small show such as 2006's The Road Home to $50,000 for a large show such as Love's Labour's Lost, with that amazing tree. A musical which can included many computer controlled winches that speedily moved scenery on and off stage can easily top $100,000, illustrating one of the reasons we don't do them that often. In this photo Dumaine (Eric Anderson) proclaims his love thru poetry as his compatriots peer down from a tree in the our 2006 production of Shakespeare’s comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Nicholas Martin. Photo: © T. Charles Erickson.

I might get another post out this week as it will be pretty quiet around here tomorrow, but if not I'll give my Thanksgiving nod now. Thank you to my staff and co-workers for making this job such a pleasure. Most of the time. Really.

November 14, 2006

Opening Night - Rabbit Hole

I'm late, I know, sorry.

I enjoyed the long Holiday weekend and then got a little swamped back at work on Monday. I've been pestered by perhaps 6 people thus far for the next post, so someone is reading. Glad to hear it. Hannah Cohen, was that your comment on the last post? Hannah was a Stage Management student at BU who helped us out as a Production Assistant on several productions, including What the Butler Saw, one of my favorites. She is now in NY doing what, Hannah?

Opening Night was a lot of fun. There are a lot of little opening night traditions and festivities around here, so I thought I'd share a few of them with you. I didn't have my camera, so no photos.

In our costume shop the gang stops work at around 4 PM to have their usual tea... however the opening night spread is not usual. This time around there was a birthday (Jeffery's) and a baby shower (Rachel's) to celebrate too so the room was crowded with folks, gifts, and pie. So much pie. There are always yummy nibbles here, as well as good company, so I try to drop in before I head out to the pre-show dinner.

Company management does a wonderful job of presenting the cast and crew with a cast picture taken at photo call, as well as a framed show poster. I think I've managed to avoid the cast photo for 14 years, though I'll challenge anyone to prove me wrong. The green room is usually overflowing with flowers sent from well wishers and baskets of candy and food. So is the run room (where the crew hangs out). Enough sugar already! And where's my poster??

Huntington Board Members and special guests attend a pre-show reception and dinner. There's usually at least one staff person per table and tonight I was one of them. We were at the Colonnade, just down the street, and approximately 90 guests braved the rain. I was seated with Huntington Trustees Ken Colburn and Jim Dillon, and Overseer Katherine Kane and their guests.

Seated next to me was a friend of Jim's, author Andy Savitz, who has some interesting views on corporate responsibility. Here's a quote from his latest book"The Triple Bottom Line", of which he is (or was) currently out on book tour."The truly sustainable company," Savitz concludes, "would have no need to write checks to charity or 'give back' to the local community, because the company's daily operations would not deprive the community, but would enrich it."

He said as much in our conversation and I didn't quite comprehend where he was going from our short dinner conversation. I'm thinking I'll have to read it. We also had a fascinating chat about how the Huntington, or companies like us, measure success. It's a very interesting question. I think the answer could be very different depending on who's answering the question. Do you perceive us as successful? Why and on what basis?

I'm rambling.

After dinner came the show... it was a nice big slightly soggy crowd and all seemed to have a good time. I have to confess I didn't watch (just listened from my office). We've received a lot of nice reviews and here's a sample from The Boston Globe, The Phoenix, and Edge Boston.

Post-show the cast, crew and staff went up to the rehearsal hall for THE opening night party. Complete with DJ and food catered by Bob's Southern Bistro the place was soon thumping and shaking... first ones out on the dance floor were director Joey Tillinger and his cast. Nice! And the cast of Mauritius stopped by for some fun too. I saw a bunch of cell phone photos being taken, but my sources have yet to provide me with anything juicy... come on, kids!?!

It was a well deserved night of celebration. We've now opened three out of seven, all in the first three months of our 10 month season, so that's a definite relief. Now it's on to Nick Martin's first show of the season, The Cherry Orchard. Rehearsal start December 5th so it's just a breath away.

One more item to share for those who saw Mauritius. I think there may be a sequel here, Teresa!

And Congrats to Rachel on the birth this morning of little Ava Marie... may she follow in Mom's footsteps and lead the next generation of theatre pro's!

Photo (above) Izzy (Geneva Carr, l.), Becca (Donna Bullock, c.) and Nat (Maureen Anderman) cut Izzy's birthday cake in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, running through Dec. 3 at the Boston University Theatre. Photo: Eric Antoniou.

November 7, 2006

4... 3... 2... 1...

November 4 - 7

I don’t have much to say as I took Saturday (Day 4) and Sunday off. If I’m needed I’ll get called and I don’t. I get to spend the day concentrating on the “Domestic Arts” (thanks Meg). There is no rehearsal, just brief notes with the cast after the show. The director asks us to add the following line to the pre-show recording; “If you feel the need to enjoy a hard candy during the performance, please unwrap it… now.” It’s a cute line that usually gets a laugh, but it doesn’t seem to stop the crinkling. We stopped using it a few years ago.

Sunday night (Day 3) there was silence as the curtain fell, and a good long pause before the appreciative audience began to applaud. Maureen Anderman (Nat) reported that the cast was thrilled… sometimes it means more us when people are so moved that they sit silent and mesmerized for a few moments. You know they have taken the journey with you.

Monday (Day 2) is the actor’s day off. Not much at all going on for Rabbit Hole. The mattress is getting dyed so it’s not as bright, and the floor gets a final coat of polyurethane. There’s payroll to check (or at least I was supposed to), we welcome some new overseers at an orientation over at the Pavilion, and I have a conference with a designer for a room that we are hoping to convert into a lounge in the lower lobby. And I get reminded that I have a quarterly budget update due tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday (Day 1) is our final preview. We had a production staff meeting this morning, Mauritius closes on Sunday, and Cherry Orchard production started yesterday, so we have a lot to discuss. Then I blasted out payroll, weekly budget reports, the quarterly projections for our finance committee coming up, and set up my staff's reviews. Hence all of the blog posts late today :-)

The big day is tomorrow... OPENING NIGHT! I'll tell you all about it after I recover.

(Photo: Howie (Jordan Lage, r.) and Becca (Donna Bullock) come to terms with their future lives in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, running through Dec. 3 at the Boston University Theatre. Photo: Eric Antoniou.)

5... First Preview

Day 5. Friday, November 3

What is a preview? From the point of view of the audience member it’s usually a fairly normal performance. We sell tickets to subscribers and the public, though at a slight discount, and invite some of our neighbors to come for very little (thanks to an outreach sponsorship from Citizen's Bank). We also have pay your age previews. It’s amazing to me how many of our subscribers really like to come to the first preview. They like seeing something that is out there for the first time to an audience, and know there’s a chance they might see something that the rest of our patrons might never see, like a mistake, or something that get’s changed or cut before press Opening on Wednesday. What makes it different is that we’ll take what been learned from experiencing the show with an audience and try to meld that in. And we usually keep rehearsing, with up to five hours of rehearsal a day until opening. I’ll watch first preview but then, if I can manage, not see it again until opening. Often it’s a very different experience after a few days away. In a good way.

We didn’t rehearse much today though, after spending a half hour working with some new TV cues the cast arrives and they run a couple of scenes. They only work about an hour together.

Four year old Gabe Emerson (the voice of Danny) came in and gave his advice. Turns out his true calling may be that of Director. Watch out. Really though it was very touching to have a four year old hanging around the set. It was a little spooky to see him playing in the bedroom. The show now has it's ghost.

The preview goes well. It’s fun to sit in the crowd and hear them whisper to each other. It’s not so fun to listen to the opening of the candy wrappers.

(Photos: (top) Howie (Jordan Lage) attempts to relax his wife Becca (Donna Bullock) with a massage. (Bottom): Nat (Maureen Anderman, l.) and Becca (Donna Bullock) share a quiet moment in Danny's room in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, running through Dec. 3 at the Boston University Theatre. Photo: Eric Antoniou.)

Day 6: Invited Dress Rehearsal

Day 6. Thursday, November 2.

Today we ran the show twice, the first time in the afternoon after some brief work notes. Things are in good shape and we’re still doing a little finessing. Now is the time that we begin to give the show back to the cast. They have not really been able to get into the show since last Saturday as we have been constantly interrupting the show with adjustment making. A little change in blocking here, or a few minutes spent tweaking a lighting cue. We’re pretty much done with that now, so the cast can now begin to find the rhythm of the piece again on their own. Almost…

The afternoon’s run is photo call. During the run our photographer will take the production photos. The photographer will take several hundred shots and of these we’ll pick the 10 or 12 that you’ll see in the press and in our media from here on out.. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a pain for the actors to hear the constant clicking and film reloading during the run.

Tonight we give them a more realistic shot at it. No interruptions, no stops. Even a bit of an audience; we’ve invited some 60 or so of our neighbors from Fenway Community Health Center, Boston Conservatory, and Home for Little Wanderers to attend the invited dress. This medium does not work until it the experience is shared with an audience, and tonight we begin to see what is there; when the audience breathes as one, laughs (or doesn’t), and where we lose their attention. And we listen to what they’re saying as they talk to each other on their way out. It's much better than a survey form… you get the real candid reactions. It’s the beginning of what the next five days will bring.

(Photo: Izzy (Geneva Carr) gets philosophic over a home-made baked good in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, running through Dec. 3 at the Boston University Theatre. Photo: Eric Antoniou.)

November 2, 2006

Dress Rehearsals - Day 8 and 7

Day 8: Tuesday, October 31

Yesterday’s work has paid off. The set is looking great and it’s fun to look around and find the new stuff. Pictured here is assistant Props Master Brandon Ribordy admiring the fridge dressing. What’s wrong with this picture? Stainless steel does not attract magnets. We faked it.

Today is our second 10 out of 12 (ten rehearsal hours in a 12 hour span). I have a feeling we’ll be out early again. We start with tech of the last scene. Costumes has scrambled and will be ready to put everyone in costume for 1PM. Six hours earlier than originally scheduled. We’re ahead and we’re ready to see the clothes and try all of the fast changes.

The cast gets to eat a lot of dessert in this show. Crème caramel (yogurt), lemon squares, and a chocolate birthday cake (sugar free, no trans fat). Any local bakeries care to help out??? There’s a fair share wine consumed as well. That’s just still water with a little coloring.

I’m right. We end early, shortly after 10 pm.

Day 7: Wednesday, November 1

This afternoon we do a little tech stuff in the afternoon, and then a full dress run in the evening. There’s a cake crisis today. We don’t have a (working) oven on site, still can’t find a local bakery that does sugar free (what’s up with that Whole Foods??) and the cast doesn’t want leftovers. Props asks if they can run over to my apt and bake. Unfortunately I recently let my housekeeper go and there is no way I’m letting anyone near my kitchen with out spending a few hours cleaning up. We discover that one of our microwaves is a convection combo and the baking experiments begin. It was all frustrating and silly but if that’s the biggest problem we’re fixating on I’m not too worried. What are some of the other issues… it’s a little tricky to plumb a sink that moves around onstage. Much like an RV we have to use a pump to get the water flowing. And a pump makes noise. Another issue is the TV where the hubby watches his videos. We’ve managed to place the screen so it’s not visible to the audience, and now we’re working to make it look like it’s actually playing something so that you’ll see the light flashing realistically. It will take a bit of playing around to get it right.

My new laptop arrived this afternoon, so I got a chance to play a little. Found this on Julie White (Bad Dates and the title character in Persephone performed at our Breaking Ground festival last spring). Julie is so much fun… she guest judges on Iron Chef America once in a while and steals the show.

And Radio Golf scene designer David Gallo talks about his latest project Evil Dead:The Musical on the NY Times website. I’m not sure how to link directly to the slideshow, so look for the audio slide show link in the multimedia square. David was telling us back in September about all of the fun they were having with the blood FX.

(Photo: Julie White in Bad Dates. Photo taken by T. Charles Erikson)

All in the Family

Day 9: Monday, October 30th

Today is the Actor’s Day off. Lighting and Sound are also laying low. Scenery, Props, and Paints hit the stage in full force to knock out as many of the notes as possible. It’s all the finishing touches. Slight adjustments on the wagons to make them quieter and more level. The finish molding is added to the walls. More boxes of set dressing are pulled from props storage, and a few shopping bags full of Crate and Barrel. Scenery cuts one of the kitchen cabinets down so the sightlines to the sink are better. This house is started to look lived in.

I would like to introduce you to Gabe Emerson, son of Ben and Virginia, our Audio Supervisor and Assistant Costume Director respectively. The deceased character of Danny, around whom the grief of this story revolves, is heard in a video tape that the father sneaks down to the living room to watch every night. We needed a four year old to do a voice over. Our sound man has a four year old. How convenient. It turns out that Gabe is quite the little actor, and did very well with the lines. It’ll break your heart.

Actor’s Equity allows us to use one or two “Non-Pros” a season (unless it’s a really big cast, or a student) so Gabe was it. No need to hire a casting director! Thanks to Mom and Dad Emerson for their assistance and coaching. All recordings were made in the comfort of the Emerson household. Gabe is coming by to meet the cast and crew on Friday. This is him in his Halloween Costume. I assume Mom made it.

If he wears it again we have plenty of candy.