SATURDAY. I watched from the second story window of the Barn’s backstage crossover as a group of scenic technicians move frantically to uproot a new awning before a freakish, rogue windstorm beats them to the chase. The skies above loomed, apocalyptically. Heaps of twine and sawdust swirled together to form a funnel cloud of discarded—or otherwise, forgotten—iterations of creative vision. Somehow, it didn’t seem like a sufficient offering to keep the storm at bay. We’re too frugal for that. The god of gale force demanded wood scraps. A sliver of spare burlap. He could pry it from our cold, dead fingers!
The power had just gone out in the middle of my pre-show checklist. That’s right. I have a pre-show checklist. Because Shrek The Musical isn’t playing around, and they’ve called in the big guns. And by “big guns” I mean a twenty-nine-year-old writer with (at best) a paltry knowledge of musical theater and the hands of a donut maker. The Production Stage Manager, Whitney Keeter, doesn’t discriminate, though. There are a couple huge pieces of scenery to be moved and a veritable laundry list of other tasks that need designated oversight. I unplug/plug in the projector at the top of the show, take the Big Bad Wolf’s magazine before “Story of My Life,” dress/undress the castle arches with curtains, and hand maracas to the Ugly Duckling during “I’m a Believer” (which I’ve learned is best done with a flashlight).
If I’ve observed anything while on run crew at the Barn, it’s this place’s uncanny ability to be economical with things like physical space, precious commodities, and borrowed time. The Scenic designer is annoyingly efficient with the stage space he’s been given. Down to the fragment of an inch. I brush the corner of a mounted key light with a swinging castle door (and not because of someone’s negligence). It’s just good stewardship of space. Things like flashlights, batteries, bobby pins, borrowed fabric, and probably stray hairs get stored in safe places to be used again and again. Ensemble members gather round microphone stands backstage to sing company numbers while changing costumes. There’s even a moment I get to watch each night, featuring a mesmerizing quick change (which clearly must be witchcraft), as Fiona goes full ogre, at the hands of five or six designated assistants. I’ll never get over it.
My time in the wings is almost over now. It’s been instructive, to say the least. I’ve got one show left to adopt my pre-show ritual, as so many backstage seem to practice when they believe no one is looking. A prayer. A mantra. A quiet moment, eyes closed. A lone finger, bouncing to a bit of memorized choreography. Maybe I’ll understand it all, soon. Maybe I never will.
— by Nick May
For more Between the Boards, check out the New London Barn Blog HERE