Author Topic: CALLING: "calling a show by feel"  (Read 12046 times)

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BalletPSM

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CALLING: "calling a show by feel"
« on: Jan 17, 2007, 09:53 am »
Please note -- I'm taking a quote from another forum on this board (*things you'll never hear a stage manager say..*) and starting a new topic with it because I'd like to start a discussion.

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I'm calling this show... by feel.

Seriously, no one's ever said something similar to this before?  =)  It seems to me that there's always some level of "feel" when you are calling a show; especially a straight play -- you really have to be at one with the actors; feeling where they're at that night so that you can call the best possible performance for that particular night.  I mean yes, you have everything written down and there are certain exact times that you have to do the Q, but that exact time depends on the exact time the actor decides to say his line or to move SL to SR.  

I did a show in college called "Still Life with Iris," by Steven Dietz.  It's a beautiful piece of children's theatre and I loved working on it. A little girl, Iris, gets taken away to the "Land of the Great Goods" because the rulers there think she is the one perfect little girl -- as a consequence, she loses all her memories, but happens to retain one button from her coat from her former life, and every time she holds it, she sees the memory of a table and chairs from her home -- but doesn't know what this memory is.  the play takes us through her search to try to figure this memory out so she can get back home.  There is a recurring moment in the show where Iris holds up her button, the 3rd movement from the serenade for winds (K. 361) by Mozart plays , and these sails came in and the image of her home was projected on them...and then it faded away as she realized she didn't know what the memory was. The q-ing sequence for this was something like, "lx go, sound go, deck go (the sails), projection go" (then there was a short wait while the memory happened) then I had to call everything out in reverse order.  

So, opening day of the show (it was mostly all matinees since it was children's theatre) my last great grandparent died -- and for the rest of the run I was on pretty heightened emotions.  Every performance, the "memory moments" became more and more beautiful and poignant and it became increasingly difficult for me to call everything out -- and I could tell that the actress playing Iris was experiencing the same thing (she was a senior and this was her last production), and so each night this sequence got a little bit longer as neither of us wanted to end it (listen to the piece of music -- you'll understand why.  There is this long, sustained oboe note that I always wanted to hear the end of, but was supposed to call everything out in the middle of it).  The last performance I was practically in tears as I called the last sequence out -- and Iris was too.  

It was weird -- it was truly a moment of "calling by feel."  Yes, the sequence was there and wouldn't change, but the timing of when I did it was just something I had to feel out with Iris every performance.  Certainly the whole show wasn't like this, but those three particular times that moment happened in the show was definitely something I had to do on feeling.  

Has anyone else had similar experiences to this?  
« Last Edit: Jun 09, 2009, 03:03 am by PSMKay »
Stage managing is getting to do everything your mom told you not to do - read in the dark, sit too close to the TV, and play with the light switches!

Balletdork

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I always call by feel... it's my only artistic ability and therefore contribution!

I think this is especially ture in dance, yes?  ;)

philimbesi

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I meant without out writing cues in the script.  Or looking at it ;)   Of course you go when the moment is right.  Sorry bad way of expressing myself.

I'm going through that right now, I'm calling The Last 5 Years.  The music is perfect and the performers are adding so much non verbal acting, and character development that I keep finding myself moving the que down a measure or two from where the LD wanted them.   

smsam

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Here Here! I always call the show by a certain amount of feel!

One of my Stage Management Idols and someone who mentored me when I was learning Stage Management was the one of the original SMs (DSM) on Les Mis. He always taught me that you had to call a show on FEEL! For example he said when he did Les Mis there were the cues that had to be precise, these were cues on the musical button or flying/ deck/ automation cues that would unsafe to call at a "different time" but for every one of these there were several more cues that required him to totally feel the emotion of the actor and the swell of the orchestra etc.! I have tried to follow his advice ever since and always tried to call as much by feel as by anything else!

I think however this is very different from calling a cue early or late! Feeling a cue is more about feeling the movement of the show and making sure the cue goes at the right "emotional point" rather than intentionally calling it a bit early or a bit late because you "feel like it!"!
Example... I once did a show called 'Alice' (Waites/ Wilson) that was a Musical Play about the life of Charles Dodgson and his rather strange relationship with Alice Liddle, the real Alice in Wonderland! There were several parts in this show where our very talented Dogson would just stand somewhere in silence and emote. Through these parts our equally talented Lighting Designer had several cues which were called on for example the build-up of his emotion and then at the peak of his emotion and then another during is anger etc. This would be very different every night and would require all of my energy to read the actor and go with him. By these cues in the book I even at the time wrote in big letters FEEL! The feeling calling it was however amazing  and I felt a lot more involved with the production on an artistic level. I certainly found as well that these cues took a lot more concentration and energy than calling the snap cues, following the score or calling complex deck sequences!

So in summary yes I agree there are some shows where feeling the action and the performance is integral to you calling the show as the director and designers intended, which is ultimately night and night what our aim is!

Sam x


Sam x

OldeWolf

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My current mentor is pushing me to do exactly this. He assures me I have the ability, the passion for theatre that it takes to truly become part of the show--which is what you are describing--moving with the emotions, with the rise and fall of the energy, responding to that energy, going on a move, a vibe, rather than just hitting a cue on a word or a cross DS. I sometimes doubt myself, get caught up in the words, the notes in my script. He's gone so far as to reach over and cover my book, forcing me to feel my way through two or three calls in a row. I no longer panic when he comes in to the booth during a show, but it's still a challenge.

Owen
All the world's a Stage...

Ellen B.

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I have had the note, "feel it more" before on individual cues for shows but on my current one I kept getting, "feel the entire show" and, "think of yourself as the fourth actor".  I asked the director if she had any advice on feeling it, especially as I was still trying to learn what happens visually in the scenes with no dialogue. 

I agree that it is important to be able to feel a show and still learning how to do so.

MarcieA

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I always call by feel...

I do too! Granted, there are some moments where counting is needed, IE: count 8 measures in 2 before bringing up the curtain call light, but about 80% of what I call is by feel, currently the rest of my show relies on sound and lights being called very specific to blocking. I think a big part of calling a good show is feeling the moment and making the cues respond to that. It's definitely it's own art form.

On a sidenote- BalletPSM, I worked on a play with Stephen about 4 years ago, it was wonderful, he was wonderful! He's a great guy!
« Last Edit: Jan 18, 2007, 01:43 pm by MarcieA »
Companions whom I loved and still love, tell them my song.

Canuck

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I agree that calling by feel is really important to the "well-being" of the production...a show called with a lot of connection between the booth and the actors just flows, and can be quite beautiful.  I just wish more inexperienced directors and lx designers would understand that and get off my back that I didn't call the cue on the exact syllable they had decided on!  I hope it's something they can learn with experience.

LiLz

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I think that most tech has an element that's done emotionally, or "by feel."  Your instinct tells you the exact moment to call or run a cue to create the perfect emotional effect.  I've been in the game long enough to have run many manual lighting boards and remember the amazing feeling of bringing those lights up, feeling the exact timing, creating what felt like an orchestral a swell as I brought them to full.  The same thing happens when running sound, though the analogy is more literal.  Learning to use instinct and my innate sense of artistic timing has been one of my favorite things about tech.

centaura

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I've had a lot of 'calling by feel' experiences.  I remember once in tech when I had a cue that we'd been playing around with the exact calling point of it, and during one of the runs I put it where it 'felt' right, instead of that day's trial word.  When we were done, the LD came to me and said 'That was perfect - keep it there'.

My first few years of touring was with small scale productions, were we hit the road without much tech-direction, because we knew that what we'd be getting tech-wise at each venue would vary wildly.  Things would range from a few strip lights controled by circuit breakers to full rep plots.  Most shows I would create the show lighting looks as I went along, using whatever I had at that local theatre.  So there would be a lot of variance from day to day - and a lot of 'calling' cues by the seat of my pants!

-Centaura

P.S> for me there was another line in that topic that I had to chuckle at - because I can honestly admit that I am a stage manager, ex-roadie, and I don't drink.

ljh007

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The flip-side of calling by feel...

I had made it through opening night of an opera that was not the very best experience bringing to the stage. The audience was tepid, old, and glued to their seats. The performance went well, and cast took one curtain call to polite applause. Before I could stop myself, I called the final sequence and took the curtain in. It wasn't a huge gaffe, but I realized right after the words came out of my mouth and the lights began to change, that I really called that too early because I couldn't wait for it to be over. The cast and director never said anything, but I am sure they could have taken another bow. I mean, no one was going to start throwing roses or anything, but... Oops.

OldeWolf

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Oh my...I just had a "flip side" moment, myself. Doing a set of 10 minute plays right now. The directors have left, but one left an actor "in charge" of his show. There is a sound cue for a telephone ring that was first cued to a word in a line. During tech we called it on the blocking and the director liked it. Then an actor changed the blocking and the director didn't object. Director is now gone, but the actor "in charge" sent me a note last night (through my ASM) that I've called the cue wrong for the last three nights--that it is to be on the cue word and nothing else." I'm going to have to discuss it with her and the actor IN the scene this evening. She's back stage during that part of the play so can't see what the energy and movement are looking like. I'm not going to fight with her about it. If I can't convince her that the call really was moved to the blocking cue, I suppose I'll just call it on the cue word and let it look stupid. I love community theater...

Owen
All the world's a Stage...

ljh007

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Owen -
The mischief maker in me responds...
Oh, of course I would be more than willing to call the cue whenever and wherever the actor wants. After all, she's the actor.

But the ring would suddenly sound different every night.

OldeWolf

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LOL...THAT would be choice!

I ended up having to talk to every actor in the play, individually as they came in, each of them anxious to let me know there was a problem with the cue. While a monumental waste of 20 minutes of my time in terms of dealing with the cue itself--I showed them the written change in my script and each apologized for causing grief--it was a "teachable moment". I was able to give four actors a lesson that I hope will last through their careers. I pointed out that if one (or all) of them had come to me directly, immediately after the performance, I'd have pointed out the change and that would have been the end of it, saving much time and angst. I also impressed on them the notion that any issue they had with my cues should come to me DIRECTLY, and not through my ASM.

I still believe that's the best way the issue should have been handled, and that my ASM should have sent the problem to me rather than taking a note, but am now starting to second guess myself. My ASM is a seasoned SM with far more experience than I have. I know it doesn't mean she knows it all. How do others think it should be handled? Aside the fact that actors supposedly don't "get a vote" on how a show is called, do other SMs prefer that actors (and others) go through their ASM with issues like this? I prefer to be accessible and pro-active, interacting with the cast before performance, checking in with them at intermission, giving them notes as soon as possible after.

Any input?

Owen
All the world's a Stage...

ReyYaySM

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Aside the fact that actors supposedly don't "get a vote" on how a show is called, do other SMs prefer that actors (and others) go through their ASM with issues like this?

Anytime that an actor has a note involving another actor or the way that the show is called, I ask that they speak with me directly as opposed to giving my ASM a note to give to me.  They can give my ASM a note asking me to come see them after the show, but I think in instances like this things get lost in translation when the ASM is acting as a middleman.  I'm more than happy for them to give my ASMs technical notes regarding props, wardrobe, and set issues that are affecting them (i.e. a button came off of my coat; there is a nail sticking up, can you put another piece of glow tape by the couch), but acting and cueing issues should come to me.  Just like you, I'm available before the show, at intermisison, and after the show if they need to talk.

And moving back to the original topic...
I definitely call my shows by feel.  During tech and the first week, my eyes are glued to the page when I'm cueing a sequence, but once I become familiar with the calls, I hone the exact call of it based on the emotion and action onstage during the specific performance while still staying true to the original intent of the director and designers. 

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