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Messages - ljh007

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Stage Management: Plays & Musicals / Re: PROPS: Prop turkey
« on: Oct 24, 2014, 09:07 am »
Painting (especially spray paint) over netting will help get that "chicken-skin"/goose-bumps texture of raw poultry.

Cardboard peat pots for gardening are also very flexible to shape and have a nice bumpy texture.

This might be a helpful article:

Good luck and gobble gobble!

Employment / Re: Freelancing - How far out do you commit?
« on: Jun 25, 2009, 06:52 am »
I was usually booked 6-12 months out. But like Matthew says, sometimes the far future bookings would end up limiting my flexibility to take other great opportunities that might come up. So I just needed to be confident that the long-term planning was really worth committing to (and that they would stay committed to me and to the show - and not cancel, which can occasionally happen too).

It's just my opinion, and the lawyer genes in my blood, but I don't count on anything until there's ink on paper (and/or a plane ticket when applicable). I am hopeful and optimistic about gigs, but I won't make any arrangements that can't be adjusted or that limit my other options until there's a formal commitment. I've seen it happen to SM friends taking gigs by word of mouth, internet postings, or even gigs that are coming through a series of interviews at very reputable professional theatres. Until there's a contract, there isn't a gig.

I've "accepted" jobs over the phone, with the understanding that a contract is coming later, plenty of times - especially for unusual or last-minute gigs. But I just don't count on anything until we've got a formal document.

Employment / Re: Moving for a Career
« on: May 25, 2009, 09:13 am »
I loved my theatres and friends in Columbus, Ohio, but eventually just couldn't make a living at it in that town and so was gigging and traveling more than I wanted to be. When a full-time gig came up in DC, I took it and am so glad I did. I was actually offered a full-time gig in Nashville at the same time, and so the choice between hip-but-Tennessee town with a great company or the big-city-top-tier company was a choice that shaped my life. My husband and I decided we needed a city adventure, and we have enjoyed the DC theatre scene - as a gigging SM and an audience member - ever since.

Stage Management: Other / Re: 15 vs 30 second timings
« on: May 25, 2009, 09:08 am »
It's not a scientific answer, but I vary by show. If I'm doing a more standard park-and-bark opera, or I know the director and expect simpler blocking, less complicated cue sequences, etc, I'll do 30"'. But if I know it's a busier show with lots of stage and cue action, or if the tempo for the overall piece is faster, I'll go with 15"'. My default is probably 15"'. It's certainly more specific and pays off throughout the show in terms of paperwork, planning, etc. But it has been known to happen that my prep time is rushed, my brain is full, and I have trouble taking the time and concentration to make 15"' timings in a full 3.5-hour opera, so I just run with 30"'.

Employment / Re: Share your special skills
« on: Apr 13, 2009, 07:30 pm »
I have studied flamenco dance on and off for years. It is an often imitated dance onstage, but theatres rarely get the posture and technique really correct. I also am a classically trained pianist and can lead vocal warmups and teach actors how to fake playing. (This is not so impressive in opera, where everyone plays piano and speaks at least 3 languages.  :P)

My husband has a really dorky hobby of painting fantasy miniatures (like, little elves and swordsmen and dragons and stuff). When we were first dating, this was not exactly the thing that won my heart until the day I was working a show where we needed to purchase and then paint about 200 little plastic Catholic saint statues (Lonesome West). Though not involved with theatre, when he heard about my current prop dilemma, he jumped in and painted all the darn things in about a day and a half. We got married 5 years later.

Employment / Re: An Employment Dilemma
« on: Apr 12, 2009, 05:31 pm »
From what I've heard from friends working with Cirque, the company is putting anything they can on hold right now. Preproduction is being postponed, new openings are being delayed. Lots and lots of people who have gone through the many interviews of Cirque, and even people with signed contracts, are now finding their lives (and incomes) indefinitely on hold. So I would strongly recommend you fill the meantime with any work you can secure. Certainly Cirque is trying to get their shows up and running, but the economy has hit them hard and they've hit the 'pause' button on everything for a while.

Stage Management: Other / Re: Things to look for in opera
« on: Apr 08, 2009, 08:08 pm »
If you're working wardrobe, you will get to know the artists (=singers) in a much more... profound... way. You'll observe them vocalizing in their dressing rooms, going through superstitious pre-show routines (in my experience, way weirder than some things actors used to do), and concocting bizarre herbal throat coating teas at the coffee station backstage. You'll learn who are the divas - insisting that the designer is purposely trying to make them look terrible, and the lovelies - ready to go with the flow and laser-focused on their vocal performance.

Definitely stay aware of the backstage rhythm. The SM calls 5-minute places calls, which is rarely done in other disciplines. Since opera tends to have scene changes and heavy backstage activity only at act changes, the stagehands have this brilliant intuitive awareness of when we're coming up on 10-minutes-to-intermission, etc. (And I say intuitive because 80% of the crew I've worked with truly never learn or remember the music, even after weeks of running. It's all that backstage sense of timing.)

Sometimes wardrobe pages follow the singers around with slippers, a dressing robe, and/or a glass of water. But I doubt this will happen in college opera. It is usually reserved for the uber-divas at upper level houses.

The biggest thing about opera - and the thing that fascinates me night after night - is the push and pull of the stage action versus the music. Ideally they merge seamlessly, one element enhancing the other. In reality, the director and conductor - or more likely the singer and conductor - debate over music versus action. Can they sing properly lying in that weird position? Can they see the conductor? (If not, should the conductor just - gasp! - follow the singer through her coloratura?) Does the diva really always have to be DSC for the aria? No seriously - really? You might even overhear some debates in rehearsal where the tenor wants to transpose higher, and the conductor resists (maybe because the tenor doesn't really have the note); the soprano wants to hold her high note forever, and the conductor wants to push on with the music; the director wants the duet to be sung as the artists struggle against each other viciously, but the singers want to stand and stare at the conductor. Listen to these character-revealing debates. And then hold your breath to see what really happens in performance (will he push higher? will he crack? will she hold the note? will the conductor drown her out out of spite? will the duet begin with through-the-motions struggling and end as a park-and-bark?).

Oh what fun!

For a more entertaining take on the bloodsport that is opera, check out the smart and sassy blogger OperaChic at

Employment / Re: Finding SM's to hire
« on: Apr 08, 2009, 07:51 pm »
This doesn't answer your question of where to post, but I recommend you post the job as far in advance as possible. Even if you have a range of dates, but not specific dates, post something and start looking. SMs, as you know, book ourselves years out whenever possible. There will always be people who can jump on a show at the last minute, but it's always best for everyone to get the team together early.

Employment / Re: Where do I begin?
« on: Mar 22, 2009, 12:17 pm »
Your visa status will be a major concern when you enter the professional arena. Very few theatres will be willing and/or able to help you with your application, especially as you will be a young SM without much experience. You should think about your options now and learn all you can while you are still a student so that you can take the best steps quickly when you graduate in order to stay in the country and secure SM jobs.

There are ways to coordinate a work visa through another "day-job" type employer, or to secure consistent work with a foreign director or designer who can include you as a member of his/her team when they are brought into a theatre for a production (this happens only at larger, professional theatres; it happens a lot in opera). You may want to consider taking steps to remain on a student visa in some way - as a part-time student or pursuing some variety of fellowship - so that you can take low- or non-paying SM gigs to get experience in the time after graduation.

It will be quite a challenge to secure a valid visa status, get work, and make a living when you graduate. But it can be done! If you learn all you can (in school and about the US visa requirements), understand all your options and keep your enthusiasm going through all the difficulties, you can find a way to make it all work for you. Good luck!

As a general rule right now, I would recommend you apply only for positions that are posted. Hirers are getting flooded with resumes, and it will improve your chances by applying only at appropriate times. Others might disagree, but this would be my advice right now. Use networking opportunities to get your name out there in the meantime.

Employment / Re: How to Tour with Dance Companies?
« on: Mar 01, 2009, 10:44 am »
Though I've never SM'd with a dance company (I've worked as a General Manager of a dance company briefly), I imagine the hiring process is similar to other SM areas. Throw your resume out there and try to get as many interviews as possible.

I've been reading news articles about a strange phenomenon in the dance world right now where, due to the terrible economy, some companies are touring less and yet at the same time other companies are touring more. It depends on what their ticket sales are like in their hometown. Sometimes going on the road, while an expensive undertaking, can bring in more profit than doing shows in a small and slow-selling hometown theatre. Other times, the company can't muster the staff/agent organization or the initial funds needed to launch a tour and so they're canceling road shows. Check, to the extent you are able, whether companies you'd like to tour with may be considering canceling their tours. You probably won't be able to get a clear answer, but digging for some info could be helpful and protect you a bit.

I hope our resident dance SM's here on SMNetwork will share their tips on getting hired here.

And there are some good posts on working in dance in general on our "Other" message board.

Employment / Re: Unemployment Benefits Claims??
« on: Feb 26, 2009, 07:38 am »
You may want to seek a quick letter from an attorney to the payroll company. It is very easy to ignore an everyday citizen like you. It is more difficult to ignore those letters that begin with "Please be advised that I represent..." Check in with a free legal clinic in your area, confirm that you are low-income "enough", and show up at an open advice clinic. You might be able to walk out with a letter that day. Since you don't have a need for ongoing representation (yet), a letter may be all it takes.

Healthcare claims denials are a very hot area right now and many community legal services providers are stepping up their focus on supporting individuals' rights when their claims are wrongly denied. Many employers are flatly denying everything, without any merit, in this tanking economy. See what resources might be available to you by searching for "legal aid" and/or "pro bono" and "healthcare" for your area. Check out to see what local organizations could work with you.

Employment / Re: Being new during tough times...
« on: Feb 11, 2009, 06:19 pm »
I really feel for you. I'm so sorry you are going through a rough time now.

It is totally understandable to have an emotional response to today's down market realities. Especially for people who work in theatre and other professions where we really give our hearts in our work. I hope you can come to terms with the fact that the company did not dismiss you for personal reasons - it's strictly business. You know you're still an excellent SM, and they do to. When things are back on track, I hope a good relationship can still be there.

If you've never gone through a period of unemployment as an SM, then good for you! You have been lucky. Even the best SMs go through downtime, especially early in their careers. And lots of great SMs will be out of work in the next few years. Having gone through periods (mostly short, thankfully) without steady work, I just want to give you a few pieces of advice:

- Stay busy, and stay on a schedule. Whether you get temp work, wait tables, or work at a coffee shop, get something to do most days. If you can't get part time work, volunteer. This is a great time to give back to our communities, and there is certainly need in so many areas. But the bottom line is, keep a bit of a schedule or else you'll go out of your mind. Even setting a firm time for household chores is a good first step.
- Keep track of your finances, but not to the penny. Reconsider expenses so you aren't in too much debt later. Maybe it's time to take a roommate. Maybe you could do without your gym membership. Evaluate your cash and your savings and keep yourself on a budget roadmap. It is important to live your life, to buy treats for yourself, and not to torture yourself counting every penny. But have the big picture clearly in your head.
- Job search as a part-time job. Spend structured time each day looking for jobs. But I personally recommend spending no more than four hours a day on job searching if you are fully unemployed. You'll drive yourself crazy and feel really hopeless after about two weeks. Spend a serious bit of time on it each day, and then go do other things. Spend time networking, too, at least once a week and much more if possible. This will often lead to jobs more quickly than sending out cold resumes.
- Take time to do what makes you happy. See your without-work spell as a gift. Go on a trip you've always wanted to take. Visit family. Do something creative you never had time to do - paint, write, go for long runs. Seize the moment and use it to grow your spirit. You'll look back on this time as a great opportunity instead of a black hole. To me, the most challenging part of being unemployed is dealing with the self-esteem issues that come up. It is essential to stay positive.

As others have said, this will pass. You will be hired again and you will work on fabulous shows. But this is a really challenging time for the national economy, and the arts are getting hit extremely hard. We will not be out of the woods for a while yet.

Employment / Re: Blacklist of companies for SMs?
« on: Feb 11, 2009, 05:50 pm »
Some members of SMNet have come at this question from the other side, and I think it works very well. When they are thinking about working for X company, they post on our boards: "Has anyone ever worked for X?" And other members respond by PM only. This gets valuable feedback to the inquiring member while maintaining confidentiality issues and the integrity of this site.

As Kay said, we have tried some sort of list in the past, and it hasn't seemed to meet the members' needs.

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