Sisyphusian Stage Management
Working as the Production Manager at Third Avenue Playhouse can at times feel like a task suitable for Sisyphus. Every night after the lights are down and the actors depart, the stage must return to its original state. The slate is wiped clean so that everything can happen in precisely the same way the next night.
This idea of repetition is quite appropriate when thinking about the run of one of our spring shows, True West. For the unfamiliar True West is Sam Shepard’s introspective look at a dysfunctional pair of brothers spending a few days destroying their mother’s house. Our production included about 20 toasters, 6 of which functioned on stage, three drawers that were mostly duct tape by the end of the run, and two typewriters, one of which is now sitting in a pile of its component parts in the TAP basement.
Every night throughout the run Doug Mancheski and Jonathan Wainwright would gleefully trash the faux ranch house, tossing PBR cans and toast fragments all over our modest studio theatre. I watched each and every performance of True West and I (ironically) didn’t agonize while they broke set pieces, thinking of the repairs I’d soon be making, or worrying about the one hour clean up I had ahead of me after every performance. Instead of dreading watching them destroy my hard work every night, I reveled in it and enjoyed every second.
Different shows have different difficulties and our first production of the summer, Red by John Logan, is not free from its own challenges. The play follows mid-century artist Mark Rothko as he takes on a new assistant to help him with his Seagram’s Murals. Naturally this production deals with paint, which can be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to consistency.
Figuring out how to restore the set to its state at beginning of the show when paint is involved understandably has its own set of trials. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out a formula to make paint that could easily wash off of a canvas as well as believably look like paint. This formula was recently perfected by one of our fabulous interns when my mix fell a bit short of ideal.
When the audience leaves and the cleanup begins, it can sometimes be hard to remember the justification for the crumbs still sitting in the seams of the stage and the paint staining my shorts (which I have entirely given up trying to clean). You don’t even get the pleasure of destroying a pure white canvas by engulfing it in burgundy, an indulgence enjoyed by our incredibly talented actors Drew Brhel and Matt Frye. It’s easy to forget that during the show, watching the destruction, seeing the play come to life validates the work.
I am following a well-trodden path saying that Thespians are at heart storytellers. Telling a story in theatre in many ways transcends the idea of simple entertainment. When seeing a truly great production the audience can get lost in the story for a night. I know I’m excited to get lost watching Matt and Drew throwing paint and messing up the set, even if it means the TAP interns and I will have to stay a bit late after the show.
Logan Thomas is the Production Manager at Third Avenue Playhouse. “Red” by John Logan opens Thursday, June 29th and runs through July 22nd.