THE PRODUCERS, April 18 – May 13 , 2018. Modern, Outrageous Humor! Tickets at americanstage.org/PARK | #asINTHEPARK #asPRODUCERS
Greetings, American Stage followers, and May the Fourth be with you! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) This week’s apprentice blog brings you to the heart of it all: backstage in the hour before we put on the huge hit musical THE PRODUCERS! Lots of work has happened to get us to this point, but that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax. From unloading set and prop materials to mic checks, sweeping the stage to handing out a special nightly award, the hour before the “curtain” rises on our park production is full of people running like clockwork to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. Watch below as Acting/Production Apprentice Courtney McLaren takes you on a little personal backstage tour of what enables this record breaking Tony Award winning musical to light up Demen’s Landing park night after night!
And don’t forget: THE PRODUCERS closes next Sunday (May 13th), so make sure you get your tickets if you haven’t already! Tickets and info can be found at americanstage.org/park.
Gala Under the Stars; 04/27/2018:
By Ally Thomas
Hello! My name is Ally Thomas and last season I was the Education & Outreach Apprentice at American Stage. I’m glad to continue working with the company as a Teaching Artist, and I’ve also been School Tour Manager for the past two years.
This spring I was hired to work with American Stage’s Advancement Department in preparation for company’s 27th annual Gala Under the Stars. The couple of months leading up to Gala are some of the busiest for everyone here at the theatre, and I’m glad I could join the team as we get ready for this special event.
For those who may not be familiar with Gala Under the Stars, it’s American Stage’s largest fundraising event of the year. Gala is held on opening night of the annual American Stage in the Park production in Demens Landing. This year’s event is a special landmark, as we’re currently celebrating the company’s 40th season. The 2018 Park production is Mel Brook’s THE PRODUCERS, and so the theme of Gala was “The Golden Age of Broadway”!
There are lots of moving parts to Gala night. Many months go into planning the event to ensure that our guests enjoy the show and have a lovely evening. Every detail of the guest experience is considered, from the menu to table place settings, to music. The team also organizes many “behind the scenes” logistics like the flow of our check-in line and the process for bidding at the silent auction. Most importantly, Gala is an opportunity to let the guests know about our stellar arts and education year-round programing and ways that they can support these programs. So we also work very hard to create the presentation about the special work American Stage does in the community.
I was primarily involved with organizing the Silent Auction. I worked with teams of volunteers to procure donations from all sorts of quality local businesses: clothing boutiques, jewelers, museums, cafes, and restaurants. We also reached out to theme parks, sporting teams and other Tampa and St. Pete favorite cultural sights! In total we had over 100 auction packages at the event.
One of my favorite parts of the evening is the Raise The Paddle for Education. It was so moving and humbling to see how many people saw the value of the work we do. Financial support for Education helps to increase accessibility of our programs, increasing the number of students reached through our camps, classes, school tour and student matinees. Especially as a teaching artist, it was very cool to witness that support and to know how many students’ lives would be changed for the better by a quality arts education.
Working on the Gala planning and preparation was just one of the many ways that my involvement at American Stage has shaped me as an early-career artist. Through performing in school tour, teaching in outreach programs, and taking improv classes, I have seen the incredible impact of theatre making in my own life and the lives of students. I’ve also experienced powerful stories on our main stage, and the ways that those stories can shape and inspire a community.
Last week, we gave you some insight into what it was like building and putting together the incredible technical spectacle that is American Stage in the Park. From building whole stages to renting cranes, it’s a lot. All of that work wouldn’t mean much, though, if we didn’t have an awesomely rehearsed and terrific production to put on that stage for you. This week, apprentices Tato Castillo and Courtney McLaren take you into the successes and challenges of preparing for a musical theatre juggernaut — a show with 12 Tonys to its name. Read on below to see what they have to say!
Hello! Courtney McLaren here, one of your 2017-2018 Acting and Production Apprentices and drumroll please, …… It’s Opening Night for our production of THE PRODUCERS in Demen’s Landing! (Opening Night is also, incidentally, a song I sing in the show!) Read further to discover a bit about my journey of being involved in such a grandiose production!
The journey of piecing together THE PRODUCERS, or any musical for that matter, is a layered process.
Week #1— We began day one with focusing on the music. Learning the songs, the harmonies, the length at which each note is held, the level of volume required per song, the style in which the song is sung etc. We then proceeded to go home and drill all we learned for the days and weeks to come. This is the base of the show. Then, our choreographer, Shain, and our director, Rye, divided and conquered the show with Shain focusing on the ensemble and large dance numbers while Rye directed the principals in scene work. At the end of the week we ran the entirety of Act one.
Week #2–The next week we went through the same process, but focusing on Act two. By the end of our second week, we were able to do a run through of the entire run of the show.
Week #3— Rehearsal for our third week brought us out into Demen’s Landing itself. We began to respace numbers, see how pieces translated from the rehearsal room to the stage, and work transitions in the daytime. The Florida heat did not make this process easy, but with everyone’s focus, high spirits, and the wondrous power of sunscreen, we pushed through. Nighttime rehearsals brought the marriage of the actor’s work, with the technical elements of light and sound, and the lengthy process of piecing together each piece. For a performer, the challenges of performing outdoors are palpable. Dancing and singing for hours with the sun bearing down upon you, is no walk in the park… (See what I did there!) Nighttime brings temporary relief but also bugs flying everywhere. And then, there’s the rain presents and THAT’S a whole other ballgame… However, despite the many hardships our outdoor setting provides, it is all worth it. There is nothing like standing on that stage, overlooking the outline of the glorious city of St. Petersburg with the wind blowing your hair performing in the capacity you love. Performing outside on such a grand scale, makes one feel connected to a theatrical history in one way. It gives me a sense of what it must have been to perform in the Rose theatre, or a Greek stage. It is a rare, and beautiful opportunity.
Week #4–This is the magical week with the highest pressure, in which all elements ranging from costumes, to performance, to sound effects, etc. are brought together to create the show — and that’s to say nothing of the preview performances. An audience is an essential factor to the rehearsal process, for what is theatre if it is not performed for an audience? An audience’s reactions provide essential knowledge to the creative team as to how their work is being received. Week four wraps up, FINALLY, with opening night! The culmination of weeks and month’s planning, rehearsing, and tireless hard work.
I was offered the position of an acting and production apprentices last July. Upon Stephanie Gularte’s generous offer, I asked for a weekend to consider my decision. During that weekend, I happened upon a friend of a friend who hails from the great city of St. Petersburg. When mentioning American Stage, the first thing she mentioned was the musical in the park they perform each year. From that moment onward, I knew that this musical was an important element to the community which I hoped to be a part of. When given the chance to audition, I planned it all carefully, singing a musical theatre standard, Always True to You, for my audition, choosing a theatrical joke for the joke they required, and finally giving it all in the dance auditions. I was enthralled when I heard I was chosen to be a part of this greatly talented cast. Musical theatre is my home within the world of entertainment, where I truly feel the most understood. It had also been about two and a half years since the opportunity to perform in a musical had presented itself to me. THE PRODUCERS also happens to be my first equity musical. This show has enabled me to do the work I want to do, at the level at which I want to do it. This experience was no easy task, challenging my focus, my abilities, and my talents. However, this is precisely what I longed for, and I have felt the years of dance lessons, voice lessons, college productions and more paying off. When I was in rehearsal for THE PRODUCERS, I often think back to the young girl playing dress up in her room, wishing that she could see whom she has become. Being in this show has proven to me that I can have a life pursuing what it is I love to do. American Stage’s production of THE PRODUCERS has given me everything. I know that when I step onstage on opening night, with my parents sitting in the audience, it will be a feeling quite unlike anything else.
After being in the rehearsal hall for two weeks, you really look forward to being in the park at last. The moment you step on the stage comes with a lot of anticipation. What things will I have to review? Rework? Reset? How much more space will we have to work with for the dance numbers? What is it like to rehearse outside?
When we got to the park it was a beautiful day. But the sun was persistent enough to make me put on sunblock before even stepping out of the trees’ shadows. You soon realize you’ll have to polish your camping skills as much as your performance.
Our stage manager gave us good advice and prepared us to bring the show to Demens Landing. So it was a breeze to set up. During downtime you can be in the sun on a towel or chair eating a snack but it’s a good idea to still be ready to work on stage as things are constantly moving and changing.
It’s a process like no other. The payoff comes a little sooner with Park. You just can’t consider your job all hard work when you are consistently able to enjoy the unique pleasure that comes with being in the park.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this, and please get out to Demens Landing to experience Mel Brooks THE PRODUCERS (which opens TONIGHT)! You can get your tickets and learn more at americanstage.org/PARK!
It’s no understatement to say that American Stage in the Park is the biggest thing the company does all year. Attracting thousands more audience members than we could hope to fit into our regular space over the course of one production, and boasting a history of more than 30 years, American Stage in the Park has become not only an important time for us, but an honored tradition in the Tampa Bay region. For those new to American Stage, American Stage in the Park is our yearly tradition of producing a big show under the night sky at Demens Landing in downtown St. Pete. It started as Shakespeare in the Park, but switched over in the past couple of years to bombastic musicals, such as SPAMALOT and HAIRSPRAY. This year, it’s THE PRODUCERS, and while the cast and show may have changed, many other things don’t. Something as immense as building a stage from the ground up, creating a set that reads from more than 40 feet away, and putting theatrical lighting and sound on top of all of that requires an experienced hand and established techniques. Two of us apprenti got to be heavily involved in the day to day of establishing our space out at Demens Landing, and you can read on below to find out what that was like and see some awesome pictures!
They’re not kidding around when they say Park is a beast. I’ve done outdoor theatre before, but even that couldn’t prepare me for the Broadway spectacular that is the Park show. I am extremely grateful to have had help in getting Park ready for the public. Not only am I the second assistant stage manager, but I have been working on build crew and lighting prep to bring the show to life. I remember I went out to Park the very first day of load in, and that day consisted of putting up 4 foot scaffolding and laying platforms on that scaffolding as our stage. Now, as we enter into our tech process, buildings have gone up, lights have been programmed, and scenery has been put on wagons. It’s amazing what work can be done in just a few short weeks and some dedication. My favorite part (though there are many) of the process so far was “Crane Day”. This is where a giant crane comes and hoists the lighting trusses into the air and places it where the lighting designer has specified. Beforehand, I got to spend two days with the lighting team prepping all of the lights and truss with labels to make lighting placement on Crane Day significantly easier. After the truss is in the air, all that’s left to do is program cues, which look phenomenal so far!
As far as construction goes, my personal favorite piece was the bridge that I built for “Along Came Bialy”. Blink and you might miss it, but this tiny little bridge is attached to one of the giant pink hearts that come rolling on during the Little Old Lady Land sequence. It’s just a simple little bridge that you might find in a lavish garden, but I tell you what, I’m super proud of it, and I’m glad it’s actually got a bit of a starring role. I also enjoyed putting the casters on the wagons for the set pieces and building the desks for the “I Wanna Be A Producer” number.
I’ve enjoyed spending time out at the Park, no matter how hot and sweaty it gets. I’m truly taking it in, making sure to spend some time with nature while working backstage. It’s a beautiful set, a beautiful location, and definitely a one of a kind experience. I’m so excited for everyone to finally be able to see how much work we’ve put into this, and hope they love it as much as I do.
I spent a lot of the time in the shop on this one. Now with both RAISIN and PRODUCERS (and many, many cuts of wood and flats constructed) under my belt, I have to say that I’m feeling like a pretty good amateur carpenter! Not bad for an actor, if I do say so myself. Jerid Fox outdid himself yet again on this one, both in terms of design and challenge. In order to establish the sense of being in the big city, Jerid utilized a technique known as “forced perspective” to give the audience the feeling that they were looking at the corner of a building head on — giving the set a feeling of depth and dimension. What this meant for us in the shop was cutting and working with angles — a LOT of angles. Saws can do some amazing things, let me tell you. So, instead of building your standard theatrical flat with straight on 90 degree angles, we had to cut many boards with angles varying from 20 degrees to 30 degrees so that when they fit together, they created this forced perspective. Oh — and did I mention many of these flats are 10, if not 20 feet high? Try building THAT on an eight foot long table… I also got to have a full hand in creating the lovely hearts you’ve seen in the picture above! That was a fun day’s work that started with literally tracing half of a heart onto a piece of ¾ ply, cutting it out with a jigsaw, screwing it to another full piece to router it out and copy the shape, and then sanding down the not-so-pretty edges. They didn’t turn out too bad, I think! Jerid also created in tandem with our featured artist, Chad Mize, a lovely silhouette of New York City that populates our backdrop and is beautifully illuminated by our light designer, Mike Wood. Look on below to see some of the progress photos from shop, to load in, to tech week!