Monday, February 25, 2013

The Question, February 25, 2013

(photo credit: Donald Rees)
If You Show Up On Time, You're Actually Late
by Estelle Rosen

Orlando Lopez, was born in El Salvador, and is currently finishing his BFA in Film Studies at Concordia University. He was part of Infinitheatre's "Trench Patterns" as an apprentice stage manager. He was also stage manager for Theatre Plant's "Triple Cross" presented at last year's Montreal Fringe and contributed a short film intro for Brave New Productions "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later". He’s also helping promote their latest project “ART” at this year’s Montréal En Lumière Festival. You can follow him on Twitter (@link2lando)

CHARPO: Why do you want to become a stage manager?

LOPEZ:  It was a rainy day sometime in late 2011 when I received a call from Anna Fuerstenberg. I was on the bus, and I couldn’t hear her properly, but it was a call I was happy to answer. “Orlando, do you remember me?” Of course, I said! How could I ever forget Anna? She’s an amazing playwright and theatre director, talented, funny, and always ready with a story. “I called because I wanted to ask you if you wanted to be my stage manager for my Fringe show, it’s called Triple Cross. It’s a farce, and that means every entrance and exit must have a laugh!” I was about to miss my bus stop, but Anna’s enthusiasm over the phone won me over, and I said yes. Of course, I really didn’t know what I was getting into.

Theatre is what keeps my creative side alive, and I feel at home being behind-the-scenes.

Actually, I’m lying, I sort of knew what I was getting into. I’ve been helping out Brave New Productions for many years, which was co-founded by my best friend Donald Rees, and I gained a lot of experience through the years. I’ve been studying filmmaking at Concordia University, but my love for theatre stems from my love of acting in school plays since I was a kid (I once got to play Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, I had one line). Theatre is what keeps my creative side alive, and I feel at home being behind-the-scenes. Whether it was handing out a prop, helping with costume changes, set changes, cuing lighting and music, getting the actors to show up on time and learn their lines, no matter what, I was happy to help. I was even cast in one of the shows in the role of “Stage Manager” (I had three lines, progress!).

I just didn’t know it was an actual career. Enter Anna Fuerstenberg.

After explaining to her my awesome summer of theatre I just had, with two back-to-back Fringe shows (“Here’s To Love!” and “Being Earnest”, which also travelled to Toronto), Anna was very impressed by all the experience I had. But she was also surprised that I didn’t know how important stage managers are to theatre shows. Every rehearsal of “Triple Cross” was a lesson in the world of professional stage management. The first lesson: “Be early for every rehearsal”. If I were to give everyone in theatre one piece of advice, it’s very important to be on time.

From there, I learned how to write the blocking of each scene of the play. That was challenging because it would change so many times. But you’ve got to know where your actors are going to be at all times! That was my job. Someone forgot a line, I had to read it immediately. Someone was sick? I read the part. Someone was struggling with their lines? I had to set up extra rehearsals. Also, because this was a Fringe show, I was also in charge of a ton of other things: Advertising the show is easy compared to lighting design, which is not my forté. Set design is fun, until you realize that what one envisions is not what ends up on stage. Anna was ambitious and her energy to get as many things as perfect as possible is what drove me to do my best to find the right solutions.

It was a huge relief in the summer of 2012 when “Triple Cross” came to an end! Not because it was stressful (ok, it was), but because we worked hard as a team to get all the elements needed to make it the best show possible. Anna pointed out the importance of having a good stage manager, and she commended the work I did. I feel that Anna prepared me for the next challenge that I decided to take on: my first apprenticeship with Infinitheatre in last year’s show “Trench Patterns” (written by Alyson Grant).

“If you show up on time, you’re actually late,” he would say.

My apprenticeship with Infinitheatre was an amazing experience that I won’t forget. Certainly, my mentor Michael Panich was an astounding person, and he reinforced a lot of what I learned with Anna. “If you show up on time, you’re actually late,” he would say. I was in awe of everything and everybody. It was a joy to see director Guy Sprung do his job, an artist in his own right. Michael made sure that everything ran as smoothly as possible. Whenever it was needed, Michael would make just about anything into a prop. And I mean anything. The leg of a table stand became a rifle with some duct tape and a bungee cord. Michael was not just a stage manager: he was also a magician. His other amazing skills? Being as diplomatic as possible with all the Canadian Actors' Equity Rules.

Luckily, there was a whole team behind “Trench Patterns” that did the other parts that make a show amazing, so I enjoyed the ritual every apprentice is always asked to take part in: making the coffee. Coffee is everyone’s best friend (I also boiled some water for the tea lovers, too). But I can’t recall how many pots of coffee I made during those seven weeks with Infinitheatre. But the best challenge I got from the whole experience, was my chance to be on stage! See, they needed an extra person to be backstage to help the actors change quickly and organize the props, but a set change required an extra person and the show only had four players. So it was decided that I was going to play an orderly (sadly, I had no lines). I was on stage for all of ten seconds in each show, and all I did was remove a blanket and some other props. But I got to share the stage with Patricia Summersett, Zach Fraser, James Soares-Correia and Diana Fajrajsl, and that was amazing.

So why do I want to become a stage manager? It has always been a dream of mine to become a bonafide film director. But on the journey, I’ve yet to find another job that combines the joy of theatre and the love of helping people achieve their vision. It has been an amazing opportunity to explore what really makes a show successful, and why we certainly look to the actors, the playwright, or the director when a show is a success. I also give my applause to the people behind the scenes, especially the stage manager, the person who makes it all come together. I can relate to that kind of work, and it’s something that I never thought was possible. So if you’re pondering a career in theatre, love to problem solve, enjoy working with people, and make a mean pot of coffee, you may have what it takes to be a star behind the scenes. And who knows, maybe you’ll get a walk-on role and shine on stage.

Just make sure to show up on time, don’t miss your cue, and remember your lines (if you get any).

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