A tray of canapés is ejected into the air and sends little wafers flying across the stage. It happens repeatedly throughout FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training’s season opener, “The School for Lies.”
To prepare for the many furiously flying food occurrences, Production Stage Manager Erin MacDonald made a batch of 70 prop canapés with real crackers. To test their stability, she threw them against the wall, sending crumbs around the room — exactly what shouldn’t happen on stage. She had to try a sturdier route.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” she says with a laugh.
MacDonald spends about 25 hours as prop master, but it’s just part of her job. Today, she’ll build a dead body out of rubber limbs and paint fake eyeballs for “Loot,” opening Dec. 31. But props are nothing compared to the rest of what MacDonald accomplishes. She’s the only person to have a hand in the production from the first meeting with the director through the last performance. She does whatever it takes to accomplish the director’s vision; she acts as the organizational lead role. Without her, the performance couldn’t happen.
In addition to building a body today, she’ll also check the spelling and accuracy of the programs, give the movement and dialogue coaches and the actors their schedules, set up the 15 pieces of furniture in the rehearsal space, pick up shoes from the costume shop and answer emails. During rehearsal, she’ll read lines when an actor can’t remember; she’ll take notes about which lines they missed or said inaccurately; and she’ll write down all the blocking notes the fight choreographer gives to each actor. Her shorthand decodes to: “left punch, right punch, followed by a knee to the groin.” She also writes in the light cues, the prop list and line notes. She says it’s an easy day for her.
MacDonald has been working in FSU Center for the Performing Arts for five years. In fall 2009, she started working there as the stage management apprentice for Asolo Repertory Theatre. She worked there for two years and on two productions with Greg Leaming, the director of the conservatory and associate artistic director for Asolo Rep. They worked well together, so she moved across the hall from her old shared office at Asolo Rep to where she now has her own office working for the conservatory. She’s been here for three seasons, keeping the 12 students and 18 performances of four yearly productions in line.
She’s like the mom of a production. She maintains the rehearsal breaks and every second-year’s class schedule, and she’ll direct the first-year students in their roles as crewmembers. If your shoes are too tight or your dress doesn’t fit correctly, you tell MacDonald. If you forget to shave the night of a production she’ll hand you the razor from her stage management kit — it also has extension chords, a sewing kit, lotion, a few tools, office supplies, a hairbrush, toothpaste and Ziploc bags. MacDonald says she goes through a surprising amount of Ziploc bags for things such as loose nuts and bolts or an actor’s half-eaten sandwich.
And it continues during the production.
“Even though I’ve seen the show 30 times, I still have to watch it,” she says. “If an actor turns funny and I notice he’s limping I make sure to communicate, ‘Are they OK?’ ‘Do they need assistance?’ ‘Why is that blue light not coming on?’ ‘Change that lamp at intermission … ’” She quickly rattles off everything that might happen during a single production. It’s no wonder MacDonald is a fast-talker — it saves her time for everything on her to-do list.
MacDonald is ready to fight any unplanned occurrences. She’s always on her toes.
“I assist the show to make it run as smoothly and efficiently as possible,” she says. “I’m here to make sure everyone else’s artistic ability can bloom.”
IF YOU GO
When: 7:30 p.m. at Tuesday, Dec. 31. Runs through Jan. 19
Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets are $28 to $29
Info: Call 351-8000
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