Out of the Woods Post Production: Jacki Singleton, Stage Manager; Rockstar

Posted August 5, 2020

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Hear from the person/force of nature who made the "Out of the Woods" readings happen - Stage Manager Jacqueline Singleton, who learned the Zoom technology, acted as stage manager, technical director, camera operator and IT support through the entire process. Or as Core Company Actor Gavin Lawrence put it "She is a boss."

APT: Can you tell us a little bit about what a stage manager does in non-Covid days?
Jacki: Yeah, so normally at this time of the year, I'm sort of like the captain of the backstage ship. So I would tell one person or a group of people to change the scenery, or change the costumes and just sort of make sure that all of that was functioning and going along the way it's supposed to. I would give people the go for sound cues and lights. So basically my regular job is just to make sure everything is functioning smoothly backstage; actors are in their place ready to make their entrance, on time, in the right costume, in the right light, with the right sound cue. And normally that all goes along pretty smoothly, but it's sort of up to the stage management staff to make things go right when they're not going right. So if we have rain, or something breaks, we decide how to fix that problem. If we're going to wait for 30 minutes to let the rain pass over, or if we're gonna glue that chair back together and get it back on stage. That’s us.

APT: And how are the Zoom readings different than what you’d normally be doing, besides the obvious lack of stage and personal contact?
Jacki: It's sort of not really comparable. I mean I guess I'm doing the same sorts of things. I'm taking blocking, and I'm coordinating the technical things, and I make sure those cues go where they go. But, right now, with these readings it's much more of like a "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" kind of thing. So that we're pulling much more from, like, what people have available in their houses. And you know, gee, do you have a blank wall that you can go stand in front of? How about, can you hook up a bed sheet? We can get you some tape, you know? So we're all sort of having to be our own sound designers and set designers and PAs. And, for example, in Arms and the Man, everybody had like three individual sets and lighting looks, so at the five-minute intermissions, they would all run around and move their plants and change their costumes and all of that sort of thing. So it's been fun to see how those details work out, which is something that we sort of take for granted up the Hill a little bit sometimes. Like, there's people to do that, and now there are no people to do that. Of course, the people who are still working are absolutely a resource for us. Scott (Costume Director Scott Rött) would find us a bathrobe, and you know, Nate (Props Master and Scenic Designer Nathan Stuber) will find us a pipe or something, but generally we're trying to pull stuff that people have in their houses. 

APT: How have things progressed since you started the Out of the Woods series? Seems like they’ve been getting gradually more technically complicated?
Jacki: Yeah, each one's a little bit more challenging. And now we’re working on Are You Now or Have You Ever Been… and Carlyle Brown really wanted people to be able to see the poems that Langston Hughes wrote. And so there's a lot more tech to it – more sound, more visuals, more everything. (Director) David Daniel is very smart, and he's done a lot of preliminary work, but we're still figuring out how to do some of the stuff. So it's more like a traditional play for me, in that I'm going to have to manage a whole bunch of cues. And video, mostly in PowerPoint. 

And there are a couple of little tricks that we've learned, so QLab, which is the sound program that we normally use at the theater for all of the sound that we hear in the outdoor amphitheater and the indoor space. And we can run QLab through the computer. So I have one computer that's on Zoom that's called APT Sound, and that computer is playing QLab through this audio patch. And I think for this one, we haven't decided yet, but I might then need to have like a third monitor, so I can have the presenter of the PowerPoint up on to plug into the first laptop, to share a screen with the second laptop. I don't know; it's very complicated. [Editor’s note: They DID add a third monitor, and Jacki managed three computers during the live streaming of Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…]

APT: That sounds like a lot! Are you enjoying it?
Jacki: It's fun. It’s like being in tech all the time. It's like we go through this limited rehearsal and on Sunday night, it’s suddenly ‘Oh we did the show! And it’s done! Ok, time to start the new show!” So there’s much less rehearsing and opening a show, and letting it play. Because all of a sudden you're onto the next one. 

But it's good. You know, it's challenging. It's definitely a good thing to have learned this – it’s a valuable skill, you know, especially right now. It's been cool to be able to have the time and space to learn it, and to be able to Google all of my questions. And also because a lot of theaters have been working this way, we’re creating a pool of knowledge out there. And it’s gotten bigger and bigger. Of course, all of us that are working on the projects right now don't have much time to write down directions for other people. But I have a feeling that at some point we're going to start a repository of information for people, so if you haven't used this before, here are the basics. Here's the simple stuff, and here's the really tricky stuff when you get there. 

APT: Anything you wish you could do on Zoom that you can’t?
Jacki: I really do wish I could enter and exit people on their video. I can take them off the screen, but I can't put them back on the screen. I have to ask them to turn on their video. So it's a little panic inducing sometimes when I've killed somebody's video and then they need to come back on the screen, and I’m waiting to see if they’re able to come back.

APT: There have been a few video snafus. How do you handle that?
Jacki: Yeah, I mean we describe it very much like a rain hold. For example, Nate dropped out before As You Like It, with like eight minutes to go to show time. And so I was like, oh, no big deal. He'll just get back on. And we didn't realize that it was going to be like a thing until two minutes to go to show time, when he still couldn't get back on because his internet was down. And we were like, oh…kay. Now what do we do? So it's funny because you don't really know when to panic sometimes. So we had covers standing by – and we haven’t had to use one, but we came close during Arms and the Man – so that somebody could just pick up the script and start cold reading. But of course, you’d obviously rather have the person who worked on it all week read the role. That's sort of a judgment call between Evelyn (Artistic Associate and Production Stage Manager Evelyn Matten) is sort of the behind the scenes manager. Behind-behind the scenes manager, for this. So she's the one that is the first point of contact if someone's having internet issues, and then she lets me know what's going on. And I can keep the shows running, if possible. And I'll often have to make the decision right away to, when and where to hold if we need to. So we're communicating over an instant message program on our computers. She's got a cell phone and a home phone where she's calling people as she needs to, and we've both got two computers going. There's a lot of communicating. 

APT: What surprised you the most about the project?
Jacki: Well, I was really surprised, like, you really get to see these incredible actors really up close and personal, and acting straight into the camera a lot of the time. Which we don't normally get to see, because there's blocking, and they're on stage, and they’ve got three-quarters of their back to the aisle, and stuff like that. So it's been kind of amazing to just be able to get that long look at exactly what they're doing. Like, I love it when people on our stage do sort of the thing where they're talking to somebody behind the, but they're facing out, you know. Because you get to see everything that's going on in their face. And it's just like that, but it's like that all the time. So I just feel like you're getting a really great outlook of how good these actors really are, because you get to see them the whole time.