Puzzle Pieces

This is Don’s blog — just being uploaded by Jules.

Someone once told me that every show is like a puzzle, and that it’s a Stage Manager’s job to try and put that puzzle together. The Laramie Project being my 6th attempt at stage managing a show at Duke, I feel qualified to say that that is absolutely true.

The Laramie Project itself is shaping up to be one heck of a puzzle. We have a wonderful, but really large, cast. We have what’s shaping up to be a gorgeous, yet intricate set that requires almost-constant re-arranging. And finally, we have a costume plot that might end up inflicting serious emotional trauma on those of us tasked with keeping track of it. With Laramie, I feel like I’ve walked into a toy store, picked out the biggest, most complicated jigsaw puzzle I could find, dumped all of the pieces out on the floor and thrown away the box. But you know what? I couldn’t be more excited.

Thanks to our extensive table work, I feel like that with this show, more than any other I’ve worked on, everyone involved has a general idea of how the final product should look, which I’ve found can be a rare luxury. We all feel invested in the show, and we all want to produce the absolute best show we can. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a cast and crew come together with so much shared passion for the show they’re putting on.

There have already been a few stumbles. Namely, a couple of insanely complicated scene changes that have had me scrambling like a madman to try and record every shift in the furniture, but for the most part things have gone smoothly. That’s not to say there won’t be more stumbles later, there always are, but for the moment I feel like every piece is falling smoothly into place.

As we move on, the puzzle is bound to get more complicated. There are bound to be lost pieces here and there, or a section that we just can’t seem to get in to fit properly with everything else. But no matter what happens along the way, and no matter which way the puzzle ends up coming together, I know it’s going to make an absolutely beautiful picture, and we’re going to have a great time solving it.

5 thoughts on “Puzzle Pieces

  1. Don —

    I love your puzzle analogy, especially the idea of picking out the most complicated one and then throwing away the box and then trying to put thing thing together. I echo the sentiments of cast members who have posted here that your grace under pressure, your organization, and your attention to detail will be the key to completing the puzzle.

    I remember that I owe you some resources for documentary theater. Seems like this location might be as good a place as any to pass some of those along. For the fall 2010 version of my Theater Verbatim/Verboten Writing 20 course, I put together a list of recent (past 15 years or so) documentary plays coupled with documentary films on the same subject. Students had to choose a play and film from this list and work with those texts throughout the semester. The basic trajectory of the course was to have students analyze the plays first (their archives of sources and the reception of their production) and then compare the approach of playwright to filmmaker on the same subject and how/if the change in medium produced a change in perception of truth, reality, history. Finally, students worked together to create proposals for a combined documentary theater + film festival along unifying themes. You can see some of their posts and final projects if you visit http://sites.duke.edu/theatreverbatim/.

    The previous time I taught that same course for the final project I had students actually devise a joint text, blending their selected documentary play with their documentary film. This was an interesting but, ultimately, less successful assignment as the tendency was for students to use the film to “decorate” the play, thus reinforcing the idea that documentary film, by virtue of being recorded footage of the “actual” informants and the “actual” locations, was somehow inherently real and documentary theater was inherently constructed and more suspect of being manipulated.

    I’ll send you an email with PDFs of that list of plays + films that I used in both courses in an email. I’m hoping that you might get a chance to talk in more detail about the genre with our two academic guests — Carol Martin & Derek Paget — coming for the performances in April. There are also a few terrific recent books that you might find useful.

    1. Verbatim: Techniques in Contemporary Documentary Theatre (2008), Eds. Will Hammond & Dan Steward. A UK publication that examines British companies exclusively, and has an interview with Alecky Blythe of Recorded Delivery. I think I mentioned her to you. Her company actually has its actors wear headphones/earbuds with the voices of their interviewees being piped into their ears during their performances. http://www.recordeddelivery.net/index.html

    2. Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present. (2009) Eds. Alison Forsyth & Chris Megson. A great anthology that covers multiple nations’ documentary theater/media inventions over the past 20 years.

    3. Introduction to Documentary, 2nd Edition (2010) Bill Nichols. Nichols is one of the best scholars who look at the performative elements of documentary *film*. You might have run into this title if you’ve taken a course in documentary film, but this most recent revision of his 2001 book does a wonderful job covering the basics but also attending to all kinds of recent influences on documentary (reality TV, flip cam, YouTube, etc.).

    Hope this is helpful!


  2. DON! You’ve made working on this production a lot easier for us all. I know things are going to start getting a bit hectic for the ASMs, but I’m excited and confident under such great leadership!

Leave a Reply