Sarah Steele and Željko Ivanek, now on stage in LCT3's SLOWGIRL, eat macaroni and cheese 8 times a week. There are some foods I think I could eat everyday, and macaroni and cheese is on that list. But in reality, I might get sick of it. Being a curious theatergoer, whenever I see actors eat on stage, I wonder how tired they must be of that food, no matter how little of it they actually consume on stage. To get some inside information about the food on stage in SLOWGIRL, I chatted with Prop Coordinator Faye Armon who was in charge of what Sterling and Becky, the uncle and niece in SLOWGIRL, consume on stage.
"I always ask actors what they want to eat," Faye explained. "Neither of them wanted anything with meat." For the dinner that Sterling cooks, she brought in three frozen Kashi meals for them to taste, and the three cheese penne was the winner. The script says that the characters eat "chicken Los Angeles," its namesake being the small Costa Rican town where Sterling lives. While watching the show, I couldn't tell that the dish was only pasta and cheese. That's some true culinary theater magic.
Faye explained that every piece of food used in a show has to be exactly the same every single night. "It has to be as consistent as possible so you don't trip up the actors." The Assistant Stage Manager, Maggie Swing, is responsible for making sure that the actors always have the same amount of romaine lettuce in the fridge for their salads and the same amount of fruit that they use to make smoothies. The actors also picked out the particular fruit they wanted in their smoothies (mangoes, a good choice).
One of the most challenging foods that the SLOWGIRL script calls for is "digestive biscuits." To avoid buying a new package of cookies for every single performance, Faye rigged the cookie package with packing tape and folded it over to make it look like it had never been opened. Before each show, a cookie is broken in half and placed on top to make it as easy as possible for Željko to open the package and eat one on stage. In case the cookies make you hungry while watching the show, Faye found the biscuits, which are called "McVities," at a specialty store in the West Village called Tea & Sympathy.
In terms of other substances consumed on stage, Faye was also in charge of the pot that Sterling and Becky smoke together. The pot is actually a loose non-tobacco product called Honey Rose. The pipe that the actors use is rigged with an electronic cigarette to make it look like it is actually lit, and the smoke that the audience sees coming from it is actually just steam.
I had always been curious about food and drink on stage, but had not realized the amount of detailed work that goes into this part of the Prop Coordinator's job. I started asking Faye about other challenges she had faced in this area.
"One of the worst food situations I ever had to deal with was WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING,," an LCT show in 2010. "There is a scene when a character has wine thrown in his face. The 'wine' had to be sugar-free so that the stage would not get sticky, be able to be washed out of a costume, and edible. We finally found the solution of Crystal Light raspberry tea. It looked just like red wine."
So the next time you see a show and admire the acting, direction, and design, and the characters happen to be eating a birthday cake on stage, think of the Prop Coordinator. Chances are, they have arranged with the grocery store for three of the exact same cakes to be picked up at the same time each week for the entire run of the show.
What food could you eat 8 times a week?
Rebecca Benen is the Digital Marketing Associate at Lincoln Center Theater. You can follow her on Twitter @LCTheater.