A central objective of this blog is to document the process of putting together and maintaining a production. Thus I would be remiss if I did not check in at least once with a production’s nerve center, or to switch the metaphor to a description of Reggie Jackson’s role on the 1970s New York Yankees: “The straw that stirs the drink.”
I am referring to Jennifer Rae Moore, My Fair Lady’s Production Stage Manager, and by extension Lisa Ann Chernoff, the 1st Assistant Stage Manager, and Katie Stevens, the 2nd Assistant Stage Manager. Between shows this week, Moore and I sat in some of the empty Beaumont seats and contemplated her part in this vast, now long-running enterprise.
“Most of my big shows,” Moore explained, “have been with Bart” – the director Bartlett Sher. “So I have the benefit of knowing the process. We work on the planning for a long time before starting officially. Before auditions, we work on how to assign covers for particular roles and deciding how many cast members we need to cover roles if someone is out.”
How did that process unfold with My Fair Lady? “In this show,” Moore explained, “everybody can move and sing and act but there are some people who are more dancers and some who are more singers. So we have to keep those talents in mind when casting and covering. Age matters, too. If we are selecting a cover for Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, for example, we want her to be a certain age so she looks like she might reasonably have adult children.”
I asked Moore to describe her typical day. “It starts around 10:30 in the morning,” she replied. “I reach out to people who have been out the previous show. Are they feeling better? People will also check in around that time if they are going to be out for any reason – illness or injury. It helps to know those things in the morning because there’s a lot of prep involved to make adjustments. Lisa is especially good at figuring out how to staff the tracks” – a “track” is the course of doing a particular role – “and how to fit them together. If, for example, we have to cover three ensemble parts with two people.” Moore added that it’s easier to figure out the staffing of a particular performance if there’s more advance notice. At this point in the run, for example, people have earned vacations, and the scheduling sometimes has more heads-up.
How does stage management handle the calling of a My Fair Lady performance? (Typically, a stage manager calls a show by the rapid-fire announcing of cues – “Go” is the requisite word – from a control panel.) “A friend of mine,” Moore said, “was at the show recently, and she remarked how complex the calling of this show was. It is full of details, but for us it was more challenging in previews. We were still figuring things out. How, for example, at the start of act two, to move all the elements off the stage once the ball is over. We have to get many things off the turntable, and the timing has to be exact. It was stressful to figure out how the pieces in this scene – in every scene – fit together but it’s also fun. It’s a domino effect.”
One aspect of Moore’s job that is unique to LCT’s Beaumont as a Broadway house is the positioning of the booth for calling the show. “I’m at the back of the theater,” she said. “When I did Bridges of Madison County, with Bart, in an older Broadway house, my booth was in a more typical position. From the deck, near the stage. Here, I can feel things are out of my hands, but of course Lisa and Katie are just off stage, nearer the action. We’re a team.”
“We have to work as a team,” Moore said. “What we’re doing all day, and especially during a performance, is solving problems. With a show this big it’s always a challenge. But I like to be busy. And it’s a great company we’ve got with My Fair Lady. We’ve had weeks during the run where, because of vacations or illness or other reasons, the eight shows in that week have been cast eight different ways. That sounds impossible, but in fact it keeps all of us on our toes.”
Literally and figuratively.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com