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LJI:23 The Fiction of the Fix
“Alright everyone, that’s lunch break.  We went a little long running that scene one more time, so be back at 2:05 please.”  I sat down to continue typing the day’s rehearsal report so far; translating my notes from their scrawled shorthand to complete sentences that other staff members would understand.  As the room began to empty one of the actresses marched to my table.

“Why am I exiting stage left at the end of this scene?” asked Beverly.  “It doesn’t make any sense to leave Sue when we’ve been together the whole song.  We worked out a BFF background for these characters and then we just walk away from each other.  It’s weird.”

‘Your role in this scene is townsperson, best friends aren’t required’ I thought.  But that’s not what I said.

“Actually, that’s on purpose” I replied.  “Rob really wanted to give the impression of a huge and varied town just offstage.  You don’t enter from the same place at the top of the number do you?”  That question was rhetorical, I knew they didn’t.

“No, we don’t.”

“Right, so you are friends who just happened to run into each other in town and you stopped to sing a song together.”  We both grinned at the joyful absurdity of musical theater.  “But you’ve each got your own things to finish, so you go on your separate ways.”

“That makes sense.  We can work out a little hello and goodbye something.  A small something, don’t worry.  And thank you.”  Beverly nodded at me and walked over to the clothes rack to take off her rehearsal skirt before catching up to the rest of the cast.  The room had emptied and the only sound left was my keyboard clicking away.

“Can I interrupt you for a second?” asked Rachel, the stage management intern assigned to the show.

“Sure, what’s up?”  I finished the sentence I was typing and turned to face her.  As interns went she was awesome, both excited to be working on a big production and eager to help and learn.

“What you were just telling Beverly, how did you know that?”

“Oh, I made it up.”

“What?  Why?”

“When an actor asks why they’re moving a certain way on stage they usually don’t want the reason, they want a motivation.”  Rachel looked very confused.

“Look, from a stage management perspective she’s exiting stage left because she has a quick change to be a nun for the next scene and that’s where the dressers are.  From Rob’s perspective she’s exiting stage left because it looks right.  Those are the reasons.  But what she wanted to know is why she was exiting stage left from a character perspective.  So I invented a motivation for her.”

“Will Rob be upset that you did that?”

“I seriously doubt Rob will ever notice.  He’s a director who works in images; he firmly believes that if it looks true it is true.  He doesn’t spend time on individual character beats with the chorus, and on this hurry-up schedule we don’t really have the time.  Beverly’s now happy doing exactly what he wants her to do, so everyone wins.”

“How did you come up with it so quickly?”

“We are in the business of playing make-believe, even us note-takers and organizers get to play sometimes."


A week later it was our last day in the rehearsal hall and we were resetting to run a scene shift, again.  Everyone was tired, cranky, and ready to be onstage.  I heard one of the actors in the wings whisper-bitch, “Why am I carrying a lantern in this scene anyway?”  By the time I put down my rehearsal cube (currently part of a wagon) I realized that Rachel had been standing next to him, and was answering his question, though I couldn’t hear what she was saying.  I caught her eye as she finished talking and raised an eyebrow; she returned a thumbs-up and a small satisfied smile.  We both knew Anthony was carrying the lantern so he could leave it on the pedestal upstage where it would be discovered and used by the leading lady three scenes later, and really, he knew that too.  But Rachel had given him a motivation, not just a reason.  Running the shift again Anthony moved with purpose, holding the lantern high while singing counterpoint to the melody.

We were all playing make-believe together.

***Welcome to another entry for LJ Idol, this week's topic is The Fiction in the Fix.  The interesting and varied character choices that happen just out of focus still fascinate me.***

This is a tightly written piece that conveys EXACTLY what you intend and that's a well-done job. I'm with you on this - The interesting and varied character choices that happen just out of focus still fascinate me. And this can be applied to writing fiction, too! Nice job!

Thank you (and to my husband/editor who said 'do you need that paragraph of random explanation?' heh). working in theater for as long as I did it was always fun to watch what the chorus folk would come up with, and I find myself still watching the edges in movies and plays.

I like this. It's clean and neat, and also now I know the term "whisper-bitch".

I don't remember who coined 'whisper-bitch' but it happens a lot in theater where you can't pull focus but are super annoyed.


This is really well-done.

Thank you. I haven't told any theater stories yet this season and this was the first thing that came to mind for this prompt.

Well the first thing that came to mind was the same situation with an actor I knew really well and the suggestion I gave his was partially obscene, but you know.

I enjoyed this, thanks! I keep thinking I'd like to get involved in our local theatre. Maybe when the kids are older.

Yay, I'm glad you liked it. I stage managed professionally for 12 years and got pretty burned out, but two years later I'm starting to miss it. There are some fabulous people who hang out in theaters, and lots of really random and fascinating things to learn.

Lots of cool info here - thanks! :)

You're welcome. Or thank you. Or both!

Heh I totally read that in a Mr. Burns voice.
Thank you.

Really, really interesting slice o' life! Of course, it was exactly the right length, but I wanted it to be longer -- which is the sign that you've written something that really works! :-)

Heh, I could have gone on much longer, theater stories tend to take on lives of their own. But I'm glad it grabbed you as is.

'Your role in this scene is townsperson, best friends aren’t required’
Oh, lord. I might have found myself actually saying that out loud, because "We worked out backstory for ourselves for no real reason, and now this doesn't work with our artificial backstory" is the kind of actor-ness that tries my patience.

And I say that as someone who was in the drama club during high school! If those two have worked out some artificial thingy, they should be able to accomodate the stage direction in their worldview somehow without bothering you.

I liked this approach to the prompt, and still had to smile about actors taking themselves too seriously. This is probably why I never listen to DVD commentary, though-- when the actors talk, it's always about "my motivation for this scene was blah..." and I think, "I KNOW that, I was watching the same story you were acting!"

Over the years I know I slipped and said the "really?" out loud, because self-obsessed actors can be exhausting. But I had a talent for making up motivations that would work, and happy actors are much easier actors to work with.

I also realized that it was usually the more, um, insecure actors who would ask questions like this. The really good ones wouldn't need any help they'd just find things within themselves and do it.

This is well done and great story as well, So I guess as a stage manager you have to fill in the gaps for the director to keep the actors doing what needs to be done but staying character while they do it. It was fascinating getting to peak behind the curtain a little.

Thank you. Stage management is all about doing the practical things to make the artistic vision of the show work, and sometimes that includes bits of direction. I probably wouldn't have said anything if I were working with a brand new director, but the guy in this story is based on someone I worked with umpteen times so I knew where his boundaries were and what I could safely add / answer.

I love musical theatre, so this was a really interesting glimpse behind the scenes.

I still love musical theater despite helping create it for 12 years, which says something about its power and joy.

Thank you for the comment.

This was well written and a great take on the topic. Great work!!

This is awesome. I really enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes and all the different reasons and motivations to do something on stage. :-)

Thanks, I thought you might like it. This topic immediately brought up memories of my theater days.

This sounds fascinating. Providing a little motivation that makes the actor happy and doesn't hurt anything is a great solution.

It took me a while to figure out, in college I would have told her "because your dresser's there" and been done with it. But a few extra seconds for a happy actor is well worth the time.

Thanks for commenting!

I love this with so much love - I can't even say.

Thank you, lady. Loves from you mean a lot.

This is so frickgen genius on SO many levels. I LOVE that you're THAT good at what you do, I LOVE that it makes everything work the way it needs to and keeps everyone happy, and I LOVE that you're passing that knowledge and skill on to your protégé. Additionally, this is such a PERFECT summary of the topic! Really fabulous!

Thank you so much! Interns who ask questions are the best, because there are some things that I would simply do by habit and have no idea that it was odd, or interesting.

This was from a show of several years ago, the show itself wasn't very good (sadly) but we ended up having a great time working on it. Sometimes that's all you can do.