Viewing posts from : October 2014

Oct. 21, 2014

“I’ve never spent so many hours at a theater and I’ve never had a better time”: Stage Manager Laraine Gurke on Yeast Nation

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Laraine Gurke is Yeast Nation‘s stage manager. Laraine also worked on Ray of Light’s productions of Tommy and The Rocky Horror Show.

Laraine's view from the booth.
Laraine’s view from the booth.

I’m always surprised by how much I learn with each different production I’m involved with. I was… less surprised by how much I learned (and continue to learn) working on Yeast Nation. A new show, a workshop with the creators, a full blown production with 355+ light cues, a set made of spandex, and every cast member wearing their own light-up belly? There is a whole lot of learning potential there. As the stage manager, part of my job is to listen to the ideas from the designers and creative team and do my best to support them however I can and attempt to anticipate any problems. With a new show, there’s the added layer of a changing script. Like most things in theatre, stage managing is not a perfect science. I was prepared to learn.

Working on any production presents its fair share of challenges but when the show is so new there are some extra obstacles. In new work, things usually change constantly since there is no reference point from which to start. Another part of my job is to try to track these changes and make sure that cast, staff, and creative team are on the same page. The continued flexibility from the cast, our director and choreographer made this much easier for me than it could have been.

With this show tech week was a whole new ballgame. I’ve never spent so many hours at a theater and I’ve never had a better time. I’ve never really seen such collaboration between departments and the overall attitude was positive and fun–even at four in the morning. No matter how interesting the material is or how much you’re getting paid, you still have to interact with the people involved and ROLT consistently hires people who are a joy to work with. When I look up at whatever horribly early time it happens to be in the morning and Angrette [set designer], Joe [lighting designer], and Daniel [technical director] are all singing their own off-key, high pitched version of whatever ridiculous 80’s power ballad is blasting from the radio, I know things are going to be just fine.

My job now that the show is open is to maintain the integrity of the production and handle any issues that arise from day to day. Honestly this has been incredibly easy. The energy and consistency from the cast have been spot on and it’s been a blast to watch the show hit its stride. Also, I have to mention our stellar band, lead by music director Ben Prince, and their incredibly even tempos night after night. Everyone who shows up to the Victoria every day makes my job fun and interesting and for that I am very grateful.

Oct. 16, 2014

#TBT “How do you make five guys and a cast of sixteen sound like a thirty-piece orchestra with full chorus?”: Robbie Cowan on Orchestrating Sweeney Todd

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"Did someone say 'impossible task?' I got this"
Robbie “Did someone say ‘impossible task?'” Cowan

This week’s #TBT comes from Robbie Cowan, who music directed and orchestrated our 2012 production of Sweeney Todd, transforming the original thirty-piece orchestration into a five-piece chamber version. His work on the show was called “luminous” and “in the same class as the best of Ligeti, Part, and Adams,” and earned him a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award nomination. Robbie also music directed our Triassic Parq this summer, and is currently the conductor and music director on the second national tour of Anything Goes.

Sweeney-Todd - long
Swing your razor wide.

When I saw ROLT’s Tommy, I was impressed with the production values. A small, regional theatre with practically no outside funding put on a show whose spectacle rivaled that of most touring productions I was seeing come through town? I just couldn’t fathom how they managed.

A short time later, I found out first-hand. When I was asked to music direct Sweeney Todd, I was tasked with creating an orchestration that sounded as rich and full as audiences would expect but was made of only five players. How do you make five guys and a cast of sixteen sound like a thirty-piece orchestra with full chorus?

This scrappy theater company taught me the value in embracing your limitations. Instead of lamenting a lack of resources, you instead use those boundaries as creative inspiration. The director Ben Randle and I created an orchestral design that was intimate and kept people on the edge of their seats, where fewer players made for a more transparent interpretation of the score. At the end of the experience it wasn’t the reviews and accolades that I appreciated–it was the understanding that with the right people and the right attitude, almost anything is possible.


And just because we can’t resist, here’s Robbie “auditioning” for our production of Into the Woods last year:

Oct. 01, 2014

How does a yeast move?

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Excuse me…YEASTS?!


Audiences aren’t the only ones surprised. Our very own production team had to wrap their minds around telling the story of yeasts. How human are they? We knew the show shouldn’t feel modern, but it shouldn’t feel too literally in the past, either; the script references contemporary science and acknowledges the audience, so it’s not exactly a method acting experience (because really, what would that even look like? Probably pretty funny, actually). The yeasts’ world is, at the risk of sounding like a theater professor, a microcosm for contemporary humanity. They tell our story through a different lens, but their flaws and humanity are the same as ours.

So WHAT does that mean for movement? “Oftentimes, with a musical, you are beholden to the original choreo’s style. With this show we had the opportunity to create our own brand-new movement, sometimes with the actors’ help,” said director Jason Hoover. Professional help came in the form of Triassic Parq choreographer Dane Paul Andres, who saw endless possibilities: “the challenges of conceptualizing and creating movement for this unique world was an exciting process–the show is unique in so many ways. What initially inspired me in the beginning was the fact that they were a society under water: how to emulate fluidity without being too obvious?”

The choreography ended up reflecting both the realities of the yeasts’ life in the primordial soup–floaty and undulating–and the contemporary music styles in the score. “An integral tool used in the show is a select group of yeasts that accompany the show’s narrator, like a Greek chorus. I tried to reflect that in their movement as they go through out the show with a variety of dance styles,” said Dane. There’s backup pop dancing that would make the Temptations jealous, along with straight-faced while totally absurd interpretive dance moments. The movement reflects the idea that the yeasts take themselves very seriously, but the show doesn’t–at least, not most of the time.

Pictured: not-so-serious seriousness from Will Ferrell in Old School.

“Dane has been fantastic and continues to come up with fresh ideas, never settling for something that wasn’t right,” said Jason. Dane’s thoughts after all this? “I hope the curiosity of dancing yeasts and everything that is Yeast Nation prompt you to see the show. It is that same curiosity that has now earned me a memorable experience!”

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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