Stage Rush TV: Episode 37
- Happy Halloween! Broadway theaters to participate in trick or treat
- Stage manager of The 39 Steps Matthew Shiner tells tales from the wings
- In The Heights to close in January; Lin-Manuel Miranda returns for final weeks
- Broadway grosses
What are you dressing up as for Halloween, Rushers? Have you ever made a costume based on a Broadway character? Were you surprised by stage manager Matthew Shiner’s job details and stories? Are you sad that In The Heights is closing? Will you try to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in one of the final performances? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below, and Happy Halloween, Rushers!
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Broadway Brain: Stage manager Matthew Shiner keeps his eye on all ’39 Steps’
The sharpest eye in a theater belongs to the production stage manager. Sequestered to the stage’s wings, these vigilant crew members order every lighting and technical cue of a show into action. It’s not a job for everybody, which makes it surprising that a former child actor from California who disliked them in his youth grew up to become one. Matthew Shiner, the PSM for off-Broadway’s The 39 Steps, joined the show last May, after a six-year stint as the production stage manager at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC. Shiner, 40, sat down with Stage Rush to talk about the art of keeping a play fresh, scene-stealing flies, and Ian McKellen’s personal copy of The Lord of the Rings.
What exactly does a production stage manager do?
I am responsible for the day-to-day running of the show. The most important thing I do is call the show. I sit backstage right with a headset and a calling script and I call all the light and sound cues, some of the scenic cues. While the performance is not happening, I do a lot of paperwork and schedule rehearsals. I take notes on the show, trying to keep it as close to what [director] Maria Aitkin wants it to be.
How did you become a production stage manager?
I don’t remember picking it on Career Day, for sure. I never thought this was what I wanted to be. In fact, I was a child actor and I hated stage managers at the time. I genuinely love theater, the arts, and live entertainment. I had a general background in theater and realized acting wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I went back to finish up my undergraduate degree, and I ended up directing. I thought maybe directing was what I wanted to do, and I found out that I had really nothing I wanted to say as a director. But getting those director skills have definitely helped me as a stage manager. Every little step I took in theater helped me get here.
When did you realize this is what you wanted to do?
I think I realized I was making more money than I ever thought I would make as a PSM and jobs were just coming to me. Since I graduated as an undergraduate in 1997, the longest I’ve ever been unemployed was six weeks for a vacation, and then other than that, it’s been a week. I just constantly work, and I make a good living from it. It’s one of those [jobs in theater] where you can actually make a good living, on the technical side. Read more
Review: Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party
Surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party is a drama. Some might be compelled to call it a dramedy, but works that fall under that category display an equal balance in light and heavy tone. Dance Party is anything but balanced.
During a school Christmas pageant in Menard County, Illinois (a former residence of President Lincoln), the children, playing former presidents, shock the audience with lines that insinuate Honest Abe was homosexual. The teacher responsible for the controversy, Harmony Green, is swiftly fired and brought up on criminal charges for distributing harmful materials to minors. When two Illinois republicans competing for gubernatorial status fill the roles of defense and prosecution, the case becomes “the trial of the century.”
After these events unfold, the cast breaks the fourth wall and informs the audience that we are in control of the evening’s proceedings. We are to witness the story three times from the perspectives of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the New York Times reporter who comes to town. However, the audience gets to choose in which order we see them. The gimmick is interesting in the sense that when certain events happen in one act, the causes are further explained in other acts due to a difference in perspective and the play becomes a bit of an entertaining puzzle. Overall, it feels like a tool to complicate an uncomplicated story.
Further convoluting Dance Party is that it’s a bipolar play, much of which stems from its title. Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party infers a flashy, flamboyant, comical romp through the designated narrative. Yes, there are definitely moments like that in Dance Party. But instead of holding steady to that tone, there are also scenes where characters throw themselves at each other, screaming and gritting their teeth in vengeful agony about lost friends during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. These two tones do not match up and make for a confusing theater experience. Read more
Stage Rush TV: Episode 20
- Celebrating 20 episodes of SRTV!
- Being a way overdue audience member of Rock of Ages and Race
- The Fela!/39 Steps giveaway has ended. More giveaways to come!
- Broadway grosses
What shows have you been super late to seeing, Rushers? Did you find yourself immersed in Rock of Ages? Did you feel convinced with Race? Leave all your questions and thoughts in the comments! And once again, thank you so much for watcher. Rushers rock!
Stage Rush TV: Episode 19
- Jonathan Groff at Joe’s Pub
- Talking with Afton C. Williamson, former understudy, current star of Race
- Stage Rush’s free ticket giveaway: Fela! and The 39 Steps
- Broadway grosses
Did you catch Jonathan Groff at Joe’s Pub, Rushers? What did you think of his set list? Have you seen Afton Williamson in Race yet? What do you think of her story? Have you entered the Fela!/39 Steps ticket giveaway yet? What are you waiting for, Rushers? Leave it in the comments!
Ticket giveaway: ‘Fela!’ and ‘The 39 Steps’
Here at Stage Rush, we love discounts. But what’s the only thing better than scoring Broadway tickets for a steal? Getting them for free! I am pleased to announce Stage Rush’s first ever ticket giveaway! Up for grabs are a pair of tickets to the Tony-winning shows Fela! and The 39 Steps. Here are the easy steps you need to take to have your chance to win these babies:
- Write on Stage Rush’s Facebook wall. (“Like” us, if you haven’t already done so)
- Include which show you are playing for (if both, note your first choice).
One winner will be chosen at random for each show. The winner will win a pair of tickets to either Fela! or The 39 Steps—the pair won’t be split up among participants. You must be able to be contacted via private message on Facebook. The giveaway will end on Thursday, July 1. I will notify the winners via Facebook private message.
All participants must be able to see either show between the dates of July 4 and July 29. The tickets are not valid for resale and must be picked up at the show’s box office on the day of the performance.
So what are you waiting for, Rushers? Get over to the Stage Rush Facebook wall—it couldn’t be easier!
Broadway Brain: Kevin Adams lights rock stars of Broadway
What do Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, and Next to Normal all have in common? Lighting designer Kevin Adams. Widely regarded as contributing factors to the evolution of the American musical, these shows all have creative teams that have collaborated on subsequent projects, but Adams is the only one to have worked on all three. The Tony-winning lighting designer brought revolutionary looks to these acclaimed productions with his use of bare light bulbs and fluorescent tubes—what he calls “electric objects.” Now Adams is nominated for his fifth Tony award (he won for Spring Awakening and The 39 Steps) for his work on American Idiot, which blends the creative teams of all three rock musicals.
Yet Adams, just shy of 48, says lighting was never a thought in his mind during his education. With an MFA in set design, Adams began working as a set designer in Los Angeles, when he was asked to do his own lighting. Local artists who had seen his work began asking him to light their pieces in galleries. A self-taught lighting designer, Adams then moved to New York to focus solely on that work. “I can’t believe I’m still doing this,” Adams said. “After I do a Broadway show, I think, ‘This will surely be the last one I ever do. No one’s going to come up with another Broadway show that suits what I do.’ But then American Idiot came along.”
The Tony winner (who keeps his two awards at his parents’ houses, claiming they make him nervous) invited Stage Rush into his Manhattan apartment to discuss Tony nominations, his style departure on American Idiot, and what happened when he first met Green Day in a cramped dressing room at Saturday Night Live.
This is your fifth Tony nomination and you’ve won twice. Is it still exciting to get nominated?
It is very exciting. It was exciting to be nominated twice last year. It’s exciting to be nominated for American Idiot. That first time [being nominated], you’re so excited to win and then once you win, then you feel you have to win again. You feel like, “I want to win!”
So you feel pressure to win?
I don’t feel pressure; it’s just that you become much more grotesquely competitive about it. [laughs] And I know other people who have won that agree and say, “Yeah, I’ve felt that way too!” It’s not that it’s competitive, it’s just that the first time you’re nominated, you’re like, “It would be cool to win,” and then the next time, you’re like, “I’ve got to win!”
The 39 Steps
Usually when I can’t follow the plotline of a show, that doesn’t bode well for how I feel about the production as a whole. Bizarrely enough, this is not the case with The 39 Steps. I was incredibly engaged the entire show, and I think I smiled the entire way through. I also didn’t know what the heck was going on. I hope that’s not an insult to writer John Buchan; it shouldn’t be. What he lacks in story clarity, he and director Maria Aitken make up for in stage directions and concept.
The 39 Steps is based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same title and follows Richard Hannay (Sean Mahon), a detective, a college professor, a mystery writer—I don’t know!—on a mad chase. The police are after him for the death of a strange woman, Annabella Schmidt, who was murdered in his home. Earlier in the night, the mysterious Annabella (who fired a gun in a theater and followed Richard home) yammered on to Richard about some kind of something, her search for this thing called “the 39 steps.” I don’t really know what she was talking about, but it sounded serious. Anyway, she ends up with a knife in her back and a freaked Richard takes off into the night, and somewhere along the way decides to continue Annabella’s search for the 39 steps.
But wait; this all sounds way too serious. The 39 Steps is a comical mystery (comystery?) similar to the style of Monty Python. The show is incredibly inventive; a cast of only four actors portrays 150 characters, using tricks such as shadows, quick costume changes, and abstract scenery. What’s delightful about this show is that it reaches out to an audience that knows how to use its imagination. Read more