Mtume Salaam 8:43 a.m., May 24
In the prologue to The Who's Tommy, which closes this Sunday at the Rep., five WWII paratroopers stand in a row above the stage. Special lights point to each. One by one the lights go out. From the audience, it looks like they parachute from a plane.
In the lighting booth, stage manager Amy Blatt does air traffic control. Wearing a headset, watching both the stage and her thick book of cues, she says in a half-whisper, "Light cue 40. Lights GO." And the first paratrooper "jumps." Then "light cue 42. Lights GO." And down the line."
The timing must be split second or the scene, which happens in a jiff, falls apart.
That's just one of Blatt's countless duties as stage manager for the technically demanding musical.
To the question what do stage managers do, the answer more often than not is everything. A working definition: they're "responsible for the smooth running of rehearsals and performances, on stage and backstage."
"Sounds about right," says Blatt, who teaches acting at the School of Creative and Performing Arts. She developed an interest in stage managing at SDSU, where she received a B.A. in General Theatre Arts, and was an assistant stage manager at Starlight for six years.
Even with all her experience, Blatt says she has "never, ever worked on a show with so many props."
Along with guns that must fire when fired, and a helium balloon that must be just right at the right time, the show has ongoing "furniture issues."
The reason, "chairs get thrown around. Some break, and I've got to call the prop mistress to come fix them.
"Oh...I forgot to mention turntable cues." It has to stop at precise points. If not, the lights focuses on the mirror "will bounce off its reflection wrong."
She arrives an hour early and makes sure everyone in the 30-person cast, and every thing, is in place. From the early arrival to long after the final curtain (when she emails production notes to cast and crew), Blatt doesn't take a break.
Tommy's so complicated, she has two assistant stage managers, one just offstage on each side, and an intern.
"And they help!"
Blatt calls 300 lighting cues (many of which are "double," so the actual number is 600), almost 100 projection cues, and a "lot of panel cues."
One of the first things stage managers learn: trouble will not only happen here, it will happen soon.
As when the show's ornery panels get stuck and strand actors behind them.
"The thing is, a stage manager can't panic. It doesn't help to freak out when other people are. So you say into the mic. 'okay, we'll figure it out.'
"You have to keep calm even if it means turning off your microphone and screaming at the floor."