Y’all know I love me some theatre. Stage actors are my rockstars, and even though my Facebook friends are comprised of more than 70% theatre professionals and enthusiasts at this point, I still get a little giddy when I see them in person. But with Theatre, as with teevee and movies, it can be pretty easy to forget about the folks who AREN’T on stage. And theatre especially has a specialized individual, quite literally calling the shots on every production of every show you’ve ever seen, and who almost never, ever, EVER gets the credit she or he so richly deserves. I speak of the mythical masters of the minutia known as Stage Managers, and yesterday a few of them got the chance to finally share the spotlight they so often spend their blood, sweat and tears making other people look good under. Because over at the Gladstone Theatre (in between Salamander Theatre’s MACBETH and Plosive Production’s HOW IT WORKS), it was time for the first ever OTTAWA STAGE MANAGER BATTLE.
Put together by sometime SM (as well as actor and producer of the upcoming 15th Youth Infringement Theatre Festival) Christine Hecker as a way to highlight and celebrate the underdogs of the stage, the frankly ingenious event gathered three local SM’s (Anna Lindgren, Ashley Proulx and Jessica Preece), and paired them with three young, local companies (May Can Theatre, Glassiano Productions and Slattery Theatre). Each company was premiering a new, approx. 20 minute show, heavy on the technical cues, and each SM had only 1 hour to prepare to call their show, assigned at random. It was utter madness, a theatre fan’s fever dream, and a stage manager’s worst nightmare. AND the bar was open. Who could ask for more?
The show got underway with a perfectly fucking wonderful duet by the evening’s resident assistant SM’s Robin Thomas and Maggie Matian, sternly explaining the lengthy responsibilities inherent in stage management. ‘Yes, you can borrow a sticky note. Our backpacks are ALWAYS full! We bring the rehearsal snacks!!” Battle organizer Christine Hecker then introduced our three competing SM’s, and sent our first contestant (Ashley Proulx) up to the booth to call the first show of the evening, Glassiano’s GUARD DUTY. Starring Martin Glassford and James Graziano as a pair of easily distracted stooges on guard duty for a master criminal whose name no one can agree on…one wonders if they got their training from Jake William Smith’s character in THE HENCHMAN’S SURVIVAL GUIDE just last month. Variously aiding, heckling, or outright demolishing them was Kyle Cunningham as a variety of characters, including a surly superior officer, and impressively named superspy Rock-and-Hammer (am I remembering that right?). It was a fun show, mostly thanks to the over-the-top interplay between Graziano and Glassford…and, as I sadistically hoped from the start, just enough of the technical cues got missed or delayed to keep things even more hilarious. Although under the conditions, I’d say miss Ashley did a pretty amazing job. On to round two!
After a brief intermission, and Christine introducing our three celebrity judges for the evening (Kevin Waghorn, Tania Levy, and Natalie Joy Quesnel…an impressive lineup), Jess Preece took her place in the booth to call the second show of the night, STRIPS from Slattery Theatre. I don’t know much about this gang, as there was zero info on them in the show program, but I’m told they’re the same folks responsible for the Fringe show 100 FIRST KISSES (which I adored) this summer. A cardboard-set-heavy piece about a superhero and villain (MORE supervillains! Something’s in the water, I tell ya!) as narrated by an honest-to-gosh ten year old. A fun show with appropriately over the top villainry (and his scene-stealing cloud-bearing henchman), a foxy, double-crossing dame, and tearaway pants. And you KNOW I’m a sucker for a cardboard set.
Another brief intermission/beer break, and it was Anna Lindgren’s turn to shine, for May Can’ theatre’s two-manner LES ANIMAUX. Starring company founders and show creators Tony Adams and Cory Thibert, sporting splendid moustaches (real!), and featuring possibly the best backhanded well wishes to SM Lindgren I’ve ever heard (“Good luck, and MacBeth.” Classic. Well played, mister Thibert.) Probably the strongest show of the evening, in a story about a troubled man seeing a doctor to explore his dreams. Together they play out a hilarious scene at a coffeeshop (featuring Maggie Matian as the barista, and Tony’s ‘excellent’ Irish Accent), a clapper-heavy spat between gay lovers, and the intrusion of a mysterious, inhuman trickster figure known only as ‘Les Animaux’ The lads interplay is as good as ever here, the material has some real moments of originality and emotion…and if ever a show was custom-designed to mess with a stage manager, it’s this one. A crowd pleaser, and one I hope we see again.
That was it for the performances, in one of the purest crazy-fun events ever staged in Ottawa Theatre. After some deliberation (and a quick round of ‘Happy Birthday’ to Christine Hecker, whose special day it was (really, the whole thing was an extended birthday party), the judges returned with their verdict. And the first ever winner of the Ottawa Stage Manager Battle is…JESS PREECE ! YAY! She got a neat trophy, though I think all the competing SM’s did great with a wonderfully insane challenge. And here’s hoping it happens again, because as I say, Stage Managers ain’t getting enough love! A great night filled with new plays, wacky shenanigans, beer, and friends…Oh yeah. We’re doing this again (and next time, Nick Alain, you’re getting in there!). Peace, Love and Soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)