On the Clock: Stage manager keeps her eye on actors, props till showtime

As showtime approaches at Schenectady Civic Playhouse, stage manager makes sure everything is in pla

Bonnie Lake was all over the newspaper at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse.

She didn’t need the news. What she needed was a neat copy of an old metropolitan daily.

“Up close, you see baseball stats,” Lake said, cutting and pasting custom-made headlines. “From far away, you see the New York Dispatch from 1958.”

It was 6:30 p.m. In an hour, the paper would be ready for its appearance on stage, part of the Schenectady Civic Players’ current production of “Leading Ladies.” Schenectady resident Lake would be ready, too. As stage manager for the show, she knows all about places, curtains, lights.

“Technically, it’s everything,” said Lake, 56, who joined Civic Players in 2004, took a break and has been back backstage since 2009. “It’s basically making sure all the actors have what they need and they’re in place, oversee the crews. You’re basically there to lend them a hand, if needed.”

Lake, who stars as manager of The Travel Center bus terminal on State Street when she’s not working in the theater, also knows the characters and story. In “Leading Ladies,” English Shakespearean actors Jack (played by Jimmy Cupp) and Leo (Paul Dederick) have fallen on hard times. They learn that a wealthy woman living nearby is about to die and decide to impersonate the matron’s long-lost nephews to grab her cash. The problem is the missing relatives aren’t nephews — they’re nieces. So out come the wigs, lipstick and dresses. Hilarity ensues.

(The show will finish its run this weekend. Show times are 8 tonight and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.)

Final Dress rehearsal

At 6:35 p.m., actors, make-up personnel and director Melissa Putterman-Hoffman stood near Lake’s work table. The show’s final dress rehearsal was set to start at 7:30, and a passing actress noticed how calm everyone seemed to be. Lake took the opportunity to run an idea by Putterman-Hoffman.

“I think we need a sign-in sheet for performances,” she said. “They don’t have to do it tonight.”

The director liked the suggestion. Actors requiring hair and make-up work would sign in 90 minutes before curtain. The stage-running crew would report 30 minutes before show time. Everyone else connected to the show would be at the theater 60 minutes before performance.

At 6:50, Lake decided to check the stage — set up as a living room parlor for the first act. She also practiced with the theater’s red curtain. “I’m getting better at it,” she said. “As long as I can remember which rope is up and which rope is down.”

A few minutes later, she stood at center stage and looked out at the 20 rows of empty red seats. Lighting director Elise Charlebois stood in the center of the seats, working with some equipment.

“Bonnie, what’s the run time of this? Do you know?” she asked.

“First act is 55 minutes, second act is 70,” Lake answered.

At 7, Lake decided to remove a chair in her spot just off house right. Nobody in the audience would see the chair, and nobody would see the black-clad Lake once the show was under way.

“There’s a chair, there’s a music stand for the script,” Lake said. “I can’t sit still, I prefer to stand and move around.”

At 7:05, actor Dederick brought Lake a red velvet prop. “What is it?” he asked. “A pouch of some kind? I don’t remember using it or seeing it.”

“I’ll bring it downstairs and see who claims it,” she answered.

The mystery was quickly solved. It was a Shakespearian-style hat that a fellow actor would be wearing over a stage wig.

Minor emergency

At 7:10, Lake took a few minutes to talk with props mistress Anne Sylvester. Five minutes later, members of the company were in the theater’s large backstage room — a couple of women in hair curlers, a couple of guys in red fezzes — listening to final notes from Putterman-Hoffman. “Now go do the actor things that you do and I’ll see you later,” the director said.

At 10 minutes before curtain, a small emergency emerged. Sylvester needed another telegram envelope, and needed the classic old yellow envelope once favored by Western Union. “I think you can still use tonight’s, but it’s rather shabby,” she said.

Both women went shopping in the basement, where old props are stored. “Pack rat here has a little bit of everything,” Sylvester said, joking with Lake. “In a couple of scenes, it’s really a prop that’s noticeable.”

Lake found the envelope. “Voilà,” she said, presenting the paper to the props mistress.

“This is cool,” Sylvester said. “I think there’s something in it.”

Curtain going up

At 7:22, Putterman-Hoffman told Lake to start spreading the word. It was five minutes until places on stage — actors would stand at the ready for a few minutes before the curtain rose. A few minutes later, it was dark backstage and Lake took her spot. The opener for “Leading Ladies” — Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera” — played.

At 7:30, Lake tugged the right ropes. She raised the curtain and helped start the show.

Categories: Life and Arts

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