by Steve Lottes
Steve Lottes has been involved with community, school, and regional theater for over 30 years. He has been a set, lighting and sound designer, and Stage Manager behind the curtain, and a Mayor, Captain, King and eccentric father among his roles in front of the curtain. Steve has also taught stagecraft and basic lighting and sound design to middle and high school tech crews. He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA.
My daughter has been a contributor to the Board for some time, and we occasionally discuss her ideas for potential publication. One time I said I don’t ever recall discussing an article about the technical/design aspects of the theatre, and she said, “Dad, that’s your department. Why don’t you write a guest article about your thirty plus years as a set, lighting and sound designer for all the local community and school shows you’ve done?” Taking up the challenge, I said sure, but how do I write something different about Tech Theater that will keep someone interested beyond the first paragraph? Well, she reminded me of The Stage Crew Bible that I’ve adapted and added to over the years, annotating my experiences with non-profit and school productions. Not a bad idea, I said, and so we begin…
I don’t remember how I came upon The Stage Crew Bible, but as a Technical Director and Stage Manager, I was immediately drawn to its light-hearted description of things that happen on and around the stage, interactions between the stage crew and the actors. It is written in the style of the Bible and includes variations on the Book of Genesis, Book of Proverbs, Book of Psalms, Book of Letters, and The Acts (personal anecdotes). Over the years, the original work I found has been updated and adapted by myself, and as I don’t know who the original author was; I cannot give them full credit, except to say thanks for the idea and getting me started.
The Bible starts out with the Book of Genesis, appropriately enough, and describes how the Designer, working with the production team, creates a show:
In the beginning was the Stage, and the Stage was without sets, or props, or even the slightest sound, or lights, and darkness was on the faces of the actors. And the Designer said, “Let there be lights!” And the Crew worked and wired, and there were lights: spotlights and specials, areas and backlighting, yea, lights of all shapes, sizes and hues. And the Designer saw the lights, that they were well-aimed and focused and gelled according to the scene, and no more was there darkness on the faces of the actors, and it was good. And the evening and the morning were the First Day.
And continues through the second day (Let there be a set), the third day (Let there be props), the fourth day (Let there be costumes), and finally the fifth day:
And the Director did watch the play, and anguished that the actors did wail in silence, and beseeched the Designer to intervene. And the Designer was moved to pity. And the Designer said, “Let there be sound!” And the Crew worked to provide each of the actors, and lo, even to the orchestra, sufficient microphones and mixers and amplifiers and speakers. And there were sounds, each according to its place and cue, all to the proper levels. And the Designer heard the sounds and they were good, and the evening and the morning were the Fifth Day.
And in the end:
And as it were, all these works were completed in five days, showing that if the Almighty One had used sufficient Crew in His Creation, He may have finished sooner.
The Book of Proverbs, as you might expect, gives advice and warning to those who may venture onto the stage:
Behold, my children, here is wisdom. Pay heed to these words, in the days of thy play, in the hours of thy hard work, that thou shall not be caught short. For truly, it is said, pay heed to the errors of others and you shall not make them yourself…
…Give not unto an actor his props before their time, for as surely as the sun does rise in the East and set in the West, he shall lose or break them…
…When told the placement of props by the Director, write not these things in ink upon the script, for as surely as the winds shall blow, so shall the Director change his mind…
…Tap lightly not on the head of a nail to drive it, but use the force of thy spirit to strike it firmly with thy strength..
…Beware of actors during scene changes, for they are not like unto you, and are blind in the dark…
…Remember always that the Stage Manager is never wrong. If it appears so, then it is obvious that you misunderstood the instruction…
The Book of Psalms, like in the Bible, is a collection of “prayers” of thanksgiving and joy. I wrote these from personal experiences. “To The Scenic Artist, A Psalm of Praise” was written for one of the first scenic artists I worked with. The show was Suessical, a very colorful and wacky set. I came up with the basic layout and color scheme, and she created a set right from the pages of Dr. Seuss:
I waited, waited for one who would hear my cry. And lo, the Scenic Artist; who bent down and heard my cry, drew me out of the pit of raw set pieces, out of the mud of the swamp of bare wood, set my feet upon textured pieces, steadied my steps, and put a song in my mouth, a hymn to our success…
…I announced your deeds to a great Cast and Crew; I did not restrain my lips; they are my witness. Your deeds I did not hide within my heart; your loyal aid I have proclaimed…
…Though I am steady in working with my hands to form and build the wood and cloth, I am afflicted with unsteady hands and color-blindness when a paint brush is given me; the Artist fills my void… You are my help and deliverer; my Artist, do not delay!
“For the Cast, A Psalm of Praise” was written after a youth performance of Godspell, appropriately performed in a church:
Our Cast, how awesome is your performance through the land!
You have set our happiness above the heavens!
Out of the mouths of teens and tweens and littles, you have made us jubilant with your song!
With drums and tambourine, with the melody upon the guitar and flute.
With hearts and soul, you have shown your joy, your dance pure delight!
How happy are we who have been witness to your work, you have clothed us in gladness!
Our Cast, how awesome is your performance through the land!
And to close, The Book of Acts, personal stories and anecdotes of my 30 plus years in front of and behind the curtain. I added this Act after my first adult performance as an actor, and it speaks for itself (I did double duty as an actor and set designer for the production; perhaps the last paragraph gives you a clue as to the show):
At that time, as the number of songs in his mind continued to grow, the daughters proclaimed to him that he should not let his voice be neglected. So they called together the community of theaters and said, "It is not right for him to neglect his voice and desire to use it to serve the good of the community. Father, select from among the auditions, one that fills you with the spirit and wisdom, which we shall agree, and we shall devote ourselves to your and its’ success."
The proposal was accepted, and so he went, a man filled with faith and spirit, did audition, and he waited, and also his daughters, already disciples of acting, song and dance. And their wait was answered, for indeed, a role he was offered, and in thanksgiving and joyful song, he did accept…
…The actors did begin to talk amongst themselves, and this stirred them, for they said, “It is blasphemous that he toils on the set, yet holds a role of principal among us, and his lack of wisdom of his words and blocking and song cause us anxiety and worry…."
…And renewed in spirit, he did go forth, and gain the wisdom of lines and song and blocking, and did bring relief, and lo, even happiness, to his brethren actors…
Yet the settings and props did also sprout and flower under his hand, and the patriarchs of the theater were filled with elation, for the show was good, and they all sang out, the children, the enchanted of the castle, the townspeople, the schemers and villain’s, the young beauty and her father, even the transformed one who dwelt in the castle, sang a joyous song, holding hands and reveling in the spirit of the theater.
And so we close, not another performance, but this personal tribute to my fellow stage crew, designers, artists and, yes, even my colleague actors. The next show will go on, and I am happy to be a part of this wonderful community.