Our wide-eyed LA correspondent Jen Brown spends her days surrounded by the stars of stage and screen. Imagine her thrills when she got the opportunity to become one of them. Well, sort of.
This is a tale of how I nearly exceeded my wildest dreams and became a Hollywood stage manager. Well OK, a stone’s throw away. Hollywood is 15 minutes on the train but seeing that sign regularly makes me embellish.
I live at Horace Heidt Estates in Sherman Oaks, where stardust covered ghosts hang out. Where the air you breathe is pure tinsel and dreams twirl like glitterballs in the sun and where one funky neighbour, quite out of the blue, asked if I would stage-manage her musical about a dysfunctional Jewish family.
Why she asked me this, I have no clue, but before you could say Andrew Lloyd Webber, I heard myself reply, “Sure!”
“Sure!” is said a lot in California and I thought the time was right for me to say it too.
It wasn’t meant to be, of course. As my daughter kindly pointed out, I can’t manage my diary, let alone a production (it’s true). Her advice was: “Don’t, Mam.”
I didn’t listen, also of course. I looked up ‘stage manager’ on Wikipedia to find out what it really meant. I learned it meant a fair bit. But I wasn’t about to be fainthearted. I drew up a props list and placed it alongside the script in a black folder. “Where’s Nano going, Mammy?” asked my granddaughters, as I snuck out the door with the folder under my arm. “Rehearsal”, I muttered and ran.
“I did the only sensible thing I could and sent up a prayer to the board-treading spectres of Horace Heidt Estates; surely they would help me out?”
It went well and I even knew one of the actors – I had attended his improv class. I dazzled him by telling him I was improvising at being a stage manager. At least, I think I dazzled him, but as he is one of Los Angeles’ award-winning improv coaches, I couldn’t be certain. If he was dubious, he didn’t show it and neither did the rest of the sparkling cast.
I rustled up a few rehearsal props for the next session and the actors seemed grateful. I offered suggestions on SFX, lighting and the way certain dialogue might be delivered. For my paltry efforts, I received an email from the writers saying I was proving to be invaluable.
Now I was scared. I found being invaluable disconcerting and had the overwhelming urge to be useless instead. This urge should have been an enormous red flag.
In my role as stage manager, I emailed actors, liaised closely with the director and generally soaked up the musicality. I paddled along merrily for some time but as rehearsals progressed, I became increasingly aware that I was wearing the wrong hat and my head hurt, accordingly.
But when I tried to hand in my notice, they didn’t take me seriously and instead gave me two packets of Calm powders. When my daughter asked how they had taken my resignation, I held up my meds. She wasn’t impressed. I took the powders and slept like a log.
The following week my ‘wrong hat’ fell off, completely. I’d cobbled together my biog for the programme and, yes, I admit I swanked off a bit and included plays I’d written back in England. A director friend assured me bragging rights were acceptable when not being paid. I might have bragged too much, though, because I was specifically asked to keep previous work to a minimum, lest the audiences wonder why I hadn’t written the musical. Oh.
Suddenly my stage-managing bubble burst all over my face. Sequins and greasepaint aside, I started to feel hollow and disconcerted in a different way. I did the only sensible thing I could and sent up a prayer to the board-treading spectres of Horace Heidt Estates; surely they would help me out?
Within 15 minutes spiritual guidance came my way in the form of paying work. I was asked (by an even funkier neighbour) to play a special role, a role I had played many times before – and to the most appreciative of audiences. She offered me a babysitting job and, wouldn’t you know it, the dates clashed with the show.
OK, so maybe the lack of bucks wasn’t the reason I quit (most of us do what we do for love, after all). It was the prospect of three doubt-filled weeks, wearing ill-fitting headgear and a motherfucker migraine. To stave off further Calm powders, I handed in my notice via text and – hoo-bloody-ray – it was accepted.
The musical, which should remain nameless, went on to enjoy a great run without me, as I fancied it would. My name and photo went into the programme for all of a second and I still have it in an email. Get this though, I even made the company photograph! Now, when I’m dead and gone and my granddaughters root through my things, they will believe it really happened. I almost believe it myself…
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A Hollywood based Geordie pensioner living on her wits. Affectionately known as Nano to her granddaughters. Instantly likeable. (Daughter's words!) @MmePcato