Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adventures in Fish Keeping, Part Two

My last post was massive and I still have a lot more to say, so I decided to break this off into a different post.  I'm going to talk about plants and equipment probably this time.

Originally I had some plastic plants, which is fine and honestly (dear god) much much easier.  They were what I had inherited from Boyfriend's old supplies.  Then I went to petco (not the one that has sold me excellent fish but the one that sold me a half dead goldfish) and bought some plants.  I ended up buying two that weren't actually aquatic plants (bamboo and arrowroot), one ludwiga (aquatic primrose), and one piece of driftwood.  The bamboo is living very happily in a cup and the arrowroot is in the tank still but I'm keeping a very close eye on it for rot.  The driftwood is dead and thus was fine to begin with (I got a nice curved piece and dug out the gravel from under it and the corys love it).  The ludwiga has grown about 5" total I think since when I bought it over a month ago.

I've enjoyed having the plants, but I did more research and ended up getting an amazon sword (a giant one, easily 14" tall) so that the gourami (who like floating plants which I don't want to deal with) would have something to shade them from the light.  Shortly after I got the amazon sword I got two banana plants which are shorter, so I would have something to put in the front of the tank.  They are growing well and actually starting to put up lily pads.  I'm trying to decide if I want to prune them so they'll stay short or just allow them to grow up.

Eventually I would like to get a carpet/ground cover plant because the substrate (gravel) I inherited from Boyfriend was blue.  I could have switched it out at one point, but when I was buying more substrate for my new tank I was at the point where I need every bit of ammonia eating bacteria I could get, so I didn't want to get rid of the old gravel.  Thus I have a mixture of blue gravel and blue sand, which looks horribly unnatural compared to the rest of my tank, but it gives it character (or something)?

Many sites recommend a finer substrate than gravel for corys, because their barbels (feelers) are delicate, but I haven't had trouble with gravel actually.  Also, sand tends to get sucked up by a gravel siphon/vaccum and that's pretty much the last thing I want.

So, as far as equipment goes for a tank here's the list of what I have, what it does, and why I have it.

  • 20 Gallon High Aqueon Tank- This is obvious as to what it is and why I have it.  I honestly suggest starting with a 20 gallon tank minimum because then you can actually stock a reasonable amount of fish without over crowding.  The generally rule is the every inch of fish needs about a gallon of water.  That is a huge rule of thumb and people will debate you up and down forever about it.  The more fish you have, the more you're going to have to change you're water.  When change you're water, don't scoop out the fish, dump out all the water and then fill it back up.  That will ruin all of your careful cycling and stress the fish out.  Instead siphon out or scoop out 20-30% (50% at the most generally) of the water weekly or every other week.  Also scrub down your glass.  I really wish I had a 30 gallon tank for this group of fish now, but 20 works.
  • Aqueon Versa Glass Top- Many people recommend keeping a lid on a fish tank to keep fish from jumping out.  I don't actually know how common that is, but I have it just in case.  I actually also have a hood (which is not glass, just black plastic and probably the most common top that people would think of) but it let less light in, so I haven't been using it.
  • Aqueon Stock 24" Strip Light- Okay, this is my biggest deficiency.  When growing plants you really should have double the watts per gallon.  There are low light plants, but I don't actually have any.  I only have 17w watts total, so less than even 1w/g.  My plants are doing surprisingly well and I have been adding fertilizer and CO2 (topics for another day) which I believe is helping (or so it appears) rather than harming, which it is possible for it to do.  However, lights have been the most expensive part actually for me so far and that's just for the shitty one I have.  You see, it's not just a matter of replacing the light bulb I have.  I have the highest wattage bulb that they make in the style that my strip light accepts.  In order to get more wattage I would need to actually go out and buy a new strip light and most of the ones that I've looked at that would give me what I need require open top aquariums, which I'm not sure I'm comfortable with.
  • Aqua Clear 20 Filter- I originally had a 30 gallon Aqueon filter but it created way too strong a current, so I swapped it out for this.  I've been thrilled with it.  Filters have three different "media" mechanical, chemical, and biological.  Each takes care of a different part of the water parameters and each is important.  This one's nice because it has three very distinct, easy to see parts.  It is a Hang-on-back style filter (a favorite of freshwater fish keepers) and I love it.  Very quiet.
  • Tetra Whisper 20i- This is an in-tank filter meaning that the majority of it is contained inside the tank.    It takes up a lot of room, but it's quiet and creates very little current (which the gourami appreciate and the danio don't so the danio spend a lot of time in the stream of the aqua clear filter).  I ultimately am using it because I needed more filtration since I am slightly overstocked and when I bought my 40 and 55 gallon tanks it came with them, so why the hell not use it?
  • ViaAqua Heater- When I was keeping goldfish I didn't need a heater because they are coldwater fish.  Then I started keeping tropical fish and I got a set thermostat (non-adjustable) Aqueon one, which heated just fine but didn't keep the water temperature very consistent.  I actually just switched to this one yesterday. So far it tends to be keeping the water quite warm 80 degrees (I'm shooting for 74), so I've been gradually turning it down.
  • Rocket-fin Analog Thermometer- Basically you shove the fins into the substrate and they keep it from turning.  It's fairly nice, if I do get a reef tank, I'll get a digital thermometer.
As far as things outside the tank go I have:
  • API Master Test- An essential water testing kit that lets you know your water parameters.
  • Oxygen Test Kit- Not essential, but for awhile I was having trouble with the amount of oxygen in my water.
  • API Quick Start- Many people scoff, but I highly recommend it if you want to speed up a cycle.  I talk about it in my last post.
  • Seachem's Prime-  This is a water conditioner plus some.  It removes chlorine and chloramine from tap water.  It also detoxifies ammonia and binds nitrites, which means that even if you have a spike in ammonia or nitrites, it won't necessarily kill you fish.  Invest in this, it is well worth your time of any single item I have.
  • Tropical Fish Flakes- Mmm, yummy.
  • Freeze-Dried Bloodworms- To supplement the flakes, really not necessary.
  • Sinking Algae Rounds- I got these for the corys to make sure they were eating.
  • Gravel Siphon- I got this to clean the gravel, but it also works wonderfully to drain old water out of the tank.  Many people say you can go without and you can, but they're so convenient.
So the number on thing I learned about equipment is spend the extra money to get something you really want, because eventually you're going to upgrade and that's going to be expensive.  I don't mean go out and buy a 100 gallon tank, but don't buy the cheapest heater you can find necessarily unless it is well reviewed somewhere.  Spending the extra money upfront will save in the long run.

My male dwarf gourami, the camera doesn't do him justice really, nor does my lighting.

The golden long-finned danio, they are so quick they're hard to get a picture of, this is the best I could manage.  He's in front of one of my banana plants.  A much, much better picture. 

My female gourami.  She's actually almost as big as my male (who is big for a male), so she's huge.

My julii corydoras love the log and don't particularly like when people are right by the glass, so they're hiding.  Have a better picture.

My fish tank as a whole.  I'm rather pleased with the overall look of it actually.

This is one of my normal zebra danio.  As I've said, they're so fast.  A better internet picture.

Adventures in Fish Keeping, Part One

When I moved into our new apartment I had to leave my cat behind because Lana's allergies.  I missed her and Boyfriend had a spare, small aquarium, so I got some goldfish.   I figured, I had them as a kid, should be easy enough.  And boy was I wrong.

Initially I had two goldfish in what I thought was a 10 gallon tank.  It turns out I have no sense of volume when it comes to containers, because it was a three gallon tank, so ultimately for about a week I ended up keeping three goldfish in a three gallon tank, which is actually bordering on inhumane.  I went and got a 20 gallon tank and filled it up (including the old tank water), acclimated the fish, and put them in.  Within three days all three goldfish had died.  Within a week more the single goldfish I had gotten as a replacement had also died (although this time I am convinced it was of a disease he got from the pet store he came from).

So...I stopped and actually thought about what I was doing and did a lot of research.  It turns out fish keeping is hard.  A damn bit harder than keeping a dog or a cat I'd argue (and I've done both).  With dogs, cats, ferrets, rats, guinea pigs, you name it, you aren't creating the environment.  You aren't creating the correct air mixture that they need to breath.  With fish, that's exactly what you're doing.

It turns out, when you start a new tank, you need to give it time for it to go through the nitrogen cycle.  What that means is that you start with ammonia and slowly (1-3 weeks slowly) ammonia eating bacteria begins to form and it turns the ammonia into nitrite.  Well, nitrite is even more deadly to the fish than ammonia is, so you need to wait another 2-4 weeks for the nitrite eating bacteria to form, so it can break down the nitrite down into less harmful nitrate.  At that point you do a water change and your water parameters (as I learned they're called) are finally safe for fish.

Now, how do you get ammonia?  There are two ways.  The first way is you go out and buy a bunch of cheap fish, ones you don't care about at all, and then you let them produce waste (ammonia).  I inadvertently did this when I bought the goldfish.  What happened is in the three gallon tank I actually went through almost a full cycle (though I still had high ammonia because the tank was so small), but then I started a much much bigger tank and then the fish had to live through cycling the tank all over again and they just couldn't do it.  Cycling tanks with fish in them is much less common these days and it's not particularly humane.

Now, the second way to cycle a tank is buy ammonia from the hardware store, introduce about 4ppms worth and wait till the bacteria develop.  This is what I did after all my goldfish died.  It took about 4 weeks to finish it's cycle (remember I was already part way started) and eventually I did get impatient and bought a product called Quick Start.  What it did was essentially introduce ammonia eating bacteria immediately and surprisingly that actually finished cycling my tank within a day, I was really surprised.

So I introduced one dwarf gourami and two julii corydoras (catfish essentially).  I had done a lot of research at that point and loved the look of the gourami.  The person at my local petco suggested I get a small school of corydoras, so I started with them.  I bought two more corydoras from my local fish store (LFS), bringing my total up to four, almost immediately, because the petco I had bought the first one from had only had two total.  My ammonia spiked, but went down a few days later.

Now, only male dwarf gourami are normally sold in pet stores (including LSFs).  The reason for this is that the males are the ones with the flashy, gorgeous colors.  If you get a true dwarf gourami (Colisa lalia, not a honey gourami, etc which is slightly different) then the females are white (if you happen to get a pretty one) or a grey/silver color.  However, when I went to get my male gourami I was extremely surprised that a petco (not exactly known for being the best place to buy fish) had two female dwarf gourami in with the male.  I almost bought a female gourami at that point, but I wanted to let my water settle.  After about five days I decided that I had to get a female, because they are so rarely sold.

When I bought her, I was initially worried because the male bullied her, which I've read is common, so you frequently buy two females for each male.  I'll admit I was a bit surprised because my male gourami had been very social (even schooling to some extent) with my corys. I considered going back for the second female, but waited a day and suddenly the two fish were best of friends.

I waited another week and my water finally settled down completely.  I had done a lot of research and whenever I passed near a pet store (and with four jobs in four different cities this was quite often) I would stop in and look at the fish.  I decided that I wanted zebra danios.  They weren't the prettiest fish ever or the most exotic but they are active, playful, hardy fish which was pretty much what I was looking for.  Unfortunately they aren't known well for being paired with gourami, because they are particularly energetic and gourami are slower moving fish.  But I got a fairly lively, sociable pair, so I hoped for the best.

I went to the petco I bought the gourami from and picked up five zebra danio.  I originally had intended to get four regular zebra danio, but they had only had five and I felt really bad about leaving a single, very heavily school dependent fish alone at the store.  I then went to another petco I had visited earlier in the week, which had a very pretty color variant on the zebra danios: the golden long finned variant.  I got three initially (bringing my total to the eight that I had intended), but again there was a single lone danio left in the tank, so I bought the last one of the goldens and one more normal zebra, to bring my total to an even ten (I felt so strange having nine).

Then I introduced all ten to my tank at once, which I knew I shouldn't have done.  Generally you want to add 5-6 fish at most to a tank at a time so that the spike of ammonia won't be horrible.  But I had been impulsive, so I added the fish, treated the water both with Quick Start and with Prime (which detoxifies ammonia into ammonium) and hoped for the best.

That was two weeks ago and I haven't lost a fish yet (I actually got 10 danios ultimately expecting to lose one or two, because that is quite common, even when you do everything right).  Initially I saw a huge spike in ammonia and I was changing my water every day, but it mellowed out for a week.  The last two days I've actually had an obscene ammonia spike and an algae outbreak, and I'm not sure why, so I did a 50% water change, cleaned the tank very thoroughly, and introduced another filter (rated for 20 gallons (Tetra 20i in-tank filter)) in addition to my Aqua Clear 20.  The water looks great now actually and the fish are much livelier, so it seems to have helped.

Probably I will end up talking about fish keeping a bit more, so hopefully it's not that boring for you.  I've actually learned a ton and it's very rewarding as a hobby.  I would love to start a forty or fifty-five gallon reef tank and have both the aforementioned tanks, but I'm saving up to buy supplies, plus an apartment only has so much space.  This time I'm doing a ton of research before I just throw fish in, because a reef tank is very, very different then a freshwater tank, not to mention more expensive in general.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I have been working at Starbucks for barely more than a month now.  It's hard work but I really enjoy it.  Certainly it keeps my mind busy and working all the time.

It's a really interesting environment, particularly since I'm working in the Seattle area, where Starbucks first got it's start.  What I didn't realize about Starbucks is how full and part time work goes.  If you are barista you are working what most jobs would call part time hours (generally somewhere from 20-30 hours a week).  However, you do get benefits and basically you are considered full time.  A part time employee would basically be someone who worked under 20 hours a week.  This is literally true, but it seems in practice that's how it works out.  Then above the barista there are shift supervisors, assistant store managers, and store managers.

The really fun thing is that even the store manager will work the floor with you when it's busy.  There are three "positions" on the floor: bar, ringing (cash register), and floating.  On bar you make the drinks, simple enough in theory.  In my opinion it takes the longest to learn because you are creating an entirely new skill set at first.  You need how to steam milk, pull shots, pump syrups, the correct order for all of the above, you do teas, ice drinks, frappucinos, and (the worst) smoothies.  On top of all that you need to know all the drink recipes (including strange exceptions), the order that you make a drink in, you have to juggle preparing two drinks at once, and you need to hand out those drinks to the customers and always have a smile on your face.  It's our policy that if we get a drink wrong then we will remake it, immediately.  It's nice because you can always say: How many pumps of syrup go in this strange specialty drink and you'll get an answer and a smile from the other partners (which is what they have us call our coworkers).

Ringing in my opinion is the easiest by far.  Once you learn the menus then you can fly through them.  The only difficulty is writing both the cup and putting it into the system, but as long as you can recall what you just wrote then you're fine.  I'm particularly good at ringing, so I end up on register a lot, which is fine, I don't mind.  The longest thing it took me to learn there was all the abbreviations for drinks, because there are many many many.

Floating is where they started me and I understand why.  It seemed remarkably simple to me at first, but there is a nuance to it that is why most shift supervisors float, versus ringing or bar.  When you're floating you are putting food in the oven, pouring drip coffees, restocking, helping prepare the bar person's milks (if they're swamped), and double ringing.  There's a lot to do and prioritizing is key, but unlike on bar, there is no exactly set order that you're supposed to prioritize, which is where it gets tricky.

I love my partners on the job, because they are exactly that.  You know that if you leave a mess from food items when you're floating then the next person who is floating is going to have to clean it up, and that's not fair to them.  We switch positions on the floor constantly.  I have been on register for four hours straight, but I have also floated for half an hour, been on bar for a fifteen minutes, and then on register for fifteen minutes. Where your shift supervisor assigns you all depends on what type of crowd there is.  And since you could be going to any position at any time it really pays to keep a clean work area.  I was about to leave today and had been working bar so when my replacement showed up I knew she needed four gallons of milk to stock her fridge, so I still offered to do that for her before I left.

I am having a lot of fun, but all of the hard work has made me seriously look at the distribution of wealth in America.  I'm not saying doctors and engineers and etc shouldn't make a lot of money because of their skillset.  However, I know how hard I work and I know how much I make and the difference seems hugely unfair.  I suddenly understand what it means to be working class.  It means you work your ass off and you still won't have very much money in the end.  It makes me understand why some people want to climb corporate ladders to have money.  I don't think I could ever bring myself to do that though.  Where I am means I get to see people's days just get that little much better and it makes me happier.  Yes, it's only coffee, but these days there's almost no such thing as only coffee.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Updatey Thing

Okay, I've been meaning to write this post forever, but considering I'm falling asleep as I write it, that sorta just proves how busy I've been.

After my summer show I took three weeks off and it was glorious and I moved into a new apartment which is still fantastic even two months in.  What happened shortly after my last post was that I started three new jobs.  I  was already officiating high school volleyball, so for two weeks I was working four different jobs.

I am now working at Starbucks as a barista, which is really fun actually.  I'll have to write a post of it at another point when I'm not about to pass out.  It's a ton of work, in general I'm learning how much work the average person (retail, customer service, etc) has to do just to barely make a living.  It's incredibly unfair, but that's for another post.

I also am working a show in Seattle (until February uggh) at the moment.  It's probably my least favorite job I've done so far in the professional theatre world.  The kids are just about the cutest thing ever, particularly our solitary five year old (the age range is technically 5-11, but most of the kids are eight or nine).  I love them, but the main office is horribly, horribly disorganized.  The number of miscommunications is fairly astonishing.  However, the most frustrating part is the parents, who I am required to treat as if the shit rainbows and burp sunshine, even though they are abrasive and sometimes even hostile.  Again, this is certainly another post in the making, but that's what's going on in the meantime.

The third job requires yet another post to completely elaborate on my discoveries about theatre from that post.  It was back at the theatre I worked at most of last year.  It's my favorite theatre to work with so far.  That show was just two weeks long, it was a fundraiser cabaret show and I got to work with a bunch of kids I love.

So yeah, I was working about 80 hours a week for those two weeks and it has left me horribly tired.  I feel like I'm still trying to catch up on sleep and be less exhausted.  The worst part is that I'm still not making that much money despite all of my hard work.  Oh well.

Oh, also my stomach has been acting up.  I've been pretty much chronically nauseous, and it doesn't seem to activate with either gluten or lactose, so I think I need to go to the doctor for that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

All Moved In

As you can probably guess from the title: I'm in my new apartment now!  It's fantastic let me tell you.  I never realized how much my life was dictated by where I lived before until now.  Still, it's great.  I'm in a three bedroom apartment now, living with Boyfriend, Lana, and Kelsey (who has brought her dog who is very cute though also very loud).  Everyone whose been over to our new apartment has remarked on how nice it is and how nice our furniture is, so it seems to me as if we're doing quite well for ourselves indeed.

I've been officiating volleyball over the past two weeks and my next show is due to start rehearsals in two weeks.  This current week is auditions, which I would dearly like to attend, but I won't be able to until Thursday.  It will be interesting to see how this process goes.  I'm working for a program I've never worked with before and with kids younger than I'm used to (the age group is 5-11 yikes).

I'm also in the process of interviewing for Starbucks, which is a job I hope I get.  However, as I've realized recently, that means that I could potentially be working three jobs, which is more than a little daunting.  Just working two jobs has made scheduling a nightmare, though at least if I get the one at Starbucks then it means that it won't conflict at all since it will be a morning job.  It would be so so nice to have benefits, as much as I love stage managing, there's very little chance I'll get benefits any time soon.

It is at times frustrating to have to work so hard and end up with so little money.  I am happy doing what I'm doing but when most of my friends work in high paying jobs, it gets hard at times.  Especially when I'm in a situation that I have to admit how little money I really have.  It's also been tough because moving requires a lot of money in a short time span.  I'm making it work though, although I do wish that it wasn't so common for people to need to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Hufflepuff Bias

Well, I have more time than I realized, so I'm going to see if I can fit in another post in the time before I need to go.

When Pottermore first existed, I created an account  and got sorted into Gryffindor.    Recently, I was curious if I took the Sorting test again what the results would be.  I was given a set of almost completely different questions.  I'm fairly certain the two repeat questions I had, I gave the same answer as previously.  This time I was sorted (caps? no caps?) into Hufflepuff (which my spell check would like to correct to kerfuffle).

Why am I sharing this information?  It's seemingly random, very nerdy, and mostly off topic.  The reason I'm sharing this information is because I actually do feel like Hufflepuff fits me quite well.  When I was younger I liked Gryffindor and identifed strongly with the characters there, but I think I slowly realized Hufflepuff isn't an awful House, unlike many people would have you believe.

It's interesting to me that the other three Houses in Harry Potter are so popular.  Ravenclaw is for the smart kids, Gryffindor is for the brave kids (the jocks and athletes in many people's opinions), Slytherin is for the ambitious kids.  But then what is Hufflepuff for?

Well, I looked up the adjectives the Sorting Hat uses for your viewing pleasure (this site was a wonderful asset considering my actual copies of Harry Potter are all packed.  If you want to read the full Sorting Hat speeches, it has them there).h

Philosopher’s Stone
Goblet of Fire
Order of the Phoenix
 Brave at heart, daring, nerve, chivalry
Brave deeds, bravest, boldest, daring 
 Real friends, cunning, any means to achieve their ends
Power-hungry, great ambition
Ancestry is purest, pure-blood, cunning 
 wise, old, ready mind, wit
Intelligence, sharpest mind 
 just, loyal, patient, true, unafraid of toil
Hard workers 
 "Teach the lot", "The rest"

As I said earlier, the three most popular Houses are Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw.  I want to briefly look at the connotations that their descriptors give.

  • Brave- No bad prevalent connotations
  • Daring- Usually described as a desirable trait
  • Chivalry- Association with code of honor, and knights, very strong good connotations
  • Boldest- Generally good connotation, but there is such a thing as being overly bold
  • Brave Deeds- In the context of the song ("We'll teach all those/with brave deeds to their name") this means fame and fame can have a good connotation, but it can imply selfishness and shallowness
  • Real friends- good connotation, implies loyalty/depth of character
  • Cunning- Though it can be used as a good trait, this is often used to imply that someone is misleading or out for their own gain
  • Any means to achieve their ends- Really, this is just not good.
  • Power hungry- Again, not a good thing really at all
  • Great ambition- This can be a useful thing (I'm not overly fond of ambitious people but it can be good in many situations)
  • Ancestry is the purest/pure blood- Not a good thing. Within in the story a very bad thing in fact.

  • Wise (going to include old with this)- This is something that people want, it generally comes with age and so children of 11 would be particularly impressive to be considered wise, even if they were not wise yet but just had the potential to become wise.
  • Ready mind- Teachable, when I'm teaching someone this is a very useful trait
  • Wit- This can be good because it implies cleverness and intelligence.   I would also say that this can fall under the same category as cunning occasionally.
  • Cleverness- This is generally a very good descriptor for intelligence
  • Intelligence- Intelligence is has good connotations.  But I would like to note that, at least within American culture, there exists a certain bias against intelligent people.
  • Sharp mind- Okay, basically the same as all the rest, we get it, Ravenclaws are smart.

What's my point?  When I look over these they read as one dimensional to me.  Gryffindor people are brave, but what else?  Slytherin's use their guile to reap reward (oh, also they make good, true friends?).  Ravenclaw students are smart, which is repeated ad nauseam.  Now let's look at Hufflepuff's traits.

  • Just- Offhand, there aren't any bad connotations with come with this word.
  • Loyal- This is a trait I prize above most, which means I'm biased, but this is important to relationships
  • Patient- "Patience wins the day", "Patience is a virtue", shall I continue?
  • True- It's interesting, this isn't a word that's used to describe people very often, but if I was described that way I think it would be some of the highest praise I could receive
  • Unafraid of toil/Hard workers- Means they aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, they aren't given things, they work for them.  Some could say that it implies they are lower class, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
  • "Teach the lot"/"The rest"- Again, this is an interesting statement.  I think this particular descriptor didn't do a lot for Hufflepuff.  It implies that there was nothing special about those people.  They're all thrown into a group because they don't have one particular trait that makes them unique.
So Hufflepuff descriptors are interesting to me.  It they are fair and just, they are devoted to other people, they are willing to wait and not push the issue, and they are willing to work hard.  I feel like J.K. Rowling used "teach the lot" and "take the rest" to describe Hufflepuff because she didn't have one catchall word that she could use.

It's interesting (and possibly telling) to me that it's the least popular House.  They're good people who like other people and are willing to work hard.  There's no conniving, there's no pride, there's no showing off.  It's frustrating to me that our culture (and many cultures similar to the US) prefers blinding ambition to a good, but perhaps average person.  You don't need something that makes you "special and unique" to make you a worthwhile person.  Just do your best and work hard and be a good person.

I guess this post just shows why I tested as Hufflepuff this time around?

Note:  While there are some connotations that are fairly universal, talking with Jay has reminded me that many connotations are intensely personal, and so these connotations are my personal opinions.  Also, I am biased in general because I'm not a huge fan of how the Houses are structured in general.

Soul Mates Revisited

One short update before I leave for my interview.

Awhile back I posted on the subject of "The One", more frequently called Soul Mates.

Well over at What If xkcd, Randall Munroe has posted on the same topic.  I didn't feel comfortable jumping into the math of it when I was writing on the subject, but he has and it's a very telling story.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hey Look, it's an Update

A lot's been going on in my life and as soon as my friends graduated college and then returned back to this area most of my spare time has been spent hanging out with them.  I stopped updating regularly in May, which is a long fucking time ago, so I'll update you on my life.

I started a show at the theatre I have been working with most often at the beginning of June.  I finished that production at the end of August.  It involved 45 children, five directors, and four stage managers.  It was by far the largest show I've worked and the first that had automation (where the scenery moves because of motors as opposed to be moved by people).  I was head asm and I was managing a crew of seven other people (strictly stage crew) and also checking in with four dressers.  To say the least, I was very busy.  But I think that the show went off very nicely.

While this was all happening we were all trying to hang out with Kat as much as possible, who was moving out of the state for what I count as the foreseeable future.  It was weird because I'm not sure I've ever had a friend move out of the state before.  I miss her, but she has a good job and seems to be getting on well.

What else did I do?  I went to Canada with Kelsey (who I have mentioned previously as Will) and her sister for an anime convention.  Kelsey and I both make stuffed, plush "toys" (as the border crossing person called them).  They sold pretty well actually and it was a ton of fun.

I've had the last three weeks off which is mostly good because Boyfriend, Lana, and Kelsey, and I move into an apartment this coming Saturday and I've been very busy packing up my entire life.  It's crazy some of the things I've kept from childhood.  I've moved plenty of times before, but never with the intention of moving out of my parent's house permanently.  It's a lot of work.

My twenty-somethingth birthday was a few weeks ago.  At the chance of earning older people's wrath, I'm still going to say that I feel really old now.  I'm out in the real world working and moving in with three of my favorite people.  Life this coming year will be interesting (also, I'm amused by the fact that I still base years off the school year).

That's mostly it I think.  A lot happened, too much to recount easily in one post.  Oh.  I have an interview at a theatre I haven't worked at tomorrow.  I keep hoping I'll get hired back at the other theatre, but they haven't contacted me.  Oh well.  I'm also refereeing volleyball, which is exciting because I've really missed it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Broken Trust

Today was a very inauspicious first day of tech.  We got about as far as I expected us to, that wasn't the problem.

When we first showed up today the production manager came up to me and was like: "Kaylee, I have some bad news."  So of course it couldn't be good.  As it turned out, one of our crew members had dropped that morning before tech and we didn't have a replacement for her.

I spent much of my first hour in the theatre trying to find a replacement.  I called in one of my asms from a previous show and she filled in until she unexpectedly had to leave after dinner.  Then we just did the show (frustratingly because we don't have extra people) without that last person.

Luckily, we did find someone who was able to fill in every other day of tech and the run.  Unfortunately, it's an actor/director with power issues and an attitude problem.  I am so looking forward to having them backstage.

Then came the part of the day that just makes me incredibly mad.  When it got to be dinner break three of our actors came out on the stage and announced that their wallets had been stolen from their zipped bags in the dressing rooms.  And unfortunately two of these actors were seniors who had just received their graduation money and thus had a fair deal of cash in their wallets.

The three actors were just devastated.  I spent the first twenty minutes of my dinner break consoling them and helping them look.  Then I went and bought the two who had no other money dinner and came back and talked with them some more.  I ended up sending on of the actors, one of the most responsible and sweetest actors up to the balcony, because he was looking like he wanted to throw something.  I know that feeling and he needed to be alone.

Ten minutes later I went up and talked to him and I have never quite heard someone sound that broken.  He was beyond tears and he admitted several times that the hardest part for him was not that his wallet had been taken.  The hardest part was that if most likely had been taken by someone in the cast, someone who he had trusted completely before this.

It's not well known outside of theatre, but there is a great deal of trust between the actors, crew, etc.  Tablets, computers, wallets, even money frequently gets left out in dressing rooms because no outside intruders can get in and just no one would ever steal it.  I've never heard of theft in a theatre before. Ever.  And the fact that someone would break that trust, that complete and utter trust and that comes with people working on a show together, that is just devastating.

Once everyone was back from dinner the production manager made an incredibly somber announcement, urging whoever had taken the wallets to return them, no questions asked.  We then did a sweep of the dressing rooms with each actor looking through their own bag, unfortunately nothing turned out.  We would have called the police at that point, but the production manager and program director did one more sweep of the bags and found that the wallets had been returned to the original bags at some point after everyone made the sweep.

I'm very glad that everything was returned, but I'm also sadden that someone in my cast (or crew) would do that to their fellow actors.


As a result of those thefts, we also offered to lock everyone's valuables up in the safe backstage.  Most actors took me up on that offer and I was handed twenty+ wallets, purses, keys, cell phones.  It was almost awe inspiring, the trust those actors had in me.  I don't particularly like power and this was even more dangerous than most.  The fact that so many actors and children trusted me so completely is...heady, but not in a particularly good way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

That Perfect Moment

Super excited for my summer show now, but first I have to get through my current show.

Also I should probably be sleeping, but I had a random thought.

One thing I've been complemented on by just about every director I've worked with is this: I call an excellent show.

Calling a show isn't actually my favorite.  I would consider myself good at it.  Just like I would consider myself good at running tech.  But it's not my favorite part of the process.  I like seeing the actors learn and change throughout the rehearsal process too much for anything besides that to be my favorite (how many times can I use that word in a paragraph?)

And I think, possibly (and of course I could be wrong), the thing that sets my calling a part from some other stage manager is that I see that for every cue there is that one perfect moment for it to be called.  The moment where the actor steps from one area of the stage to another and the light comes up on them just as the other area goes out.  Or the lights complete right as the vocals for a song begin.

I try to find that exact moment for every cue.  It really is an art to me.  I was never a great designer and I could never be a director.  I honestly don't think I'm creative enough for it.  However, with calling a show there is something so elegant.  When called in that perfect moment you somehow don't even notice the lights change because that's just how it's supposed to be.  It's so seamless and part of the story.  I think I would be taken aback if someone who hadn't worked the show or wasn't a stage manager came up and complemented the timing, because it shouldn't be noticed.

I truly believe that a well called show should not be noticed by anyone not on the above list.  It needs to help draw in and keep the audience in the story.  Conversely, a poorly called show can so easily pull an audience member out of the show.  If you miss a bump (which is a 0 second light cue which goes on the final beat of a song) then it's jarring (and goddamn obvious).  If you miss bringing up another area of the stage, then the actors aren't lit.  It's a very subtle, very fine art.  And it is one that I love because it's almost always a challenge.

PS. To me it seems like my last posts have been really boastful....that's not how I'm trying to come off, I swear.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Look at this, three posts total, two days in a row.  How good of me.

Anyway, I could have sworn I already told this story on my blog, but I looked and I couldn't find it.  I think the truth is that I've been meaning to tell this story for ages and never got around to it.

Senior year of college I took the required directing class.  I was nervous.  Out of my mind nervous really.  My experiences with directors hadn't really been a good one during college and my experience with the professor had been even worse.  However I had to take it and, because it was a class many people failed, I wanted to take it earlier in the year than later.

The class ended up really not being that bad.  I'm fairly sure directing will never be for me.  It's not that I don't have an artistic opinion, because I do and I need to turn that part of my brain off while I'm stage managing.  It's more that I'm not comfortable being the one people turn to about the artistic vision.  I'm bad at having a unifying, whole artistic view.  However, the class went as well as could possibly be expected.

The reason for this background information is I want you to know this: Directing as a class scared me.  It scared me every day I had a class.  

At the end of the term we did an interesting exercise.  Each of us wrote down one word or phrase that described each person in our class.  At the very end of the last class period we would get our compiled lists.  It was a little bit of an unnerving experience.  Everyone was scared that people secretly hated them.  Everyone was scared that people would be mean.  We didn't have to look at our lists, but we did have give descriptors (confidentially) to our professor for every classmate.

I got my list and looked at it and it wasn't mean.  It wasn't brutal.  Confidentiality seemed to have brought out honesty from people, at least I can hope.  My list was primarily composed of words and phrases like: Stage Manager, Competent, Assured, Calm, Reassuring, Confident.  Twenty-one other people in the class and I got twenty descriptors like the ones above.  However, one person saw through me.  One person put: Scared.  And that was the truth.  The complete truth.

The point of this story?  You can influence what people think of you.  I wasn't calm in that class. I wasn't assured or confident.  I was terrified; scared out of my mind.  But I projected those attributes.  When at school I was constantly in my role as stage manager.  Even in classes I needed to seem calm and self-assured when I wasn't so that the actors I had classes with come to me during a show a trust me.  The traits above are how I want to be viewed by most people and that little exercise in directing gave me proof that it was mostly working.  One person saw through my projection.

Unfortunately, describing things as I am, it seems horribly manipulative.  And I suppose it is manipulative.  But it's not all a facade.  In directing it was because the scared feeling mostly overwhelmed everything else. However, at most points in my life I am self-assured, competent, calm, reassuring.  I don't get stressed easily, I enjoy helping people as best I can, I enjoy my job and it is a major part of who I am.  Even as a small child I have always been self-possessed.

These days whenever I start a new show at a theatre I've never worked at before I project calm, in control, and competent.  And those things are true.  I'm not the best with new settings though, so subconsciously, I tend to get extremely serious and formal because in truth, I'm not at ease.  I'm working with the same actors I worked with during winter and doing so is making me realize this fact.

For my winter show I was stiff and formal.  Towards the end I started to relax.  Tristan is hard not to relax around and the actors are so damn charismatic.  Now, coming into this new show, despite being flung into it head first, I'm comfortable with the actors.  I can joke with the actors and stage manager (who I actually had never met before Tuesday).  I'm still competent, the actors still trust me, but now I'm more myself.

What does this all mean?  I'm not entirely sure.  In part it's just a realization I've been coming to.  Despite all my descriptions above, I don't pretend to be who I'm not.  I honestly believe that with all my heart.  Even in directing I wasn't pretending to be someone else, I was just hiding being scared with other traits from my personality.  It's all rather complicated.  I also worry about being manipulative, but still, I can't show I'm panicked or upset in front of actors during a show, etc.  There are just some circumstances where I need to project a different emotion than the one I'm feeling.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I really really need to get back into the habit of blogging.  It's a good outlet and I like sharing my thoughts.

Over the weekend I helped run auditions for my summer show (auditions were combined with two other shows).  My speech went something like this: "Hello. What's your name?  Mhhm. Mhhm.  Here's your number. Here's your audition packet for this show.  Here's your audition packet for that show.  Here is your audition information sheet.  Here is you audition form.  It's triple carbon-copy so please press hard. Return that and your resume and headshot when you're done."  When all was said and done I gave the spiel approximately 200 times over the course of several days.

Then on Tuesday I started rehearsals for my next show (it's a short one, total production time of only a month).  The stage manager (I'm asm again) for the show informed me on Monday that I would be in charge of rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday (my first days of rehearsals).  And so I was plunged into this show.

The director, choreographer, and music director don't talk.  They don't schedule.  They're never in the same room as each other.  We aren't getting the schedule out to the poor actors (junior high/high school age again) until the day of rehearsal.  Yesterday I ended up with five angry texts and one angry phone call from a parent.  The thing is, I had been given basically no information about the show at all.  I was handling things blind and the actors were asking for information I couldn't give them, because I just didn't know myself.  I felt so bad.

I finally talked to the stage manager, Cady, after yesterday's rehearsal.  She assured me that she was frustrated too and was in fact in the process of trying to handle things.  She gave me some background about the whole situation and suddenly I was feeling bad for her too.

So basically it's been an eventful week.  Add to the stories above that my friends are starting to arrive back in town and I am pretty  busy.

Show Post Mortem #2

I finished the show I was working on almost two weeks ago.  It went really smoothly in general.  Everyone was impressed that it was a high school school, which I take as a major success.  We've also been nominated for a bunch of awards for the show, which makes me really really proud of the actors.

There's not really much to say beyond that.  I was genuinely sad to be done with the show. I had bonded with most of those thirty-odd actors and it was sad to say goodbye.  Luckily I'll see at least some of them over the summer.

Despite it being a high school show, it really didn't feel like one.  We ran it in a professional manner and had soaring expectations of the actors.  It was really an interesting experience.  However, now I need to clean up my prompt book.  It will make a better interview book than the one I'm currently using.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hot Damn

So.  It's almost 4am. I have insomnia (as I always do after tech). I finished the drawings for my opening night gifts.  What to do?  Oh right! I have a blog.

In complete and full honesty, the show is in such great shape.  In my head however?  Well, not as much.

Tonight we had mics for the first time and...well...it could have gone worse? Probably?

Again, honestly, the mics weren't too bad. We have a competent sound designer and she set up a good mix pretty quickly.

It was third dress rehearsal tonight, the first two dress rehearsals went really well.  But tonight I had a mini-mental-break down about 2/3s of the way through the show.  As you so often do for tech, I was sitting in the house, not horribly far from the directors.  We had a scene change done only with actors (because the entire five rest of my run crew was doing a quick change) and it was atrocious.  Like, I completely doubted whether those actors had ever touched a piece of furniture in their entire lives (we're going to run that change tomorrow...a lot).

And so I was in the middle of trying to sort this horrible mess out and I missed a cue.  It was far from a crucial cue and the entire directing turns and snaps at me.  It wasn't yelling and it wasn't angry, but it was A) brusque, B) rude, and C) While I was in the middle of something important.  Any other day. Any other time, I would have been fine, but tonight was a disaster and so I was already on edge.  My throat got tight, my stomach knotted, my breathing got short, and my head began to buzz.  I called the rest of the show distracted, feeling like I needed to throw up.  As soon as it was over, I took a walk to clear my head.

Saying this now, it feels so silly.  It wasn't a big deal. The directors were completely within their rights.  I was just so overwhelmed and so near the edge of my breaking point.  After my walk I ran into my music director, a woman who I love and trust, and so for about a minute I sobbed into her shoulder. Then I got control of myself and went inside for acting notes.  By the end of tech notes (which I was forced to run because of an absent production manager) I was feeling normal and a little bit silly.

So.  Why on earth was tonight so bad? Firstly, the show I'm working has one lead who talks approximately 80% of the show. Tristan, who I've mentioned before, is that lead and he is, unsurprisingly, fantastic (he's also the production manager, see my note about that above).  However, since spring break, his voice has been in shreads.  He's been on partial vocal rest (marking the singing in rehearsals) for almost two weeks now and it hasn't helped.  Today he was on complete vocal rest. No speaking. No singing.  Little did I realize that this applied to the show tonight.

Tristan spoke his lines quietly (so quietly even the mics didn't really pick him up) and didn't sing his part at all.  So here I am, with about 20% of the dialogue and vocals for the entire run of the show.  I know this show backwards and forwards, inside and out, and I could just, just barely call it.  If my crew hadn't been on top of their game, I think I would have broken down a lot sooner.  About two songs in, my music director, bless her, sang Tristan's part, which gave me something to go off of at least.

Again, if I'm being my honest with myself (most of me is screaming otherwise), I did call a great show.  I only had one or two cues off, even with missing lines, missing songs, and scene changes gone awry.  But it was enough to shatter my confidence and stress me out more than I've been stressed out since college.

Tomorrow will be better.  The mic problems we had (because while mics went well, we inevitably had problems) will be fixed tomorrow. Dear GOD, hopefully Tristan's voice will be better tomorrow (at least enough so that he can speak and be heard hopefully).  We'll run the awful scene changes.  Everything will be fine.  Today was just a bad day.


In other news, all stage managers sing to their rehearsal CDs while also calling cues on the way home from techs.  That's not just me....right?  ................right?  It's strangely relaxing actually, I enjoy doing it.  Also, I have 18+ bumps (0 count light cues that happen at the end of a song) in the musical, so I can use the practice.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


So on the tail of a speculative stage management post, I suppose I'll post a fairly personal spiel.

Occasionally I play Starcraft II with friends (Boyfriend and Will most often).  I don't play competitively, we play against computers (when I'm playing).  But I still have the tendency to get upset over my perception of the competition.  Will and Boyfriend play Starcraft a great deal more than I do and that shows in our skill levels.  I get frustrated that my army is frequently obliterated or that their scores are frequently more than double mine.

Well, recently after a rather frustrating game for me, Will mentioned (not in these words, but I think this was the essence of what I needed to here) that maybe it wasn't just a problem with competition for me.  Maybe I was equating success in games to self-worth.  I rejected the notion at first.  I've always been competitive and that seemed to be all the explanation I needed.

But I'm not good at just taking a surface thought (of mine) at face value.  Why was I competitive?  Why was winning/do well so important to me?  And I slowly, over the course of a couple weeks, began to realize how deeply my feeling of self-worth was tied into my achievements.  I had to do something successful to make myself feel good.  I couldn't just be happy being me, I had to push myself. I had to be the best, the winner.  Or I had to be perceived as smart, or competent, or capable.  My sense of self-worth was and is deeply tied up with how other perceive me.

Now (I haven't done a post on this, though I've meant to) I am very careful about the face I present to various people. With my closest friends (and to some extent these days my family) I'm just me.  Not really putting out a persona at all.  At work, I'm serious, competent, calm, and in control.  I present myself that way because those are the traits needed for my job.  Now, those traits aren't manufactured.  They are very much part of me.  But I've realized that not only do I present myself that way because it's necessary, but also because if someone doesn't think of me as competent and capable, I tend to feel awful about myself.

I've always thought I had high self-esteem.  I don't care about what people think of me.  I know I'm capable person who does the best she can.  And I suppose that is true to some extent.  If I cosplay something in public, I don't really care what strangers think of me.  But the people I know?  The people that I interact with?  Those are the people who I crave approval from desperately.  I'm constantly surprised when someone praises me, because in my head, it's truly not deserved.  Why would someone praise me...ever.

I need to work on this.  I need to be okay with myself.  I hate realizations like this.


A friend of mine, Beth (from this post), who also stage manages, cannot stand intermission. She says it interrupts the flow of the show.  Even when kept to the correct length, they are choppy and completely unnecessary.  As a stage manager, she just hates dealing with them and the complications that they create.

As a stage manager, I don't mind dealing with them, but I do wonder at their necessity.  People will sit through a two hour+ movie without a break without even thinking about it.  Hell, they'll even sit through a three+ hour movie; possibly with more grumbling, but they'll still do it.  However, if a play runs more than about 90 minutes without an intermission everyone gets up in arms.

Is there a reason for this?  There's no reason people can't just sit through the play like they do for a movie.  Maybe it's just so ritualistic and traditional that it's an integral part of theatre?  Maybe people just have the expectation of intermission, so they get horribly upset if it's not there?

I don't really know, but the whole mindset is baffling to me.  My college once did a four hour play that end up having two intermissions.  I'm not entirely sure why we couldn't just have one intermission in the middle, but whatever works I guess?  Ultimately, I think I've accepted that intermission is just part of theatre and I don't mind dealing with it.  I'm just not sure it's necessary.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Small World

I graduated school, trained in stage management and wanting to work with kids (5-18ish) or in a children's theatre which catered to those ages.  It was an incredibly specific, narrow goal.  Or at least so I believe.

Since I've graduated, I've worked six shows with children/teenagers and am already scheduled to work two more.  It's worked out surprisingly well for me and because it's something I seem to be good at, I keep getting recommended for.

At the State Thespian Conference that I went to with the actors a few weeks back I briefly talked to a woman. I had just finished talking to the very harried, very overwhelmed technicians about the fact that there was no monitor system in place for the actors to hear the music.  Unfortunately that couldn't be solved, but we made it work.  As I was waiting to reenter the house from backstage I smiled at a woman next to me doing the same thing.  She complimented my name tag (which had been hand written in calligraphy through an odd series of events) and I asked her what school she was with.

It turned out she wasn't with a school, but was an adjudicator for the conference.  She asked what school I was with and I informed her of the school and my position there.  She then remarked that I wasn't a student and wondered if I had been hired professionally.  I explained that I had been hired to work the musical, but I was also in the process of training two very talented asms for their next school year.  A change went over her face when I mentioned that bit of information her face changed and she asked me for my email and phone (assuming I had a pen on me, which of course I did).

She told me she'd contact me next week about possibly teaching some classes for her theatre training program. I honestly didn't expect to hear back from her, but she emailed me practically the next day and we set up a meeting for today.

I went in, dressed for an interview and brought a resume, not quite knowing what to expect.  She had already said she wanted to hire me, but I wanted to make a good impression.   We talked to about an hour about various things.  It was a very relaxed atmosphere.  It turns out her husband had been an adjudicator for the tech portfolios, and thus for Tristan's prompt book (for the last show we worked).  She mentioned that her husband had been extremely impressed and I just marveled at how small the theatre world was.  It never ceases to amaze me.

As it turns out, I have all but been formally hired to teach a couple of workshops in stage management.  They are trying to help the high schools in the area build the program and they were hoping I could help with some hands on exercises.  I'm actually really excited for the workshops (though they aren't for months and months).  Luckily they weren't trying to hire me for a show, because the theatre is so far away, I would have had to turn them down.  But a day or two works just about perfectly.

As I've told people before, training new stage managers is one of my favorite parts of my job.  It's exciting and their progress is always stunning.  I've been very lucky to have enthusiastic, extremely competent trainees to be fair.  But there are some days, like this one, that I'm not sure I would trade my job for anything in the world.  It's just rewarding for me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Liking Someone I Shouldn't

I've noticed that I don't post as much when something deeply personal has been bothering me.  You would think that's backwards, especially since I do use my blog to explore some of what I'm feeling and experiencing. But there are just sometimes that I'm scared of what people will say or me being a bit nervous that keeps me from posting.

I think the last few weeks (at the very least, in complete honesty) have been something like that.  As I do frequently, the title of this post basically says it all.  I like someone, I'm not even sure I can face up to it with a pseudonym (though you can probably piece it together with details), who I really shouldn't.  He's younger than me.  Jesus fucking Christ, he's Shaye's age.  He's still in high school.  He's an actor, and thus someone I have direct authority over (though he's also production manager, which makes dynamics weird).  Not only am I working with him on this show, I'm working with him on my next show too (though this time as co-asms).

Those are the problems.  And I'm pretty sure that's not even all of them.  So why am I attracted to him?  Because he doesn't seem like he's 18.  Because I'm not even technically 3 years older than him.  Because he's easy to be around in a casual setting, but we work flawlessly together in a theatre setting.  Because I understand him.   Because he understands me.  Because he thinks in a remarkably similar way to myself.

I've never (and I do mean that) been attracted to someone similar to myself before.  I understand people generally, but I've always been more attracted to people I just can't understand.  People who push me to learn and stretch.  Boyfriend and Lana both fall into this category.  But that's why this is so different for me.  I am so miserable lately because this is so incredibly problematic.  Almost impossible even.  I see him 5 days of the week for 4 hours minimum because he's the lead in the play.  I don't see anyone else in the world as often.  Even the directors aren't at rehearsals as frequently as he is.  I see my family less.  I see Will less.

I want to distance myself from the whole ordeal, but I can't because I see him day after day.  I can't distance myself emotionally because I just am not able to do so.  Having Boyfriend in town for spring break this week has helped a lot and allowed me to sort of face this.  But how do you get past something you are so profoundly ashamed of?

I rarely ever feel shame.  I honestly can't think of a time that I have offhand.  I do as best I can in every situation and normally, I'm fairly happy with my actions.  But I can't control this.  Oh God I wish I could.  I can't just stop liking someone.  The shame is almost the worst part of it.  Almost.  Along with the: not-ever-being-able-to-act-on-my-feelings bit of it.  Stupid stupid stupid emotions I can't control.

Friday Night

I sometimes think I did college wrong.  I was so focused on graduating and the shows that I was working that I didn't take any time to relax or party.  Now I'm sitting at home alone on a Friday night doing paperwork and blogging, envying my high school actors as they go out and party.

I'm not really a partying type...really at all.  But I guess the fact that my house is completely empty and everyone else is busy that is getting to me.

I thought I was going to type this long post about time usage and using it to relax and how I'm bad at it, but right now, all I can think about is just being lonely and a bit annoyed at myself.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stage Kisses

It's always an interesting thing when stage kisses get blocked.

The first time I was ever present for when a stage kiss was blocked, the two actors just couldn't stop giggling.  They were super nervous and didn't know each other well and had a really hard time taking it seriously.  I think that was the only time that a stage kiss was actually a big deal though.

The next few times I dealt with stage kisses, the actors just did them.  Normally, the directors I've worked with try to find a separate time to stage the kiss for the two actors, away from the rest of the ensemble/cast.  I have once had an director just ask the actors to try it, and it seemed to work just fine.

During my last show the actors added a kiss.  Which was kind of weird in honest.  It fit where it was, but it was just unobtrusive and the directors didn't really even notice till tech.  I'm not sure that was the best way to handle the situation, but it worked?

We staged the show's kiss today and, again, the actors pretty much just went for it.  It's just interesting to me that people make kissing out to be this huge thing, but stage kisses are no big deal?  I don't know.  I don't really envy that actors I think.

I have been less than eloquent on this post, and for that I apologize.


I went to the State Thespian Conference with the actors (and directors) in my show on Friday and it went extraordinarily well.  The work-in-progress piece we presented was easily one of the best and overall, I was really proud of the actors.

But this is only framing for the topic I want to talk about.  I was chatting with a few of the directors and Tristan, the male lead of the show (and also my former stage manager on the last show I worked).  He admitted that he had had butterflies in his stomach all day.  It wasn't at the thought of performing, he noted that he normally didn't get nervous from that; it was the thought of our work-in-progress being compared to the others that made him nervous.  Some of the actors laughed, accusing him of having competition issues, and he easily agreed.

It seemed odd to hear that Tristan, who I have seen calmly talk down a forty year-old director in full bluster, had competition issues.  But I quickly realized he meant competition and not conflict.  And as soon as he said, in these words exactly, that he had competition issues I immediately realized I did too.

I have always been horribly competitive.  I never liked losing.  I hated it in fact.  When I was really really little, I would rather cheat than lose.  I still hate to lose and I make everything in to a competition or a game, even when it's not anything like a competition.  It drives my friends crazy and it upsets me to no end.  I hate the feeling of upset I get when I lose a competition or even when someone out performs me.

It's gotten to the place where I've just realized that I can't play competitive games at all.  I play Starcraft II, with friends and against computers.  I play Skyrim or Sims 3 where there's no competition against anyone real.  When Will and Boyfriend suggested that I play a game of Starcraft against real people last night (people I didn't even know), I broke into very drunken tears (which was slightly embarrassing).  Even just watching the new Mythbuster's produced show Unchained Reaction gave me butterflies at the level of competition between the teams.

I can't explain why competing with someone gives me this reaction.  I always played team sports, not individual ones, which always eased the competition pangs substantially.  And I really don't mind conflict; meaning I'm not scared of it and it doesn't upset me, even though I don't like conflict either.  I haven't really met anyone else who has a similar reaction to me to competition, so knowing I'm not alone helps...I guess?

I don't know.  I'm not sure I'll ever really get past this.  But I like to watch my friends play competitive games.  I really do.  It's actually a lot more fun for me than playing, they just don't always believe me about it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Vacation Post Mordem

Back from visiting Lana and Kat.  It was so much fun and exactly what I needed.  This show is very draining, but now I'm actually glad to be back.

I do have to say the weather in the Pacific Northwest is less pleasing than elsewhere, but oh well.

My plane flight back went pretty much perfectly.  I even got in half an hour early.

Yesterday was super long.  I was up for about 38 hours straight and got maybe one-ish hours of sleep.  After my flight, I had rehearsals, and after rehearsals I had a three hour production meeting.  I didn't get home till almost 11p.

This post has pretty much no substance, but it really was basically a check in.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I have done other things today, so hopefully I would be less angry when I finally posted this.  My plan was mostly successful.  Mainly I just feel resignation at this point.

Today I had a flight scheduled to leave at 1p so I could go visit Lana and Kat.  I had a transfer I needed to make only short time after my first flight was scheduled to land.  We were twenty minutes late in boarding.  10 minutes before the plane was supposed to be in the air we finally started to board.  We then proceeded to sit on the plane for forty minutes.  You see, the lavatory door (the only one on the small plane) refused to stay closed and they spent and entire hour troubleshoting the broken door.

Finally they got it fixed.  We were in the air 50 minutes before my next flight was scheduled to be in the air.  I spent the majority of the flight pleading with the world for my next flight to be delayed.  No such luck.  Me, and four other people, ran to the connecting gate just in time to see our plane pulling away from the gate.  One woman in the group of five took charge and asked if they had been aware we had a connecting flight.

The woman at the desk cut her off and said that, Yes they had known, but the connection had been illegal.  We all looked vaguely confused.  And she then said: "I don't know how you did it.  It was illegal and you shouldn't have been able to do it.  So since it was illegal, we didn't hold the plane.  Besides, it's not like you missed it by minutes, you missed it by ten minutes at least.  Besides.  Every time we hold a plane we lose money."

I'm not sure I've ever met anyone with spoke with quite that much emphasis on accusing words.  We weren't accusing them of anyone.  It was an unfortunate situation and they got us seats on the next plane leaving to our destination.  However it completely pissed me (and the rest of the people) off to be blamed for the entire situation.  As one woman pointed out after "you" had been emphasized four or five times, it was their system that had allowed us to book this so-called illegal connection in the first place.

Unfortunately this airport is fairly small, so the next flight was actually five hours after my original flight had been scheduled to leave.  So I've been sitting here doing a lot of blogging and music listening in an airport that has practically no food after security and has two full closed wings.  It's been rather frustrating.  Oh well.

Advice I Don't Agree with

Occasionally I get bored an do some google searches on stage management.  Sometimes I learn new things, some times I don't, but reading what other people have to say is fascinating for me.  However, in my most recent search, there were two things that kept popping up that really bothered me.

1.  The advice to never admit that you don't know something.  This obviously extends beyond stage management and into our general culture.  We're taught as children to "fake it till you make it", be "independent", and not to ask "silly questions".  With all this conditioning, it's not really a wonder why people have trouble admitting that they don't know something.  This is particularly troubling with people in authority, because they're told it's a sign of weakness.

 But here's the thing.  Sometimes you don't know something.  Particularly in regard to stage management, you have so much information thrown at you constantly, that sometimes you just don't know.  And saying so shouldn't be a sign of weakness.  It's a sign of humanity.  I am not a robot and giving the appearance of being one is going to get me into trouble when people assume too much of me.  So yes, I do say: "I'm sorry.  I don't know."  That statement however is almost (possibly without exception, but I can't be positive) always followed by: "But I'll find out" or "Let me get back to you about that."  or "Let me connect you with someone (usually a designer) who might know better".  Saying any of those things is infinitely better than just making something up and being wrong.

On that note.  I've also seen advice about not admitting you're wrong, which paradoxically is often paired with the advice of taking responsibility.  If there is a mishap, mistake, or miscommunication, just say that you messed up.  Just admit you were wrong, and that you're very sorry, and that it shouldn't happen again, but that you were wrong.  People seem to take an odd sort of comfort in these words and I've often said them, even when it really truly wasn't my fault.  They cost you nothing but pride and in all honesty, if you're serious about stage managing, you can't afford a ton of pride in being perfect/never wrong.

One more thing before I move on.  But saying "I don't know" or "I was wrong"  has not once lost me respect from anyone I've worked with.  Maybe I've been lucky, but in my experience, people appreciate you just being another person and not some untouchable demigod.  Like I said, I could be completely mistaken, but I'm less than a year out of college and have been hired for nine shows, so I must be doing something right.

2.  The other piece of advice I saw constantly was to wear appropriate clothing.  Is this really actually a problem?  I mean that question seriously.  I've met quite a few stage managers and have never once run into this problem.  I mean, theatre is more of a casual atmosphere to begin with, so wearing something that scandalizes people and that might be considered inappropriate seems highly unlikely.

The other thing is this piece of advice was always in relation to women.  No low cut shirts.  No exposed midriffs.  No short skirts.  No too-tight pants.  Men were only mentioned once and, frankly, in a  completely absurd manner.  The advice said that men shouldn't go shirtless.  Again, would that actually be a problem ever?  i just don't understand.  Also (and this is always my problem with dress restrictions) what qualifies as too tight, too low, too short? Is that definition based on a conservative man's?  A conservative woman's?  A liberal woman's? A liberal man's? Etc etc.

I would also like to say that if I was working under a stage manager that wore tight jeans, short skirts, and bare midriffs I wouldn't have a problem respecting them if they were competent and commanded authority with a calm, collected personality.  I don't really understand why conservative clothing should be a requirement.  Maybe in order for the director, designers, and actors to respect the stage manager.  But in my experience, those people respond most to competence and attitude, not pieces of cloth.

The Prompt Book

Considering the title of my blog, it's probably about time I addressed what a prompt book is and of what it consists.

What is a prompt book?  A prompt book is a binder that contains every scrap of paperwork a stage manager ever generates.  Why is it called a prompt book?   It is called a prompt book because you will use it to prompt your actors when they are off book and calling for line.  Your prompt book will essentially contain everything you will ever need for the show.  I once had the experience of temporarily losing my prompt book the day of a show and it was genuinely the most terrifying experience of my life.

Prompt books are personal and each stage manager sets theirs up differently.  Below I provide a general guide to what should be in a prompt book.

Company Information: This section has every contact sheet that you generate, meaning one for your cast, one for your production team, and one for your technicians.  I generally also put my scene breakdown in this section (a scene breakdown is a piece of paper that documents every entrance and exit of every character).  The last piece of paperwork that I generally put in this section is an emergency contact sheet.

Calendars and Schedules: This is a fairly self-explanatory section but it should firstly contain your rehearsal calendar.  It should also contain any daily schedules, production calendars, conflict calendars, tech schedules, and tech call times.  My current prompt book consists of everyone of the above mentioned schedules.  That is frequently not that case for me.

Audition Forms: This section could contain your audition form, audition flyer, and any other forms that you create for auditions.  Every single solitary production I have been involved in professionally has not had me involved with auditions at all, so lately I haven't needed to put this section in my book.  I think I may be something of an anomaly however.

Production Meeting Minutes: This section contains every set of production meeting notes that you take.  Again, since I entered the professional world, I haven't taken the production meeting minutes.  They have either been taken by the production manager or production stage manager, which was interesting and unexpected for me.

Rehearsal Reports:  Rehearsals reports are sent out after every rehearsal and contain information about  notes that came up during rehearsals of which the designers should be aware. They are sent out to your asms, director(s), designers, and anyone else that your theatre considers necessary (frequently theatre staff members). One handy hint is in addition to attaching the rehearsal report to the email; you can copy the body of the rehearsal report into the actual email in hopes that people will actually read the report. This section should contain a printed copy of every rehearsal report you generate.  You are most likely the only one printing them out, so if someone wants to know what's in such-and-such report, then you have them at your fingertips easily.

Rehearsal reports are tricky beasts.  The stage managers at my college were getting lectured about proper etiquette and the best way to phrase notes and requests.  Ultimately, you're never going to make everyone happy.  I've been yelled at for being too polite and I've been yelled at for being too terse.  Each designer and director will have a personal preference and you're just not going to be able to change that.  I try to cater to my designer's desires as much as possible, but if I get two conflicting requests, I am going to go with the politer option that suits my needs more.

Somethings to keep in mind about notes: 1) Be as descriptive as possible.  Give the actor/character that the note affects (if any), page number (and/or song), and any possible details you know about the note. 2) Unless someone asks you not to be, try to phrase things politely and in a non-demanding (more requesting) manner.  3) Sometimes where notes go in two categories.  If this is the case, I have a tendency to put the note under general and include the designers/directors' names in the note.

One other warning.  There are some notes that you might not realize are actually notes.  The one that comes to mind immediately is if an actor is blocked to sit on the front of the stage, this is a lighting note.  Lighting designers light people at the level where their faces are, not where their knees would normally be.  They need to know before they do their focus about any strange blocking moves.

Performance Reports:  This section contains every performance report generated.  Performance reports are very similar to rehearsal reports and the stage manager should make one for each performance, including if you have two performances in a day.  Performance reports more often consist of notes for the designers like: "The tea cup from Act I Scene 2 lost it's hand, but we repaired it temporarily with super glue.  We will use epoxy overnight to make more permanent repairs."  When the show opens, it's the stage manager and crew's responsibility to maintain the props and other aspects of the show.  Thus, it's more likely to see a note about something being repaired than a note about something that the crew and stage manager need help managing.

Performance Forms:  This section of your prompt book should contain forms like a quick change list, props preset list, pre and post show checklists, actor timelines, sign in sheets for your actors, scene change lists, and any other paperwork that pertains to your individual show.

Costumes: This is one of the design sections.  Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the costume designer.  Some of it includes a costume plot and copies of the costume renderings.

Lighting: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the lighting designer.  Some of it can include an area plot, color key, instrument schedule, channel hookup sheet, lighting renderings, light plot, and light cue sheet.  Don't worry if this section is empty until you get closer tech.  This is fairly normal because lighting design (unlike set design) is a back loaded design.

Properties: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the properties master/designer.  Some of it may be generated by you.  Generally a props list (or a more detailed props plot), rehearsal props list, and sometimes a props tracking sheet (generated by you or your asm) are included in this section.  Lately I've had extremely props heavy shows so I've needed the detailed props tracking in order to be able to set up rehearsals correctly.

Scenic: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the scenic designer.  Some of it includes renderings, a ground plan, and elevations.  Later on, you should get a fly cues from the scenic designer.

Sound: Most of the paperwork in this section will be generated by the sound designer.  Since sound is a different medium than the rest of the designs, I frequently buy CD sleeves to insert in this section.  I also include sound cue sheets.  CD sleeves are an excellent investment, especially when running dance calls via CD and not a live piano.

Blocking Script: The blocking of the entire production is recorded in this section.  It contains two parts: 1) the script and 2) the blocking.  Blocking will most likely need to be an entirely separate entry.

Calling Script: This is the section in which you record your all of your cues.  You use this section to call every performance.  See my post on how to call a show for more details:

General/Miscellaneous: This section is just what it sounds like, a general area for miscellaneous notes.  I put notes from rehearsals, line notes, and other notes in this section.  I also frequently include dramaturgy materials (because I haven't had any overly intense dramaturgy shows before, otherwise I would give it it's own section) in this section.

These sections can be expanded or reduced according to the needs of an individual production.  Occasionally I have had a hair and makeup section.  I have also seen stage managers with a separate section for line notes.  I've only had one, very simple show, have projections so I haven't yet needed a section for it, but I might in the future.