Set Changes, Superbowl Sunday, and So Much Seagrass: A Conversation with Eleanor Safer, Lydie Breeze

Can you describe what it means to be the Assistant Stage Manager for the Lydie Breeze Trilogy? What is your role in the process?

My biggest part in these shows is running the backstage during tech and performances. I make sure props get where they should be and that costumes are all set to go onstage and that actors feel calm and taken care of. During the rehearsal process, I follow along in the script and feed the actors lines if they forget theirs mid-scene. I also support Jamel, the Stage Manager. If he needs help with anything—taping out the set, making a doofer for a prop, running an errand—I’m his girl. Overall, my job for a trilogy isn’t too much different than an ASM job for any single show. Just a couple more transitions and presets to learn.

What is it like to work on one project over the course of four months? How has it evolved?

One big thing that I’m not used to is the revolving door of actors. Some are in all three Parts, some are in two out of three Parts and some are only in one Part. It will be really exciting when we marathon and everyone comes back—nice reunion for everyone! It’s also a little intimidating to imagine going back to Part I and trying to remember everything we had learned for it now that we’ve got two other plays in our heads. It should be lots of fun and very exciting. We’ve started figuring out how to manage the backstage so that there’s less prop changeover between shows—it looks like we’re going to have all the props from all three Parts set up backstage at all times. It’s a lot of clutter to manage, but we’ve set up a system that we think will work really well and I’m excited to get it running and try it out! I’ve never worked on an epic like this before so there’s a lot of experimentation and it’s exciting when things work really well!

Ed Swidey, David Girard, and Melanie Julian in Part II: Aipotu. Photo by Dave Sarrafian.

What has been your biggest technical challenge, and how have you dealt with it?

During Part II, there’s a massive set changeover between the acts. There’s props and platforms and seagrass (so. much. seagrass.) and costumes and everything has to move and be moved and put away and re-positioned. So it’s a lot of running around. Plus there’s the regular intermission stuff of actors who want to tell you about a thing that happened or needs to be fixed, and then there was also a child actor who wanted to show off a card trick he learned or something similar. And honestly, this was all mostly dealt with by lots of rushing. There was a definite order to how things were done and a huge crew was called in for just intermission to move things, but it really came down to hustling and telling actors “I’ll answer that question after this shift.”

What has been your favorite part about working on the trilogy?

Something that I love about theatre is the people you meet and the friends you make. But when you do a normal length process, it’s easy to make “show friends”—friends who you love and cherish, but may not really see outside of theatre events. One of the really wonderful thing about such a long process is that you really truly become friends with people in the process because you’re just with them too much and for too long not to. For instance, another person on this show and I are moving in together just after it ends!

Eleanor with Stage Manager Jamel Baker on a stormy day outside Christ Church Neighborhood House.

Tell us a story?

We had a performance the day of the Super Bowl and the day of the Eagles parade. And anyone who was in Philly that week knows how wild that was. It meant that we had an adventure of a show on Super Bowl Sunday. It was a matinee, but it’s also nearly a 3-hour show on a good day so we were going to be ending just as the game was starting. And everyone was HUSTLING to leave by the end. Our deckhand was released at intermission because he was hosting a party. We thought the audience would be chill because it was a Sunday matinee audience and we didn’t think they’d have much interest in sports, but I’ve never seen seniors move so fast when a show ended as they did that day. Jamel and I had a planning conversation about how to keep preshow, intermission, and post show as short as possible so that we could get people out as quickly as we could. I’ve never planned my life around sport ball as much as I did on that day! It seems like it worked quite well too; I was only a little bit late to the game when I got to my Super Bowl party so I imagine most everyone else also made it about on time!

Thank you, Eleanor!

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