10 things I learnt by working on Jennie’s Story

I’ve been assistant stage managing Jennie’s Story at Walterdale Playhouse, so After the House Lights has been a bit quiet, but I’m learning so much about theatre from this experience. One of my fellow Jennie’s Story-ers suggested I blog this week about what I’ve learnt through my ASM experience, so here it goes…

  1. It’s so, so, so exciting when the audience gets it. Hearing an audience laugh or seeing them sit absolutely still as they’re watching the play is incredibly rewarding. Although I don’t have anything to do with deciding on and developing the themes of the play, it’s so great seeing an audience’s reaction to the play and thinking back to the discussions about how those moments would be created.
  2. Audiences change the play. As I mentioned above, sometimes you know how an audience is going to react and… sometimes their reactions are totally unexpected. There’s been a few times in this show when I hadn’t realized a line was funny until audiences started laughing at it.
  3. I’m a bad audience member. No, I’m not that person who touches the set or texts during shows but I am pretty stoic when I watch a play – I might smile or give a little giggle, but I’m not the type of audience member that bursts out laughing or leans forward and stare intensely at the actors. But, it makes the play so much better when people do that!
  4. Period pieces are a lot of work. Jennie’s Story is set in 1938-39, which makes costumes, props, and the set – not to mention the actors subconscious mannerisms – a lot more challenging than a modern piece.
  5. Food is a lot of work. In Jennie’s Story, we have tea and pie flying left, right and centre. Well, not “flying” but in nearly every scene. Sitting in the audience, I’ve never thought about everything that is involved when food is in a play. First figuring out how the team is going to manage the food – is it actually the food the actors are saying it is, or is a cheaper/easier substitute? If it is real food, how is it being prepared? Is someone baking 15 homemade pies, or will we buy them? (Hint: our props mistress made them all!) And then there’s the dishes – at what point will I do them? Do I need to do them throughout the show, or can it wait until the end? Where will I do the dishes so I still know what’s happening on stage, but the audience can’t hear the clinking? So many questions!
  6. You’re making the play, but the play is also making you. Or, at least, it’s making me. I pick up things from other people embarrassingly quickly – phrases, accents, mannerisms… whatever. So, for the last 6 weeks, I’ve been speaking in this weird “southern” accent and have developed a propensity for dropping prepositions. I also find myself inadvertently repeating lines from the play as part of normal conversation. I’m not sure if this happens to most people – there’s a high probability it’s just me.
  7. You think you’ll get tired of talking about the show… but you don’t. Chatter backstage is mostly about the show. Actors exploring parts of the play that aren’t important enough to be resolved in the play (does Edna really like Jennie’s hat, or is she lying?). Backstage, we’re talking about the subtle differences between performances and how that changes the play. With the repetition of the show, we get to explore what the themes of the show mean to us and which resonate the most strongly. Most of all, during the course of tech and the run, the show grows into this very real thing – we still know it’s a play, but it grows beyond the confines of the script and into that is so viscerally real that you find yourself tearing up at the emotional parts every night.
  8. Dark Mondays are a godsend. I know I’ve found myself being annoyed after finding out that the only night I can make it to a show I really want to see is a Monday that happens to be dark but… now I understand dark days. Everyone needs that break to relax and get to bed early, especially when you’re working on a play with difficult themes.
  9. Being on headset feels like being in a secret society. I love hearing and talking to my fellow techies on headset. I can’t really describe the feeling, but I think I’m addicted to it. Hearing the chatter going on about where the front of house manager is, or cheers of ‘Yay! Spam!’ every time I bring it on stage, or even just hearing the countdown of 15… 10… 5… 2… 1 minutes to top of show… It’s like having someone narrate your world for 3 hours a day and it’s pretty wonderful.
  10. Having your friends and family in the audience is amazing. While creating theatre is rewarding, it’s also time-consuming and hasn’t been leaving a lot of time for me to see my friends and family. But knowing they’re in the audience and rushing out to them after I’m done cleaning up and hearing them say, “Good job! Wow, I’m glad I came!” – or some version of that – is a pretty powerful reminder of the awesome, loving people I have in my life.

Happy dark Monday, everyone! Jennie’s Story resumes at Walterdale Playhouse July 8 and runs until July 12. Tickets are $12 – $18 from Tix on the Square. Read my “preview” of Jennie’s Story or read a review/reaction to the play by John Richardson.

There are 4 comments

  1. Brad Melrose

    Nice summary, you definately nailed it! Enjoy your dark day. Next notice the difference after the actors have had a day off.


    1. jennamarynowski

      Thanks, Brad! It was nice to meet you at the opening night reception. I’ll pay attention to the differences in Tuesday’s performance – I know everyone appreciates the day off!


  2. lanceandgeri

    I LOVE dark days . .I get to go back to the theatre and do laundry and costume repairs and re-do wigs all day. . ,I clean up the green room and rehearsal hall and take out the garbage. . .all by myself.! . .Actually, for this show, it is a pleasure to do this for the fine cast and crew. . .all lovely people to work with. . .thanks to all of them for making ‘Jennie’s Story’ such a great experience. . .a fine way to end our season. . .thank you Jenna for letting me hang out with you backstage. . .


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