Countdown to Curtain:
Talking with ARTURO E. PORAZZI, Production Stage Manager
For all the action that crosses the stage in a Broadway musical, the backstage activity is even more busy -- and just as precise. Helping keep the show going both in front of and behind the curtain is the production stage manager, who's responsible for cues, countdowns, prop and spot checks, and other details that keep a show running smoothly.
Twenty-four years in the business, Arturo E. Porazzi now finds himself doing PSM honors for Triumph Of Love, which has been, by most accounts, mercifully free of technical trouble.
Says Porazzi, "We've been blessed. . . our technical rehearsals have been smooth. That has helped the process a great deal. As a show, I think we're 95 percent there, with maybe a little tweak or two in the opening. We want to get the audience right into it."
While actors usually take the minutes before curtain-up to breathe, focus and relax, Porazzi and his assistants' job is to do a last check on props and the stage itself. "The set is carpeted and covered in terrycloth," says Porazzi. "There are also elevators and sliders, so you want to make sure everything is clean and operable. Once the show starts, it doesn't stop. You have to make sure this happens goes on that cue, not two seconds later. It's gotta be perfect." "During the rehearsals," continued Porazzi, "I've been calling all the shows, plus having to make adjustments (props cut and added, entrances/exits, costumes changed). Lighting cues have been changed a lot. With stars like Betty Buckley and [F.] Murray Abraham, you have to go with talent like that on the stage. They find moments and new ideas, so our light cues aren't always locked into words but into the movement. It's the actor who has the inspired moment, so that's what we try to stick with. As the performance grows, the technical grows with them."
Porazzi ultimately defines a production stage manager as "a minister marries the performances of the actors and the technical design. When the director says, `I want to see a-b-c,' you have to make it happen as he wants to see it, artistically. You're a tool to help communicate what's going on. That a piece of scenery has to fly in is mechanical; when and how it flies is ours to communicate."
Asked about incidents in his long career when communication was a little iffy, Porazzi remembers one night at Jelly's Last Jam when he was all set to go, took the house-lights down to half -- and then noticed in the TV monitor the conductor had vanished. (The conductor had run to grab something in the dressing room.) "On The Three Musketeers," remembered Porazzi, "an actress was coming down a circular staircase that was moving under a catwalk. Her dress got caught and I nearly cut her in half!"
Said Porazzi, "I'm fortunate to not have an experience where I've caused someone pain. It just takes one sub on the crew, or an understudy or swing dancer not used to the actual traffic -- and it throws everything off; even two seconds that can hurt somebody. Or make the difference between great applause or mediocre applause. We train our stagehands well so the audience doesn't see the difference during the course of a run."
Porazzi praises union rules for helping keep things precise backstage. "The structure of the union and their rules is most helpful. It keeps everyone in a framework of working. On Broadway, it's big money, time is limited, and work has to be right up there; there's no time for mediocre. It's that immediacy and urgency that requires consistency and discipline. For example, because some new elements are going into the show tonight, I'll still be calling the show, rather than my assistant [Gary Mickelson] doing it."
As for opening night rituals, Porazzi keeps it simple: "I go to every cast member, but I also shake the hand of my crew. There's a wonderful number in our show, "Henchmen Are Forgotten." And that does happen to the technical people sometimes. And I always tell the crew on nights the show gets a standing ovation, because they're working with me, and for the show. The cast gets the glory. But the crew are professionals, too, and I like to recognize that."
--By David Lefkowitz