by Darren Callahan
Star Wars. Drupelets. And a little show with the clever title of FupDuck. These are just a few of the dozen recent shows that Lene Hardy has stage managed. If you didn’t know, being a stage manager is like being a bass player – you’re always gigging. Stage Management is a special talent. It requires attention to detail, responsibility, ability to influence and please a great number of various personalities, and it requires most of all a love of theatre. Lene Hardy has those qualities in spades.
With Polarity Ensemble Theatre of Chicago’s spring 2012 production of Tom Jones, adapted from the Henry Fielding novel by playwright David Hammond and directed by Maggie Speer, stage manager Lene Hardy brings her best game, including her skills at prop design. So let’s learn more about this fascinating contributor.
Oh, and Captain Neat-o Man. We mustn’t forget him.
If you don’t know how all the roles of theatre fit together as a perfect working machine, perhaps we should start with what a stage manager does. This often unheralded role is actually one of the most critical to a smooth-running production. Often the director can’t be there at every show, so a dependable stage manager is hired. This person is the liaison between the director and the backstage crew, which includes the actors. Present at every performance, the stage manager (or SM for short) keeps the schedule, the logistics, and most of the director’s entire vision intact for every performance. It’s a demanding job for something with little spotlight. Starting in the 17th century, the role was defined and has been leveraged at countless performances over hundreds of years – the SM is a tradition that goes as deep as roles in costuming, design, or stage combat.
Chicago theatre is always clambering for talented SMs. “I came to be SM after the position was advertised on BackstageJobs.com,” says Ms. Hardy. “The posting had a link to the theatre’s website, which helped me get a feel for the theatre as well as the play. I’m new to Chicago and eager to contribute to the theatre scene, so I e-mailed over my resume and met the director for an interview within the week.”
Like finding a bass player who can also sing, Lene was quite the discovery for this production of Tom Jones. She is also the properties master, or the person who designs, acquires, and keeps track of all the necessary objects used within the production. Hardy explains: “When I took on the stage management position, a props master still hadn’t been found. I volunteered since I think the mechanics of props should be worked out early in the rehearsal process instead of coming as a surprise later. By this token, I’ve assembled props for a lot of the shows I’ve stage managed. I’ve worked with productions in the past that get started with just a director, the cast, and me, with the expectation that designers will be found later. In these cases, most of the designers found are also me. Sometimes even having a props master, the rehearsal props I bring in end up being in the final performance. The task can be daunting at times, but I do enjoy the creative aspects of construction, as well as the knowledge that I alone shoulder the responsibility, and if a prop is not finished I have no one to blame but myself.”
For Polarity’s production, Hardy is certainly not alone. To realize Fielding’s immense novel, there is a large cast of 17 actors, who represent even more characters.
“Communication can be difficult,” she admits. “No matter how articulately a statement is worded, the more people hear it, the more chance there is that it will be misunderstood. A lot of my job involves relaying information, which sometimes means asking five or six people the same question and getting answers that seem almost deliberately contradictory.” Hardy compares it to the class game of ‘telephone’ – where a phrase or idea is round-robin’d to determine what’s lost in translation. Hardy is the operator. How to handle this challenge?
“I try to break down the actors into various lists: who needs rehearsal clothes, identify schedule conflicts, even who has to be at what rehearsal. Despite the number of scenes with crowds or large groups, there is a great deal of rehearsal time devoted to principle characters, and it’s a bit tricky coordinating when people will be needed and when their time is going to waste.”
This enormous effort by Hardy is doubled with her props role. The process of prop construction is ongoing. This is particularly true of the props used in stage combat: a cane, a stick, two swords, and three rifles. Here, Hardy is helped immensely by the fight choreographer, a talented costume designer, and the actors themselves. Often, actors are left awkwardly grabbing or getting rid of a prop that hinders more than helps, but this will be cleared up when the blocking is solidified and the set is complete. “Our chief media is paper, a material I enjoy. Each article must contribute to the landscape while remaining functional, with attention to practicality and, more importantly, actor safety.”
Hardy is beholden to the wishes of director Maggie Speer. When handling a specific vision, Hardy’s job is to support all that happens around her, and drop as few (if any) balls of the hundreds in the air at any given time.
As the production moves headlong towards its opening night, the excitement and suspense is something that requires superhero nerves to control. Maybe someone like Captain Neat-o Man! I hate to leave the reader on the hook, but I tell you this – go see Tom Jones, appreciate the fun, the passion, and the craft of the production, brought to you by a great Chicago ensemble. Then, after the performance, sneak backstage and shout, “Ms. Hardy!” The woman who answers will know the identity of Captain Neat-o Man. Guaranteed.
“A week has not gone by without a member of the company making a brilliant point that never would have occurred to me,” laughs Hardy. “And just when it looks like approaching disaster, I am surprised by the generosity and enthusiasm that makes this a truly engaging ensemble.”
Tom Jones performs at 1500 N. Bell Street in Wicker Park through April 29, 2012. Tickets are $19. Senior discount tickets (age 65 and older) are $15, and student discount tickets are $10 with valid ID. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Seating is general admission. Click here to purchase tickets online or call the box office at 800-838-3006.