Let's Talk

by Jay Duckworth
Q2Q Comic #438 Written & Drawn by Steve Younkins
Q2Q Comic #438 Written & Drawn by Steve Younkins

…and the Irishman asked, “Are you Dunn?” The guy in the outhouse said, “Yes.” The Irishman replied, “Good! Write your mother!”

Early in the process, I love to sneak a casual joke in with my director, especially if we have never worked together before. Something short and funny. I then ask them for their favorite joke. We laugh, we bond; good times. But to me it’s not the joke that matters, what I’m doing is seeing how well they can tell a story. Is there a clear foundation, middle, and twist at the end? Do they stumble for the words? Is all the information clear? All those things matter to me, so I can have an idea of what my team and I can prepare for over the next few weeks. 

Getting off on the right foot when communicating with the creative team
In production meetings I’ll write down key words that can help me understand if the director and designer are visual, auditory, or tactile-based people. This helps TONS when you are presenting ideas, photos, and trying to get information on where the production is moving to fulfill the artistic team’s vision. You will need to adapt your approach to them once you understand how they best communicate their core ideas. This will help you out on how detailed a drawing needs to be, or if you need to talk about how things move through the space; 'Is this clean and smooth, or have a tooth to it?' If you always lead with the way they prefer to communicate, they will always key into what you are saying because you are literally speaking their language.

Take the Prop by the Horns
As a props master, you want to be proactive with your stage management team. This is one of my key pieces of advice. I have said it before, and I will say it again, make sure that you connect with one of the stage management team who is NOT the stage manager of the show. Make that person your go to person on the production. You want to check what their preferred means of communication are—whether it’s Slack, text, IM, email, or carrier pigeon; and ask if they don’t mind making the weekly updated prop list from changes in the room. This will help you know that you both are on the same page about the changes that are happening in the room. It also helps to clear up any information that you get in rehearsal reports. One of the advantages of having this point person is that you can check in either before, or after a meeting, without waiting to speak to the stage manager who usually has a line of people waiting to speak to them, or furiously typing away to update their notes. The other advantage is when you bring props up to the room, you don’t have to disturb the room; you can text your point person, and tell them that props are just outside; you can ask if you can hand off the props to them, or be left outside the door so that they can pick them up at their next break. 

For production meetings, after tech, you can have a sidebar with your backstage prop runner and point person, so you can check-in and discuss how to improve props—handoffs, actor notes, and anything else. This serves two purposes, one—so your business is not everybody else’s business; you get direct information without other people sharing their opinions (not that everybody’s opinions are not valid). Plus, most importantly, you become more popular by making your meeting a lot shorter in dealing with your problems directly.

Good Paperwork for Good Teamwork
Since we’re talking about communications—lastly, I want to suggest that you create a Google Docs document that has all your information in it. You can create one with an Excel spreadsheet, put your pictures in each tab. I suggest naming tabs: tables, chairs, lanterns, rugs, couches, etc. To the side of the pictures, in three different cells you can put the link to the website the item came from; in the cell below that, put all the dimensions that are listed on the website; and in the cell below that, you can put any significant notes about the item you’re referencing. Such as, ‘this comes in green’, ‘there’re only three left’, ‘we’re on a time limit because this is on eBay’ and so forth. 

Also, have a Google Doc of a Word document that is broken down by notes from meetings, and then different tasks such as carpentry, crafts, buy, build, paint, and pull from stock. At the bottom, put as the last category, purchased. In there you can put the purchase dates and times for things that you’ve ordered and have the tracking information. Sharing this document with your point person lets them know where items are and when they’ll get them. Not only does this help keep clear communications, but it will also inform the stage management team when they will get key items into rehearsal.

…and Dunn
Oh yeah, the opening joke! This man named Murphy was emigrating from Dublin, Ireland to New York City. As he was getting on the boat, a frail old woman asked him to find her son who lived in a small wooden house behind a bar on Bowery Street. “All I want to do is know that he’s alright,” she said. “Would you ask him to write me please? His name is Michael Dunn.” Upon arriving in NYC, Murphy went right down to the Bowery, where he mistook an outhouse for the little wooden house that Michael Dunn lived in. Murphy walked right up to the door and knocked. The guy inside asked, “What do you want?” Murphy asked, “are you Dunn?” The guy in the outhouse said, “Yes.” Murphy replied, “Good! Write your mother!”