Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of Stage Directions. CLICK HERE to signup now!
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

Take It Outdoors: The Catamounts Hit The Links

Stage Directions • Current IssueSeptember 2020 • September 2, 2020

The Catamounts is a Boulder, CO-based performance group dedicated to ‘creating boundary-defying, progressive, contemporary performance through a collaborative process that integrates theater, music, and dance.’ The group likes presenting innovative work and recently partnered with the City of Westminster, CO, the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Libraries Department, and the public Legacy Ridge Golf Course to produce The Rough over nine holes of the course.

For the 90-minute The Rough audience members were allowed to experience an immersive comic tale from the socially distanced safety of a golf cart. Eight carts a night with up to two audience member each—and one cart for the PSM/ASM—traverse the front nine of the Legacy Ridge golf course following the tale designed for our six-feet apart times. Directed and written by Jessica Jackson, in collaboration with the ensemble, The Rough was hosted by a Scotsman who is in love with the fictional character named Paganica, the goddess of the ‘stick and ball’ or the game of golf. The Scotsman followed her through the course with story vignettes along the way. The production featured production and sound design by Matthew Schlief; costume design by Nicole Watts; production stage management by Wayne Breyer; and assistant stage management/audio operation by Danielle Tamkin.

Breyer and  Schlief spoke with Stage Directions on the challenges of presenting theater on a public golf course, the set and audio solutions and about some of the safety procedures they followed in these COVID-19 times. 

What were some of the challenges of working on a golf course, including dealing with COVID?

Breyer: Probably the biggest challenge was dealing with the logistics of being on a working golf course. We still had golfers on the course when we were working, which was a challenge to try to actually rehearse the scenes in their actual locations, since we couldn’t of course, go ahead of the golfers, and we can’t work on the holes they’re actually golfing on. Getting everything done that we needed to, was a challenge just because of that fact. Also, I’ve done some site-specific shows before, but they were all within a smaller outdoor area or in a building. This production was so spread out that it was a challenge because I needed to load up absolutely everything that I could into a golf cart. If I forget something, then it’s a 20-minute drive for me to go get it and then come back.

Also, just dealing with the amount of space we had to cover was a challenge and making sure that when we were in tech, communicating to everyone on the team. I’ve never spent so much time on my phone—in a rehearsal—just because there was no other way to make sure that everyone was staying on track and keeping to the timetable. 

As far as COVID goes, it’s been about just maintaining social distance and reminding people, ‘Got to have your mask on. Got to have your mask on.’ The entire team came together at the beginning of the process and established that we would require everyone performers, technicians, and the production team to be wearing a mask always, unless you were a performer who was actively performing—at least at the time—it was 25-feet away from the audience. 

Figuring out that line of—okay, the actors can be this far away. So that means that we can be this far away—was a challenge. Then just reminding people, keep your mask on, stay distant from each other. Please don’t touch each other’s props or get too close to each other just because this is pretty much everyone’s first show since this has all been happening. And it’s so ingrained in us to be friendly, get in each other’s space, and do all that sort of thing. Rewiring our brains to remind ourselves, masks had to be on each other. It was a learning curve, for sure.

How were costumes and props handled?

Breyer: With the props—what we’ve done is each actor gets a little black drawstring prop bag. I put their props in it and I spritz sanitize it with Lysol or some vodka spray, then I give it to them. I’m wearing gloves the entire time, so I don’t really touch their props. Then the actors are the only ones who touch their own props. At the end of their scenes they put their props back in their bag and they leave it on their golf carts that they’re using to travel throughout the course. So, the only people that are actually touching the props are the actor, and then myself when I’m sanitizing it. Then they get it back to use for the show.

It was the same with costumes. Basically, we have them stored on a costume rack in a holding room. They get sanitized after each show. When the costumes need to be cleaned, actors take them home and are responsible for washing it themselves. We’re providing all of the detergent, all of the care instructions, and all of that. But to minimize cross contamination, we felt it safest to let the actors be responsible for their own laundry.

How did you deal with communications and make sure that everything was set up across nine holes on this course?

Breyer: It was a lot of being on the phone, a lot of texting. I had an ASM, Danielle Tamkin; she and I are the only crew people where we’re doing all the setups. She set up the stage management cart, which had all of the sound equipment; and she worked to get the audience side of things set up. I took care of all the actors, props, and costumes, making sure that they’re here on time; that they’re feeling good; and ready to go. We didn’t have a whole lot of setup on the course itself. The actors take care of most of that. I put all their stuff in each of their assigned golf carts. They drive themselves out on to the course. They set up for their scene and then once they’re scene has concluded and the audience has moved on, they each pack up, load up their cart and move on to their next location. We kept in touch by checking in by phone and text. 

Do you have any supplemental lighting?

Breyer: We got some bright LED lights from a hardware store that are five by seven inches, and an inch thick. They have a little stand in the back so the actor can put it up and tilt them. So for our later scenes, we give the actors a group of them and they’re gelled. We instructed the actors as to where to place them and how to turn them on. So our later scenes do have some supplemental light just because it gets dark here around 8:15 right now. And the show usually comes down just about 9:00 pm. During that last 45 minutes we have four scenes it would be too dark to see without those LED lights.

How was working with the audience on this production?

Breyer: Everyone was so happy and also kind of so desperate for some sort of sense of normalcy and regaining the chance to do things that we would have done prior to March. Everyone has been so lovely and so accommodating. Everyone wears their masks. We stay socially distanced. We’ve had no problems and no complaints with any of our audience members with regard to any of the COVID precautions. People are just so happy that there’s a theater company doing work right now. The most interesting thing—and the hang up that we get with the audience is—we’re on a golf course, so the audience is in, and driving their own golf carts. It’s always interesting to see how different people drive the golf carts. A couple of nights ago, we had a very lovely couple. They were a bit older and they were very unsure about the cart driving so they took it slow. After our first scene, I take off for the second scene—I don’t like floor it, but I take off at my usual pace. When I looked behind to check that they were all following me, that first cart with that couple were still back at the beginning moving as quickly as a snail. I just thought, ‘Alright, tonight, it’s going to be a slow-moving audience. We’ll be ending around 9:30.’ Other nights they are right with me and we are done on time at 9:00. It is always fun to see how it goes. 

How does the audience check-in work?

Breyer: We had two check-in points for our audience. Our partner for this production—the City of Westminster, they are the ones who have the partnership with Legacy Ridge Golf Course handled the ticketing, they took everyone’s temperature, and they went over COVID precautions—instructed them that they have to be wearing their masks, maintain social distance, all of that. They also then gave the audience a little primer on how to drive the golf carts. Then the audience member went to the second table and we went over the sound equipment with them. They could hear the pre-show music at that time, and we verified that their sound equipment was working. 

Have you enjoyed the process of doing this show?

Breyer: I’m always up for challenge. I had no idea what this process would be like. And I naively thought, ‘Oh, we’re doing a little show on a golf course. So it’s outdoors and that means there’s no lighting. This is going to be a nice little show.’ But it has had its share of challenges—good challenges though. Of course, it’s been interesting, exciting, and just different working on a show during the time of COVID. It’s exciting because there’s pretty much nobody else producing in-person work right now, at least not around here. It’s exciting to be a part of that and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s been fast. It’s been challenging, and it’s been great! I mean what other show will I ever run a dry tech at 5:30 a.m. on a golf course?!

Matthew, one of the scenes has a swing that’s rigged from a tree limb. Talk about dealing with set elements on the course.

Schlief: We knew that we couldn’t really build scenery in the traditional sense. On top of that we couldn’t have a lot of setup and breakdown. Also, any scenery couldn’t compete with the natural landscape that’s there. It is absolutely stunning. You can’t avoid the look of the golf course, as well as the view of the mountains in the distance, with the sun setting behind the mountains and all of that. So, we basically just nixed the idea of scenery and went more with specific props. But one of the main scenic elements that [Writer/Director] Jessica Jackson wanted, which she wrote into the show, was a swing that the princess is swinging on while the wild man sits in his cage. The cage was a mimed cage, but the swing is real. We were selective about what was mimed and what wasn’t in the show. For the swing itself, we made that and then gave it to the City of Westminster to hang for us, this being on a public golf course. The tree limb that it is suspended from was about 35-feet in the air. At night, the swing is pulled to the side of the tree and clipped to the tree trunk with a padlock.

Tell us about the audio challenges?

Schlief: The majority of the design for this show was sound design. We don’t have any scenic or lighting cues but we have like 160 sound cues. They were both music and effects as well as dialogue. There’s an entire scene where an actor is teaching a group of kids about golf. The kids were invisible; his entire monologue is dialogue with the kids though. So, we prerecorded all of the dialogue of what the kids would say, and we hear them in our headphones. For the actors, they used their own projection and then they were fed the audio so that they could hear what the audience hears. Any of that dialogue that was happening with the bone conduction headphones, like firing cues, they would be able to hear when it was occurring.

I worked on a show in Prague two summers ago at the Quadrennial, where I used these bone conduction headphones. They’re the AfterShokz Sportz Titanium wired, which they don’t actually sell anymore. But I had purchased them for Prague. There we created a piece where the audience wore a wireless receiver and the headphones. Then the technician had a harness with a computer, with a backpack, with a battery, with the transmitter and the antenna. So, I thought we could use that idea for The Rough. But then you start heading on a golf course, and the golf carts spread out as you drive, with a train of eight of them behind the stage management cart. And we discovered very quickly, in like the first rehearsal, that it’s cutting in and out constantly, you can’t hear what’s happening. I ended up purchasing a helical antenna from Clearwing in Denver, which we mounted on a mic stand, and that was mounted to the back of the stage management golf cart, pointing backwards from the cart, blasting back towards the audience carts.

We did have to cut some of the travelling music as we were driving along, because, if the line of carts is fairly straight or it’s on a subtle curve, it was fine, but if the stage management cart turned hard, now the antenna is pointing away and then it cuts out instantly. So, I had to literally look at the golf cart path and say, ‘Okay, we can have travelling music from here to here.’ So, that was a huge challenge, just to figure out how to make this thing function in such a mobile format.

All the audio gear was in the stage management golf cart?

Schlief: Yes. We used QLab. The nice thing about using QLab is because we used the bone conduction headphones, we only need left and right. There were no other output channels needed. We used the headphone jack out of a computer. We used the Shure PSM 300 in-ear monitor system, which is basically a transmitter. Then the audience wore the Shure PSM 300 receiver on a lanyard and a pair of bone conduction headphones.

How do they handle the setup and sanitizing of the audio headsets and carts between shows?

Schlief: Between shows, everything is wiped down and sanitized. Once when it is returned at the end of a show and again before the next show, in case we missed a spot. Because these headphones don’t actually go into your ear, they sit in front it makes it easy to wipe them down with Lysol wipes. We wipe the entire headset. We wipe down the cord and the receivers. Then nobody touches them except the audience member once they are laid out before a show. The audience come to the table, the person working there directs them to pick it up and tells them how to put on the headphones. We have all of the receivers hanging on lanyards. So, they hang right in the middle of the chest, and that actually helps to lift the antenna up a little bit. We discovered that if we clip it onto a belt, it’s sitting too low and your own body can block the signal. So, hanging it in the middle on a lanyard which is easy for everyone to wear.

Then the carts get wiped down as well?

Schlief: Yes, the Legacy Ridge Golf Course have these big sprayers that they spray the carts with, it’s like they wear a backpack filled with a solution. They wipe every part down and they spray all on the inside. The only one that is not sprayed, and isn’t touched by anybody, is the stage management cart. And that’s because there’s some cabling in there and we don’t want to get something inside that cabling to cause little glitches. Every day when the stage manager shows up, he handles cleaning it and wiping things down as needed.

Is there a moment that highlights your solving a COVID challenge?

Schlief: We follow all the guidelines for dealing with COVID. Especially with the distance from the audience and the actors. In the show, one of the features, and it was something that Jessica Jackson and I figured out that we were really excited about the bone conduction, is the idea that we play music in the bone conduction, and then we have a live voice singing with no musicians, of course. And it’s an amazing, amazing sounding effect. So, we had to figure out how close could our singer be? Because we initially had a veil going across her face as a mask, but we were like, ‘This isn’t working. I need to see your face.’ It’s really difficult when we can’t see her. So, we decided to just put her at one end of a tunnel, and the audience is sitting halfway and back on the other side of the tunnel. And the tunnel reverberates all the sounds, so the singer was able to not wear a mask, but maintained a distance of 25-feet. As I said, it was an amazing sounding moment.  

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!