Behind the Screen: Talking "Blithe Spirit" with stage manager Anna Vu
Among the many ways that the global pandemic and social distancing protocols have influenced daily activities and ways of life, the Department of Theatre has also adapted this new frontier. To move forward with the production season, a lot of time, hard work, creativity, and energy have gone into the process. “Blithe Spirit” student stage manager, Anna Vu, was the first to step-up and manage our first digital performance of the season—setting the standard for the rest of the online productions to follow.
Anna Vu is a junior majoring in theatre management. Her previous experiences include working as the stage manager for “The Theory of Relativity,” and “Bodies in Motion” and assistant stage manager for “Detroit” and “Big Fish.” Her favorite production so far was “The Theory of Relativity.”
“I loved the music and the overall message. But most of all, I loved collaborating with the cast because my friends were all involved in the show,” Vu said. "I'm excited about managing the first show in the season—especially this semester.
Originally “Blithe Spirit” was meant to be produced and filmed in the theatre with socially distant rehearsals. The entire show featured six feet apart blocking and actors in face shield and masks. However, two weeks into the rehearsal process, the show moved completely remote. As stage manager, Vu had to overcome technology barriers and learn the ins and outs of the Zoom platform. “I know Zoom SO WELL now,” Vu said.
It wasn’t just Vu who had to make adjustments. Everyone in the cast and production team had to adjust to Zoom, which involved a lot of trial and error. The cast learned new blocking, established video protocols, such as waiting three seconds before starting their lines to avoid overlap and working with new technology, including green screens and condenser microphones.
According to Vu, the biggest difference between live and digital performance is the lack of an audience. Both the actors and the crew of any production typically use the energy of the crowd to fuel their work onstage, however, the audience is not present on Zoom.
Vu’s responsibilities during tech and filming also shifted. She no longer called cues over a headset, instead she controlled the Zoom meeting and called cues in place for an effect that would be added after they finished recording, including a stand-in cuckoo clock. Working in partnership with Auburn’s Media Production Team, they blended the language of theatre and filmmaking. It was Vu's job to learn how to stage-manage for a film rather than a theatrical production. For example, the directive “Go” was replaced by “Action.”
Vu recalled her favorite Zoom mishap, “There was a new Zoom update and none of us realized how it would affect the box orientation (the way each actor's video was positioned a particular individuals screen in the zoom meeting). Zac and Ebony (actors in “Blithe Spirit”) were in a scene talking to each other but looking in opposite directions for those of us watching on the computer. They looked like they were talking to no one!”
Jokingly, she says her favorite moment of the show was a very poignant line given the current state of the world. The character of Charles says, “I can’t touch you. Isn’t that tragic?” This line is just one reason why “Blithe Spirit” is a perfect piece for this particular moment.