By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Did you know that 2020 is officially "The Year of the Stage Manager” in professional theatre? Personally, I think they deserved a better year (as in: any other year). But isn't it just their luck that the year honoring the most invisible and under-appreciated of all theatre artists would be shut down by a global pandemic?
An exception to that rule is Christine Moore, whose colleagues describe her contributions to the Arvada Center’s theatre operations in the most glowing of terms.
Actor and playwright Jessica Austgen calls Moore “a tiny force of nature.” Actor Jake Mendes calls her “one of the most magnificent and unparalleled humans in the profession.” Arvada Center Director of Plays Lynne Collins says she’s “simply the best.”
Given all that, perhaps 2020 should be renamed “The Year of Stage Manager Christine Moore.”
Which actually fits, even during the ongoing pandemic, when you consider the impressive body of work Moore has managed to put in this year despite the shutdown.
While the responsibilities of the job vary from theatre to theatre, Stage Managers typically provide practical and organizational support to the director, actors, designers, stage crew and technicians throughout any given production process. And when the director bows out after the opening performance, the Stage Manager becomes the de-facto boss for the rest of the run. They are detail-oriented, no-nonsense train conductors who are inordinately calm in the midst of chaos. And if they are doing their jobs well — you in the audience will never know they even exist.
Moore's 2020 began with her stage-managing both “Murder on the Orient Express” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in repertory – until COVID shut them both down.
During the shutdown, she helped out as a mentor for the University of Denver's masked production of "Hedda Gabler."
But what she’s pulling off right now to end the year as the Stage Manager of Austgen’s world-premiere virtual holiday comedy “The Family Tree,” says actor and Assistant Director Geoffrey Kent, is truly next-level stuff.
Moore is a one-woman command center who is not only orchestrating the Arvada Center’s first foray into live virtual theatrical performance – she’s essentially orchestrating three shows at the same time. Of a brand-new play. In a brand new medium. On the fly. Every night. While sitting alone in her basement – because the actors, and the audience watching, are all doing what they do from their own homes, too.
“What she’s making happen every night is actually kind of impossible,” said Kent. “I’m impressed we didn’t break her.”
“The Family Tree,” running through December 20, is an innovative, made-for-these-COVID-times comedy that involves several participatory twists. First off, the story is being performed in real time and broadcast out using the now-ubiquitous video-conferencing platform Zoom.
Austgen's story introduces us to a loving family as it gathers remotely for a series of video calls during a holiday season (just like this one) where they can't gather physically. The audience members are essentially flies on the wall during these calls. They meet the characters and get a sense of the family dynamics. And that’s when the technical fun really begins. Twice during the 75-minute play, audiences follow different actors into individual “breakout rooms” as their characters embark on their own individual storylines. “You get different pieces of information depending on which characters you follow,” said Austgen, “but then we come back together and everyone experiences the same ending.”
And while all of that is happening, Moore is the all-powerful wizard behind the curtain, making sure that everyone in attendance is where they are supposed to be at any given time. Here’s how Kent explains the challenge:
“Christine is sitting at home with three open computers all logged into Zoom on separate accounts at the same time,” he said. "That's because they all have to have hosting capability so that she can manually move these dozens of audience members in and out of their breakout rooms. That's why it’s like she’s calling three shows at once.”
(Pictured: Christine Moore working the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 'You Can't Take it With You' in 2019.)
If you don’t know that term, “calling a show,” think of a play you might have seen in the B.C. (Before COVID) Times. In that seemingly long-gone era when people gathered in “theatres” to witness public performances, the Stage Manager sat in a back booth quietly calling hundreds of cues that signaled upcoming changes in lights, sound effects and more.
But for “The Family Tree,” Moore IS the light operator, the sound operator and the Zoom operator. (And more.) “She has to be everywhere at once, and she has to do everything at once,” Kent said.
And again: It’s not like she’s ever done this before. No one has. So the rehearsal period was an ongoing learning process for everyone.
“Christine had to master all of this new technology as we were creating the show,” Kent said. “We rehearsed up to eight hours a day, but Christine would put in another four hours researching and learning how to do this – and how to program her computers to do it. She was essentially working on this play every waking moment.”
Which is one thing if it’s an established play. It’s another when it’s being performed for the first time anywhere (and everywhere). But Moore, Kent said, was unflappable.
“Every time anyone said, ‘What if?’ Christine made it happen,” he said. "We were constantly throwing crazy ideas at a stage manager who never wants to say no – so she doesn’t. She just finds a way to make the impossible possible.
“We basically reinvented her job, and she relearned how to do it. We certainly tested the limits of what Zoom and a stage manager can do for an online play.”
And what they learned is that, apparently, she has none.
About Christine Moore
Christine Moore, who has been certain of her career path since age 12, is the resident Stage Manager at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Previously, she has worked for Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. She was born in Las Vegas and studied Stage Management at the University of Utah. Christine first came to the Arvada Center in 2016 as an Assistant Stage Manager for “Bus Stop,” and took over the job full-time with “The Electric Baby.” She has stage-managed every subsequent play presented by the Arvada Center except “Small Mouth Sounds,” which never opened because of the COVID shutdown. Read more about her here
They said it:
'The Family Tree: A Virtual Holiday Comedy'