Are you a triple threat or merely essential? If you're the former, you'll probably want to have a zits probe. After that, you may be required to stand in a vom line.
This is the first in a series of posts that explore unusual behind-the-scenes lingo from various areas of the arts. Remarkably, all of the boldfaced words above are examples of real terminology used in live theater. Let's have a closer look:
Originally a term from Broadway, a triple threat is a performer who is equally proficient in singing, acting and dancing. Performers who fit this description include such luminaries as Gene Kelly, Julie Andrews, Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman.
Essentials / Supernumeraries
The funny thing about essentials is they're not. "That's kind of the irony of that word," says director Peter Rothstein. "If it involves doing anything essential to the play happening and you're a union theater, then you need to hire a union actor to do that."
Peter Rothstein directs a rehearsal of Ten Thousand Things Theatre's Doubt, A Parable, a play with a small cast and no "essentials."
People who fill out crowd scenes in a stage play but don't have any lines can be called extras, essentials or supernumeraries. Rothstein says he uses the terms interchangeably. Whatever the job is called, it gives inexperienced performers opportunities to get experience and stage credit -- important qualifications for eventual membership in an actors' union.
Most of us think of swings as a type of playground equipment, but to Peter Van Johnson and Randy Ingram of the production department at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, a swing is a kind of hyper-understudy who has to know five or six different parts. "In a lot of shows, the understudy might be a secondary character, so if the understudy goes on [in a main role], then the swing will go on for the part that the understudy would have normally played," Ingram explains.
"And then another swing has to cover what that swing did," Van Johnson adds, gesturing the cascade effect this can have on a cast.
Randy Ingram (L) and Peter Van Johnson of the Ordway's Production Department
Park and Bark
On Midmorning on Dec. 16, Allan Naplan, the incoming president of the Minnesota Opera, explained the term "park and bark" to substitute host Tom Crann. "It's an industry term where people just move downstage and sing loud and have absolutely no theatricality to what they're doing," Naplan said.
Fortunately, this term has nothing to do with people getting sick. "In order for there to be sightlines for everyone to see the action at all times, you work on what we call the vom line," explains Rothstein, who is currently directing Ten Thousand Things Theatre's upcoming production of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, A Parable.
Taken from the ancient vomitorium, the contemporary term "vom line" is used in productions on thrust stages or in the round (like Doubt). Vom lines are imaginary continuations of the aisles into the performance space, providing axes of action that help guide the actors' movements.
Photo of the Guthrie Theater's Wurtele Thrust Stage, retouched to show the approximate vom lines. (Photo credit: Gallop Studios)
The Ordway's Ingram and Van Johnson know the subway grate doesn't refer to New York City's underground train network. A subway grate -- also known as the gridiron or the high steel -- is a series of beams from which all the pulleys, scenery and lighting in a theater are suspended.
The Ordway is well equipped for elaborate lighting and scenery. "We have 70 line sets in our theater," Van Johnson says. "It all goes up to the gridiron, which has to be able to support 100,000 pounds."
Block and Fall / Tripping
Scenery changes, which seem to happen by magic, can often be credited to the block and fall, i.e. the pulley system used for lifting scenery. Tripping, meanwhile, is nothing to do with pratfalls or psychotropic drugs; it simply refers to bundling a large piece of scenery in half so it can be tucked out of sight of the audience.
Probably the oddest-sounding term in the batch, zits probe comes not from dermatology but from opera. "That is the first rehearsal that the actors or the performers have with the orchestra," Ingram says.
It's an anglicized form of the German word sitzprobe, which literally means "seat preview." Ingram says at the Ordway, a zits probe is more commonly called a wander probe. "Typically in opera, they are just sitting," he says. "The reason we call it a 'wander probe' is because we let the actors get up and wander around, so if they feel like moving around on stage, we let them."
Next Tuesday, visit State of the Arts for unusual words from the world of dance.
Posted at 3:35 PM on February 1, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Video
This video has been forwarded about by several friends on Facebook, and once you see it I think you'll understand why. Produced by sevenandsixtyproductions.com with Minnesota Culture Club, the video is a mini-quest to find out why Twin Citians endure the harsh winters here over warmer, more hospitable climates.
The result is a romantic tribute to the place we call home... that just happened to be filmed on a warm summer night. It also features an original score by John Munson of the New Standards.
Oh and of course, the arts figure in many people's explanations.
Enjoy! And if you're inspired, share why you're staying put in the Twin Cities.
Posted at 10:53 AM on February 1, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: News and reviews
Maybe it's because there's more light in the sky, but arts reporters are cranking out the stories right now - take a look:
Masterpieces by Titian get TLC at MIA
Paintings on loan from Scotland are worth more than $300 million.
- Mary Abbe, Star Tribune
TAWU artists' network explores, expands Black culture: Northside exhibit reveals wonders of 'The Art Within Us'
"The great thing about art is that there are no limits. People can do whatever they want. It's an expression of our humanity. We need, for our culture, to expand in art," Christopher Harrison said.
- Susan Budig, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Vanessa Voskuil: 100 Creatives
It takes a special talent to create a compelling dance piece mostly using volunteers with little or no training, but performance artist, choreographer, and director Vanessa Voskuil did exactly this with "en masse."
- Jessica Armbruster, City Pages
A 'bigloo' and Balkan fertility: 'The Spectacular of Vernacular' at the Walker
I want to write about the show, called "The Spectacular of Vernacular," which I enjoyed very much. But I also want to write about the party that surrounded it, which I also enjoyed. Where to start, where to start? With the party.
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
Altered Esthetics opens technology-influenced show 'Online (Dis)connect'
While the online world most certainly brings people together, in some ways it has isolated us as well.
- Coco Mault, City Pages
Mystery writer David Housewright cracks 'em up at Book Club BlastHousewright's message was that good writing, and good storytelling, should transcend genre, and that writers of mysteries, sci fi, and romance should not be pigeonholed.
- Laurie Hertzel
Vince Flynn has cancer
Vince Flynn, author of the popular Mitch Rapp series, announced today via his emailed fan newsletter that he has Stage III metastatic prostate cancer.
- Kristin Tillotson
A Bogart double bill: 'Dead End' and 'Angels With Dirty Faces'
If there is anyplace to watch Bogart, it is the Heights Theater. It is, after all, a sumptuous old Beaux Arts cinema, a single-box theater that was the sort you would originally have seen a Humphrey Bogart movie in, but don't much exist anymore.
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
Sundance Film Festival report: From the Band of Merry Pranksters to A Tribe Called Quest
Anticipation for the Sundance Film Festival has been in my bones for over a month now, and when I pick up the all-important press pass, the hunt begins. I grab my gear and set out on the snow-covered roads among a crowd of "townies," film aficionados, corporate executives, and other film journalists.
- Jim Brunzell III, TC Daily Planet
Zoo Animal, Gospel Gossip, and Red Pens prep for Loring Theater gig
Thursday night's show at the Loring Theater (formerly the Music Box) will be a rare chance to catch all three stellar live acts on one bill.
- Andrea Swensson, City Pages
The Jayhawks at First Avenue, 1/29/11 and 1/30/11
After easing into their set on Saturday night, the Jayhawks were off and running for a two-night stand that found them finishing with a double-encore on Sunday evening and looking hesitant to leave the stage that they've gotten so apt at dominating these past two years.
- Andrea Swensson, City Pages
Heroes: A Benefit for Local Recording Artists at the Varsity, 1/28/11
Little more than a month after that atrocious break-in at Alarmists frontman Eric Lovold's home-based Instrument Control Studios--you know, the one that took place on Christmas Eve, resulting in the loss of over $25k worth of equipment--it would seem that the Twin Cities' music community is fully swinging in support of one of its own.
- Natalie Gallagher, City Pages
Bill Travers, perfect music for a Sunday afternoon (after the football season)
The guy plays fluid as water and is a fine singer.
- Dwight Hobbes, TC Daily Planet
Chilling story of half-sisters, both sopranos
Minnesota Opera's "Mary Stuart" is a grandly sung tale of blood and royalty.
- LARRY FUCHSBERG, Star Tribune
Her mythic beauty
A small Twin Cities company opens an ambitious contemporary take on Helen of Troy.
Rohan Preston, Star Tribune
Theatre Mu and CHAT present Katie Ka Vang's "WTF"
The play has received less-than-stellar reviews from the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, which I think is too bad--because I believe Katie Ka Vang has a unique voice that should be nurtured.
- Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet
Children's Theatre Company's "Babe" is a pip
You have an entire month left to see this play, and that is good, because seeing it once a week is a sure way to cure what ails ya' during the gloomy month of February.
Betsy Gabler, TC Daily Planet
At Plymouth Playhouse, wonderfully "Marvelous Wonderettes"The Marvelous Wonderettes takes the audience back to the 1958 Senior Prom at Springfield High School.
Jean Gabler, TC Daily Planet
"Corn" by Steve Thomas - Image copyright Pioneer Press
The Minnesota State Fair has chosen Steve Thomas of Lino Lakes to design the 2011 poster and commemorative art.
"Mars" by Steve Thomas
Steve Thomas' work as an illustrator is striking to behold, combining retro graphic style with often hyper-futuristic imagery. Thomas' sense of humor is everpresent in his portfolio, designing travel posters for other planets in the solar system, and propaganda posters for computer games like Pac Man and Frogger.
Frogger by Steve Thomas
You can see how Thomas' art might lend itself to the state fair in some of his work for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press:
"Revolution" by Steve Thomas - Image copyright Pioneer Press
This year marks the first time the Minnesota State Fair has gone about choosing its artist through a public call for submissions. Thomas was one of five finalists selected from over 80 candidates.
Thomas' original art for the State Fair will be unveiled at the fairgrounds in June and displayed at the Fine Arts Center during the fair's 12-day run.
The Minneapolis theater company known for presenting musical theater in an intimate setting has got a new manager.
John Thew has been selected as Theater Latté Da's new Managing Director effective immediately. Thew replaces Kimberly Motes who was recently appointed Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the College of Saint Benedict.
Thew is the former Director of Public Relations and former Director of Development for New York's Tony Award-winning Second Stage Theatre, and a former Production Manager for Twin Cities Public Television. Most recently Thew has been a consultant for AchieveGlobal.