Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Electric Cue 1. . . Go

These days when I tell people that I spent nearly a decade working in professional theater prior to going to law school they almost invariably assume that I was an actor.  I suppose that trial work, with its dramatic arguments and, usually, colorful cast of characters is easily likened to performance.  But, in fact, I studiously avoided the boards, for the most part.  While I admire actors and their fearless vulnerability, I have never been able to bare my soul like that to strangers.  Instead, I found my artistic passion lay in transforming text into a cohesive whole by collaborating with actors, designers, musicians, and other artists.  I have been privileged on several occasions to express that passion in the role of director, but far more often I have made my contribution to a production in the role of stage manager.  It is a role like none other in the theater - your one and only job is to bring the artistic vision of the director into fruition by overseeing all the moving parts of a production.  I have been fortunate to work with directors who have valued my insight and readily listened to my suggestions, but at the end of the day it was their work and their reputations that were on the line.

But the secret that every good stage manager knows, is that we are artists too.  Our art, our performance comes in the form of a series of stand-bys, warnings, cue calls, and, most importantly, the word GO.  This is called calling a show and it is the music of every production.  Every light shift and flying scenery piece, sound effects and pyrotechnics, all come into being before the audience's eyes because a stage manager said GO.  Many people can organize a production and run rehearsals and type up prop lists and cue sheets, but the truly great stage managers are the ones who can feel the rhythm of a show in their bones.  I was privileged to learn the craft from a true gentleman and artist, Roger Raby, at Houston's Theater Under the Stars.  It wasn't a mark on the page that told him to call a light cue just as the lead actress exhaled the final note of a number, he just felt it.  And even though his days in the chorus on Broadway were long behind him, he could make the lights and effects dance on the stage as only the most reliable and steady dance partner could.

Analogizing the theater to the courtroom is apparently all too easy, but I find the most apt comparisons are not the most obvious ones.  Yes, every time I stand up before a jury and launch into an opening argument, it is a kind of performance, but I think in many ways my role as a litigator and counselor is much more like that of the stage manager.  By the time I stand before a jury at trial, there has been months of consultation and collaboration with my client.  Ultimately, the choice to even go to trial rests entirely in his or her hands, and my only job at trial is to execute.  After months of hard work and analysis and tedious organizing, sifting of evidence, and investigation, finally there is performance.  As in the theater world, the difference between the good lawyers and the great litigators is in the artistry of the performance.  In this, I strive to emulate my mentor, Roger; to have worked so hard and to know the case so well that when the time comes, I just have it in my bones.

As I write this, I am on the precipice of a new adventure.  I will soon leave the law firm I have been a part of for the last three years and strike out on my own.  The anticipation and nervousness remind me of the moments just before a show is to start.  When I first began calling shows as a stage manager, I dreaded that moment - the actors are in place, the stagehands are at their posts, the audience has quieted.  No one knows that it is you that they are all waiting for, but you know it.  Over time, I learned to love that moment.  It was like a a little window of peace, and I was the only one who knew it was there.

And then I would take a breath. . . and exhale. . . and I would say Electric Cue 1. . . GO.

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