March 12, 2010

When Portland Stage curtain goes up, he's got to be spot on

The Time

— The show does not go on until Myles C. Hatch says it can.

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PSC 2007-08 Season ACC production photography Tuesday cast

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Hatch, 41, is the stage manager for the Portland Stage Company production of ''A Christmas Carol,'' which plays through Christmas Eve at the theater on Forest Avenue.

A theater lifer and nine-year veteran of Portland Stage, Hatch pretty much is the king when it comes to running the show. As stage manager, he's the person with the most authority. Actors and technicians answer to him, and he directly influences how the audience experiences the show.

A taskmaster, he tells the actors when it's time to go, and lets the light operators know when to dim the house lights and turn on the spots.

If anyone has a problem, Hatch's job is to solve it.

''I'm the confidante of everyone. I'm in everyone's court and on everyone's side,'' he said. ''It's my job to articulate the director's vision and maintain the director's vision throughout the entire run of the show. The director's job is done when the show opens. In fact, the director is usually off-site, working on another show in another city, as soon as we open. After that, it's up to me.''

Hatch studied theater at the University of Maryland at College Park. He earned a bachelor's degree in theater, and began working professionally up and down the East Coast before settling at Portland Stage. He's also worked at Maine State Music Theater in Brunswick and the Theater at Monmouth.

I had the chance to shadow Hatch this past Wednesday night.

By the time the show began a few minutes after 7 p.m., Hatch has already logged a long day.

The theater was supposed to host a morning show for school-age children. But the slippery roads forced schools to cancel, so Hatch was on the phone at 8 a.m., telling the actors and the rest of the crew to stay home.

I found him at 6:30 p.m., sitting on a couch in the Green Room backstage, chatting up the actors. Mark Honan, a Portland actor who has appeared in ''A Christmas Carol'' for many years, was sipping tea.

A nasty virus had made the rounds, and Honan was doing everything he could to stave off the effects.

When Hatch was out of earshot, Honan sang the stage manager's praises. ''He's one of the most professional stage managers I've ever had the pleasure to work for. He's always two moves ahead of me.''

Which is precisely Hatch's job.

At 6:45, he skipped upstairs, two at a time, to the dressing rooms to call out ''15 minutes,'' signalling 15 minutes to opening.

By protocol, each actor returns the call: ''Thank you, 15.''

The return response is required so that everyone is on the same page.

The routine is repeated at 10 minutes before show time, and then again at five minutes to show.

But before giving the five-minute call, Hatch consults with house manager Betsy Gans. He wants to make sure the audience is in place. If many people are running late -- because of the weather or another reason -- Hatch can delay the start time a few minutes to give them time to navigate the slippery sidewalks, or to park the car.

Gans tells him there are still 14 people who had reserved tickets but have not yet picked them up. As they are talking, a group of five hustles through the doors.

Hatch decides to give the five-minute call. There will still be time to seat the stragglers.

Soon after, he folds his lanky frame -- all 6-foot-4 of it -- into the tiny corridor that leads from backstage up into the glassed-in booth at the back of the theater. He settles in with a headset.

Throughout the course of the evening, Hatch communicates in a quiet voice with five assistants: sound operator Bob Pousha, seated to his left; light operator Whitney Smith, to his right; spot operators Megan Doane and Grace Overbeke, who are out of sight on the catwalk; and production assistant Natalie Carter, also out of sight backstage.

Everything that happens on stage -- every change in the lights, every sound effect, every snowflake that falls from the rafters -- happens at Hatch's instruction.

Seconds after he calls ''places,'' indicating that actors should be in place to start the show, he gets a semi-urgent call from Gans. She tells him that one ticket holder is coming up in a wheelchair via the elevator.

He gets on the intercom: ''Struggling with a wheelchair in the elevator at the moment. As soon as that's taken care of, we will go.''

Moments later, the patron in the wheelchair enters the theater. The house light go down.

Hatch clicks his stop watch, and the show begins.

''Spot two on David, go.''

As the spotlight comes on, David Glendenning, a member of the ensemble cast and also a member of the theater board, walks to the center of the auditorium and welcomes the audience to the performance.

Hatch calls each cue in what sounds like shorthand: ''Sound AX, go.'' ''Lights 9.5, go.'' ''Red for the snow standing.''

In all, over the course of two acts and a little more than 82 minutes of stage time, he calls roughly 150 different cues.

On this night, everything seems to go off without a hitch.

After the final applause, as the audience begins to file out, Hatch is thinking ahead to a student show the next morning.

''Thanks, everybody,'' he tells the cast and crew. ''Tomorrow, we have a 10 o'clock performance, so we have an 8:30 call. See you then.''

No rest for the weary.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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