The Mary Poppins house was brought in by truck and moved into the Hobby Center in two big pieces starting Wednesday morning. First the top was suspended from the ceiling and then the bottom slid in under that. It was a majestic sight, a feat of well-practiced engineering.
Well, Hair Balls is taking that last part on faith, actually, since by the time the media was called in to look at the amazing moving house, it had already been moved in ahead of schedule. Lesson learned: union backstage folks move at their own pace and no one tells them what to do.
So, we stared at it the house for a while or so during which time the bannister was nailed into place and innumerable light checks were done. Finally, after about 30 minutes, we were told the house was going to move! Get our cameras ready!
And then they turned out the lights and went on coffee break.
Actually, they did give us a break and move the house. It moved in stately fashion straight to the back of the stage. We were told we couldn't have lights because the light man was on break. Finally, someone shone a makeshift light which helped, but there really wasn't that much to see.
The house we'd been staring at just moved farther away from us. Ah, but then, they "flew in" the kids' nursery. And that was kind of exciting, especially when it stopped slightly above the stage and someone had to call out "two inches!" before it was settled into place.
While a sound check beeped relentlessly in the background, Assistant Stage Manager Matthew Leiner of Broadway Across America was a good sport about explaining what everyone was doing. The house can rotate 360 degrees, he said, and is run by computers. Parts of it are functional, others just theater decoration.
The fact that the house is automated doesn't necessarily scare actors, but it does take some getting used to, he said.
"We have children in the show [trading different ones out from time to time] and they've never done a show with automation. Before the show, we'll put them in it and we'll ride along with them in it. They all get a test ride. Same thing for understudies."
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Thursday, the two leads, Gavin Lee and Ashley Brown will have a separate rehearsal just for their flights, he said. The whole cast comes on for a run through in the afternoon before opening night Thursday.
If anything goes wrong in a show -- and Leiner said he's had little glitches but never big ones -- then an operator takes over manually and sorts things out. Even with all the automation, he said, "nothing can happen unless we say so." Which Hair Balls certainly found to be the case Wednesday. But then again, if we were among the cast, we'd certainly want a crew so dedicated to getting it right that they don't care if they get their photo taken or their face on the TV news that night.