Kage Baker worked Renaissance Fairs as both a performer and a stage manager.This is the (abbreviated) week before we open on the day after Thanksgiving – traditionally known, in just about every theatre on the verge of opening, as Hell Week. Since we build our venues from the ground up, our version is not just backdrops and painted curtains – it’s more like Hell Week in Brigadoon, with us laboring to get the entire city of London in miniature up and running before this Friday morning.
The Green Man is 99% constructed – one wall of deco to finish, and a new bar to install. But then Friday morning we have to get the kitchen up and running – dress the Parlour for the day (Where are the white candles? Whose Doc Martins are sitting on the dining table? Why is there a banana on the mantelpiece?) – and be actually fully dressed and in character when the customers walk in. Opening morning is an exercise in adrenaline.
In our little corner of the historical recreation biz, stage managers take an active role in actually constructing their stages – Kage’s experiences ranged from building canopies to painting to dressing the set. And of course there was our environmental stage to build as well, the Green Man Inn in the oakwoods. That ordinarily stood empty for 9 months in the woods between Faires, or stacked in a warehouse – the necessities involved in refurbishing it included squirting out the raccoons and wasps’ nests with a high pressure hose. That had to be done delicately, though, so you didn’t wash off the patina of dried beer and termite spit that actually held the Inn together.
The Green Man Tavern at Dickens is altogether a more civilized venue, and me and mine have laboured mightily to get it up and running. We shall spend this week doing last minute sewing on costumes, finding last-minute props, and grocery shopping: because we serve two luncheons and a sweet afternoon tea every day, plus keep a sideboard of sweets and savouries going all day to keep our wandering brethren fed. When someone has 30 minutes to go from being the Captain of the King’s Musketeers to playing standing bass viol in Mad Sal’s, it’s nice to make sure he can grab a sandwich on the way.
Back in the Cow Palace, though, there are crews working 24/7 to finish the City. Fezziwig’s Warehouse was empty yestreday: it needs to be lit, dressed, and then over-dressed. The Absinthe Bar is a mere green shell of itself – it is possible that the faeries may come and finish the place, but I bet it’s just really tired humans doing it. There is last minute plumbing to do in every drink stand; there are prosaic necessities like folding chairs and toilet paper to lay in. Frantic vendors are bringing in all the shiny, glowing, rustling, gleaming, fragile and expensive wares they were too worried to bring in before this.
Someone is counting trash bins and hoping we have enough. Someone else is counting trash bags, of which we need 3 or 4 times the bins every single day. Someone is making sure all the encouraging and/or discouraging signs are up in the right places: No Smoking! Handicapped Only! Restrooms This Way! MEAT PIES! CHESTNUTS! BEER AND CHAMPAGNE! Because it wouldn’t do to send people out to the chemical toilets in the breezeway when what they are looking for is the popcorn cart.
Most – but by no means all – of our workers will be home on Thursday afternoon to celebrate Thanksgiving. But some of the stalwarts, especially among the crews rigging lights and stocking ale stands, will essentially be there all night. For them, our producer Kevin Patterson usually lays on a feast – very like Mr. Fezziwig in Christmas Carol, clearing away the bolts and bales and putting out pies and turkey and dressing. There will be camaraderie and laughter and elevated blood sugar. In an I’m-so-tired-I-am-walking-into-walls-way, it’s fun.
On Friday morning London will awaken and find itself at sunset on Christmas Eve. Hell Week will transform into Extreme Christmas. Ghosts will walk the streets. The Queen will visit. Carolers and faeries will be everywhere. I will turn and call for my housekeeper, Mrs. Drumm … it should only take me 5 or 6 times to realize she won’t answer, but I will hear her caustic remarks in my mind anyway.
And now, I am going to go find some last necessities – like my jeweled combs and the paper towel dispenser …
Tomorrow: Shopping for Christmas and Thanksgiving simultaneously