Apples, apples — Who has the apples?

Many years ago, I was the volunteer stage manager for a theater production of Snow White and The 7 Dwarves. This wasn’t the Disney version, it was a slightly rougher version based on the original fairy tales.

The show was being done as “kids theater”.That meant that both front stage and backstage groups were a mix of kids and adults. Seven of the onstage kids were the dwarves, with names they had given themselves. A number of the backstage kids were lovingly deemed the techie dwarves.

As stage manager, my “job” was to keep things going during rehearsals and then during the shows. During the early rehearsals that meant taking detailed notes of stage movements, script changes, and rehearsal schedules. About midway through the production, my job got more complicated.

By this point, the actors knew their lines. They had a good idea of where to move, though the blocking for some scenes changed on a regular basis. I still attended rehearsals, but now I also ran tech meetings before and after rehearsals.

A good friend was the props person. She made up her lists and started finding props. Since we weren’t going to with real food until tech week, she borrowed a set of wooden painted apples my mother in law had made for us. As soon as we could, we started using the wooden apples to get the witch used to the size and shape of the pieces.

These apples were (and are) very realistic looking. The colors, the painting, the gloss — it all looked just real enough. The first day we had the apples at rehearsal, a couple of the kids teased the witch that her apples looked delicious. There followed a string of comments about the size, shape, firmness, and color of “her apples”. The littler kids were oblivious to what was being said, but the teen actors quickly figured out just how far they could push the comments without getting reprimanded. “Say that again and you will be replaced” was uttered more than a few times by the witch, the director, and myself.

One of the reasons we needed to have stand in apples was because the witch was to carry them around on a platter. There was an edge on the platter, but the pile of apples was still tricky to carry. Those apples were dropped regularly during the two scenes they were carried. If they hadn’t of been wooden, they would have been squishy and bruised after each of the first few rehearsals with the props.

Time passed and we got to tech week. Tech week is the last week of rehearsals. It is the first week of practice on stage with the sets, the full set of props, the lights, the sound effects, etc. With so many people involved in the production, a pair of schedules were created. The first one, for the actors, detailed who was to be in make up at what time and who was on clean up after each performance. Clean up tasks included the green room and the makeup room. The second schedule, for the techies, detailed who was on call for the different tech general calls and who was on set up and clean up for the props.

Normally, the props mistress would take care of all the props herself with one or two additional helpers. For Snow White, there were two or three hundred props to be placed, cleaned, moved, and replaced. The props mistress spent her pre-show time getting everything ready. The first night of tech week it became clear that while she could do the shopping for the fresh food, she wouldn’t have time to get all the food items laid out while the show was running.

So, an addition was made to the techie chore list. A new column was added showing who was responsible for setting out the food items needed during the show. Different techie dwarves were assigned tasks. I had been worried about the usual kids complaining, “Why don’t the adults have to take turns doing the chores?” To prevent those comments, I added myself to the chores list. I also added some of the adult techies to the list — the ones who were on set moving and stage clearing.

Tech week goes along and everything goes as expected. We have a terrible last rehearsal, a reasonable preview, and a GREAT opening show. Our kids shows ran over two consecutive weekends. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings we did a show at 6 pm. Saturdays and Sundays, we also did a 2 pm matinee. Mid-week, we did a matinee for school trips. That all comes out to 6 shows in 10 days.

I was on the schedule to do the apples for the first Saturday matinee. As with most shows, there were disasters happening all around. I don’t remember what the disaster was that Saturday, but I do remember getting it solved just in time to get to the booth less than 10 minutes before lights down.

The show started. We get through the first act without too many issues. The kids remembered their lines and their blocking. Props came and went without problems. During the break, there was a bunch of chatter over the headsets. We in the booth (sound person, lights person, myself) were having problems of our own, so we didn’t worry about it too much. Until the lights went up. And then I died a bit.

I had forgotten that it was my days to do the apples. And why, you may ask, was that relevant? Because I hadn’t done them. The witch was coming on stage with an empty tray. She was fast on her feet, thank goodness. She and Snow White acted as if the apples were there.

I don’t know at that time why the actors didn’t grab the wooden apples. The witch knew that she could use the wooden apples in emergencies. I later found out that the wooden apples had been moved to the wrong side of the stage, so the witch couldn’t find them. I never did find out who moved them.

Directly after the show, the director and I had a “talk.” And right after, I adjusted the schedule so that I was not doing any of the chores before any of the remaining shows.

For the rest of the shows, I would arrive at the booth for each show to find a wooden apple sitting on my chair. For years, the sight of the wooden apples would send a wave of laughter through the room when people came over to visit. Over the next few years, those apples became a running joke. “Invisible apples” have become family code for a disaster we should have seen coming.

I learned a lesson that day — if you are in charge, your list is long enough. Don’t take on extra work that someone else can do. And always make sure the apples are ready to go!

Want to read another tale from my theater days? I invite you to read…

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