NEW YORK CITY: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is our 15-minute break. Please be back promptly in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes, ladies and gentlemen, 15 minutes.”
For any theatre artists who have gone through a technical rehearsal, those words will sound familiar. But for the cast and crew of 10 Out of 12—a new play by Anne Washburn at Soho Rep through July 18, about the fictional tech rehearsal of a Gothic play called Delirious—those same words have caused confusion during the actual tech rehearsal of the non-fictional show.
“Throughout tech, you had to be careful with what you say,” said the show’s real-life stage manager, Amanda Spooner, on a recent afternoon before a rehearsal. “At one point I said, ‘We’re going from the 10-minute break,’ and everybody started to go on a 10-minute break! It’s a line in the show! Don’t leave!”
Quincy Tyler Bernstine plays the fictional stage manager in 10 Out of 12. Sitting across from Spooner, she confirmed how weird it feels to be putting on a show about tech. “There were times when I thought I was seeing Rachel [Gross], our actual ASM [assistant stage manager], but it was Leigh [Wade] who plays the ASM,” said Bernstine. “It was just very trippy.”
But as weird as it seems to act the part of a stage manager with a real stage manager in the room, at least Bernstine didn’t have to go far to do her research. “We’re in the room together five-and-a-half, six hours a day. I watched [Amanda] like a hawk,” said Bernstine. “She’s a really great model, so I try to channel her as best I can.”.
“I hear myself in her voice,” Spooner said. “I laugh every night because there’s just these magical things that Quincy has found in the tone.”
“Oh, good!” responded Bernstine.
Washburn’s play offers an intimate look at the mountain of details that go into staging a show: testing out lighting intensities, making sure the right sound cues are called, actors figuring out (and sometimes changing) their marks onstage. The cast for Washburn’s play numbers 14, and almost every member of a typical show’s crew is represented, from actors, directors and assistant directors to designers of light, sound and costumes to stage managers and assistant stage managers. The play, which began performances on May 23, was recently extended for a third time, to July 18. It is directed by Les Waters.
Bernstine and Spooner are no strangers to metatheatrical excursions at Soho Rep. The actor starred in the world premiere of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 by Jackie Sibblies Drury, in which she played the director of a devising ensemble. And Spooner stage-managed the world premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon, which featured direct addresses to the audience from (an actor playing) the playwright and a set that completely collapsed at the show’s midpoint
But Washburn’s play dives even deeper into technical aspects of theatre not usually depicted onstage. The title 10 Out of 12 refers to an Equity mandate that says that when actors are called in for 12 hours of tech rehearsal, they can only work 10 of those hours. Technicians actually have a heavier schedule, working 12 out of 14. But not to worry, theatregoers—the show itself is not durational, clocking in at a tidy 2 hours, 20 minutes (with a 15-minute intermission—called by Bernstine, of course).
Washburn said she wrote the play because she found that watching tech rehearsals of her work could be as fascinating as the plays themselves. In fact, she’s been taking notes at various tech rehearsals since 2005.
“It’s at the same time an incredibly prosaic experience and an incredibly heightened experience,” Washburn said. “Everybody is just working so incredibly hard to make the thing go. So that becomes very beautiful.”
For audience members who don’t understand the process, 10 Out of 12 provides an experience that isn’t just visual but also aural. As they enter the theatre, each viewer is handed a small radio and headset. While they watch the director and actors onstage, they can also hear the designers discuss logistics in their headsets (“Right now we’re defying the laws of physics just to get the costume changes in time,” is a typical line) and hear Bernstine calling cues in the overhead speakers (“Standby Sound 63. Sound 63—go”).
10 Out of 12 also provides glimpses into the camaraderie behind the playmaking process, from actors playing with their period costumes while waiting for their cue to technicians describing their perfect sandwich (“Olive bread, toasted. Pepper jelly and horseradish rare roast beef and manchego”). It’s a love letter to theatremaking in all of its insane and frustrating minutiae—a process that, when it’s working, somehow comes together to look like an effortless mimicry of life.
That’s why tech is Spooner’s favorite part of showmaking, a point she made repeatedly and emphatically. “Like, c’mon, that’s when all the strings are coming together. Like, that’s living, right?” she exclaimed.
Audiences aren’t the only ones who are learning from the observational details in 10 Out of 12. The show has been an eye opener for the actors, too.
“I’ve always known what an incredibly hard job you guys have as stage managers, just like juggling so many balls at once,” said Bernstine to Spooner. “One thing I’ve noticed, and I don’t even know if I want [American Theatre] to print this—but actors can be really annoying!”
Spooner returned the favor, shaking her head and saying, “It’s funny, I’m learning the other side of that.” Because a majority of the offstage dialogue in 10 Out of 12 is prerecorded, it is up to Spooner to activate the (real-life) sound and light cues. “There are moments in the show where I press the button to make the lighting designer say, ‘Let me see group 70 at full,’ and then I have to pretend that I’m the lighting programmer so that [the lights] pop up in the right time. There’s a little glimpse of the acting side of it for me.”
“You’re acting with us,” responded Bernstine.