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Monday, November 9, 2015

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Lindsey Turteltaub of Real Enemies

When Real Enemies comes to the BAM Harvey Theater November 18—22, audiences will be dazzled by hundreds of pieces of found video footage by film designer Peter Nigrini perfectly synced to an original jazz score by Grammy-nominated Darcy James Argue and his 18-piece Secret Society. The remarkable part? Each cue is called live, and there's no click track. Below, stage manager Lindsey Turteltaub explains more.

A technical rehearsal for Real Enemies. Photo: Lindsey Turteltaub

What kinds of responsibilities do you have as stage manager for Real Enemies?

As the stage manager, I’m responsible for the day-to-day workings of the show, along with my amazing assistant stage manager, Shelley Miles. We coordinate rehearsals and the daily schedule, communicate notes to the band and team, and make sure union rules are followed. I also run all tech rehearsals; we work with the designers, technical staff, and crew to make sure that the show runs smoothly.

Stage managers try to solve problems before they arise. I’m responsible for making sure that the artists are working in a safe, supportive environment. I’m also Darcy's (composer) and Isaac’s (director) go-to person—if there’s anything they need, I try to figure out how to make it happen.

Then, I’m responsible for calling the show. Calling the show is probably the most visible part of my job. Real Enemies is a huge show, with hundreds of cues over 75 minutes. It’s also a jazz piece, which means lots of improvisation and no click track. So my big responsibility is keeping the video perfectly in sync with music being played and conducted live. I call every lighting, video, and audio change—it’s sort of like being a conductor for the technical and design elements. I have a small conductor monitor where I watch Darcy and his body language. I anticipate all my calls based on his conducting, trying to take into consideration the lag between when I say “go” and when an operator pushes the actual button. We want to make sure that the operators push the button at the exactly right musical moment so the video events link with the music.

In Real Enemies you call hundreds of cues over the course of the show. What’s going through your head the moment before curtain?

Honestly, it’s asking Shelley, “Do I have all the trumpets at places?”

The first seven minutes are pretty relaxed. When we get to the first chapter, when the video really gets going, the adrenaline kicks in. The hardest cues are the “quote” cues. There’s a few moments where pre-recorded sound bytes from the news play over music, and they have to line up perfectly in order to follow Darcy’s very specific idea of what those moments should sound like. For example, he wants one Mos Def quote to land exactly on a specific 16th note and finish before a specific downbeat. I’ve never had to call a show with that much precision in my life, so I try not to think too hard about it. You can easily psych yourself out if you fixate on a cue, but it’s pretty great when it lands.

Perfectly synced video often needs to be called just a split-second before the downbeat, and you maneuver this task exquisitely. How did you prepare musically for this show?

I call from the full orchestra score, which is a big score—413 pages, 18 parts, every system is a full page. Darcy’s music is so layered that it’s impossible to call from a reduction. I read music because my parents made me practice piano when I was kid, and I started working on operas when I was 11. So, I guess I've always worked in music. But I’ve certainly gotten a lot better at calling to it since working with Beth Morrison Projects.

A page from the stage manager's annotated score. 
Photo: Lindsey Turteltaub
I used to think BMP's Brooklyn Babylon (also by Darcy) was the hardest thing I’d ever called…and then came Real Enemies. It’s kind of a running joke between Darcy, Isaac, and me: how hard can Darcy make the music to call to? How can we do something that’s just a step or two away from impossible? I got an email from Peter Nigrini (one of creators and video designer) before we started. He asked, "My first question is if you think it is even possible. Chapter one has 38 cues in its 5 minutes … Can it be called, or do I just need to scale back my ambition in terms of getting it in sync with Darcy?” We decided to go for it, and so far it’s been working out well.

I spend a lot of time with headphones in the subway, tapping along as I count. I make my amazingly patient boyfriend (who is a theater electrician/light board op) pretend to press a button and practice the hard parts with me in our apartment. And if I’m really stuck, I’ll ask Darcy to sit with me and conduct to recordings. He’s very generous working with me on it since he knows it’s difficult music, and we figure out how to manage it together.

Working in live performance means dealing with the unexpected. Have you had to deal with surprises (good or bad), and if so, any examples?

Live theater always comes with surprises, but luckily, I haven’t had to deal with anything truly traumatic. I’ve had to stop many shows—not Real Enemies—due to technical issues, i.e. when a turntable began to fail or when a sound board crashed. Once, I had to stop a show when an usher fainted onstage. On another show, lightning hit the theater in the middle of a tornado and the power cut out. In those situations, you have to think quickly and calmly and relay specific instructions to make sure everyone (audience, cast, and crew alike) is informed and safe. It’s never boring.

In my experience, the good times are usually when there aren’t too many surprises. Then, the good surprises are nice, simple things like a special guest in the house, or extra rehearsal time onstage when you need it. That kind of thing.

How has your relationship to conspiracy theory culture changed over the course of this project?

Honestly, I haven’t seen the whole show yet! My head is buried in the score or watching Darcy. When we performed our other show, Brooklyn Babylon, at Virginia Tech, the band and I finally—four years after premiering the show at BAM—got to watch the whole thing on video. We sat down and laughed, because we never knew what was going on around us. Darcy’s music is just too fast and too complicated to look up. I’m looking forward to watching Real Enemies once we have a video of it from BAM.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching a little of how Isaac, Darcy, and Peter created the framework, and I think the whole premise is thrilling. There are so many layers to this piece, and I’m curious how audiences will respond. The thing I’m most interested in is how we pose the questions at the heart of the show—I know we remove a lot of judgment surrounding conspiracy theorists and paranoia. It’s fascinating to watch how audiences draw connections. After immersing yourself in the theories, I’m curious about what actually seems plausible.

Real Enemies illuminates the BAM Harvey Theater November 18—22, and great tickets are still available.


  1. Belief in conspiracies is one of the defining aspects of modern culture. It transcends political, economic, and other divides.


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