You may know that the Fountain Theatre’s smash hit world premiere, Arrival & Departure, is highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, has earned rave reviews everywhere, and has been delighting audiences in sold-out houses since it opened in July. What you don’t know is that the magical mixture of lights, video, sound, music and open captioning is operated by only two stage managers in the booth — executing the play’s 3,500 technical cues in a fast-paced running time of 90 minutes. How do they do it?
Production Stage Manager Emily Lehrer and Assistant Stage Manager Deena Tovar make an excellent team. They share years of professional experience between them but Arrival & Departure marks the first time they have worked together. It’s also the first time they’ve managed a cast of Deaf and hearing actors.
“There was a learning curve on the American Sign Language front, for sure,” admits Emily. “That being said, everyone has been so helpful and supportive as I fumbled my way through.”
Deena echoes the same enthusiasm. “This has been an amazing experience. Everyone involved with the show are truly remarkable and supportive. Even with my signing skills — or rather the lack thereof — everyone made sure I was learning.”
“I really want to start studying ASL more seriously,” adds Emily. “It’s a gorgeous language, and as a Stage Manager, communication is at the heart of everything I do. So having that asset in my communication toolbox would be amazing.”
Emily Lehrer is from Los Angeles and has worked as Production Stage Manager on several plays at the Fountain Theatre. She has also stage managed for The Latino Theatre Company, The Garry Marshall Theatre, The Odyssey Theatre, Sacred Fools, and at Universal Studios Hollywood. Deena grew up in Eagle Rock. She has worked as a Stage Manager all over Los Angeles at such companies as Circle X, Open Fist, Casa0101, Shakespeare Center of LA and many more.
“The Fountain is a great place to work,” Deena beams. “It really is like a family. Anything I need is almost always available. Everyone is here to support the art and you can really feel that when you walk in every day.”
They clearly enjoy working together and make a kick-ass team in the booth and in the rehearsal room. What makes them such a dynamic duo?
“Complimentary skill sets, ” says Emily. “Honestly, a lot of it comes from Deena also being a great PSM, and because she knows how to think like a PSM, she is able to anticipate needs and fill in the gaps beautifully. It also doesn’t hurt that we enjoy each other’s company as people. Having team members you genuinely enjoy working with is a gift, and it makes every aspect of the process go more smoothly and easily.”
Deena agrees. “We both absolutely love our jobs as Stage Managers. We don’t come to work wishing we were doing something else, we walk in knowing we are working in our dream profession. It also helps that we both have very similar styles of stage managing and from that we are able to predict exactly what is needed before it’s said out loud.”
When Deena first read Stephen Sachs‘ script for Arrival & Departure, and its blend of both Deaf and hearing actors in a production that mixes lights, sound, music, video and open captioning, she was unsure how it would all come together.
“I originally felt it would be difficult for the audience to keep up with everything going on,” she admits. “But during the rehearsal process my concerns were very quickly extinguished. I saw exactly how each word and each scene had to be portrayed to make sure no one was missing out on any moment.” Emily agrees. “I am so thrilled with the way it turned out.”
Both have been blown away by the audience reaction.
“It has been such a balm to see how audiences have responded to the show, ” says Emily. “Especially our Deaf audiences, as they realized with utter joy that this is a production created with them in mind.”
“The audiences have loved it, ” exclaims Deena. “They really enjoy the way the show captures both the Deaf and hearing experiences. I love looking at the audience during intense moments and seeing their reactions. My personal favorite was the reaction of these two women sitting in the front row. Just as the characters Sam and Emily are about to kiss, the two women grabbed each other and shook their heads like they wanted to yell out, “don’t do it!”
Both Emily and Deena feel the play — how it was conceived and the way it is performed — serves a valuable purpose.
“This production is truly important because it incorporates elements of sign language, captioning and spoken English, ” Deena explains. “This show isn’t only for one audience. It is open for everyone. Everyone can watch and relate. That kind of inclusion is sadly lacking in the entertainment industry.”
“We live in weird, difficult, and downright terrifying times,” states Emily. “Times where hatred, bigotry, and closed mindedness are becoming the new normal. In times like these, creating art is an act of resistance. Creating art that is, by design, inclusive, a celebration of a woman coming into her own, a love story — is nothing short of revolutionary. “
And now that the celebrated run is soon reaching its final performance?
“I got to meet some of the funniest, most energetic, and kind-hearted people, ” Deena confesses. “It really has been an excellent experience.”
“It has been such a beautiful, hopeful reminder of what we can be when we open our arms and our hearts to those who may on the surface appear different than us,” states Emily. “I will cherish it.”
Arrival & Departure ends September 30.