Articles about production manager corner

Art and the Handshake

Detail from “Romeo and Juliet” by Sir Frank Bernard Dicksee, 1884

Welcome back to the Production Manager Corner. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Michelle Kashinsky and I’m the Production Manager at Third Rail Repertory Theatre. I’ve been stepping out from behind our brilliant design teams to offer my perspective on how we move forward in this new world.

I’ve been thinking about the handshake. The week of April 6th, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the country’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.”

Dr. Gregory Poland, M.D. of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic states: “The whole idea of extending your right hand derives from medieval times when you showed that by extending your right hand, you were not harboring a weapon. The reality of it is, in modern times, you may well be harboring a bio-weapon, so to speak. I think there are much more safe and culturally appropriate ways to indicate a greeting.”

While it is not every culture’s custom to shake hands, if what Dr. Fauci says is true, how will we as a nation choose to greet each other? On my mother’s side, we’ve always greeted each other with the “air kiss,” followed by saying, “MWAH!” It’s delightful, but may not be for everyone. There’s also the fist bump, the curtsey, the arm clasp, the Vulcan salute, and jazz hands.

If the landscape of how many of us greet each other on a daily basis does in fact change, what does this mean for how we represent greetings in the plays we produce? And what if a play calls for actors to kiss? What is safe and what is art? 

One of the most famous kisses in Western drama occurs in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which was written in 1594. 

Romeo: Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take. 

              Thus from my lips, by thine my sin is purged.

    [kisses her.]

Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Romeo: Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urged!

            Give me my sin again.

   [Kisses her.]

Can this iconic scene be accomplished without touching? Do all actors need to wear gloves? Masks? Costume designers will become even more important if we have to integrate personal protective equipment into our costumes. 

Interestingly, 1594 happened to be right after theatres reopened from a plague that hit London. Claire Cochrane, a professor of theatre studies at the University of Worcester, said, “The current situation is almost unprecedented. The only comparison is really the plague outbreaks in the 16th century and the early 17th century – and then the really big outbreak in 1665 to 1666. In each case, the public theatres were closed to protect the public from infection.” 

When plague hit London in 1592, theatres remained dark from the fall of 1592 to the spring of 1594. London’s theatres closed again when another bout of plague hit from April 1603 to April 1604. The only option available for theatre companies during these times was to tour shows in the provinces of England. Sadly, with our current pandemic, touring is not an option.

We now share the same fears that existed when other calamities shuttered theatre doors across history. (Note: Calamity is now a word my 7-year-old uses in everyday conversation.) The very qualities that live theatre celebrates – communities coming together to witness human stories, responding with laughter, tears, and gasps – must be on hold for the time being. 

Theatres have been forced to close before, but they reopened. The capacity for cultural rebirth is alive in all of us. The most encouraging lesson we can learn from Shakespeare’s era is that the playhouses will survive and reopen, again and again. Theatre will adapt and find a way. It has and it will again!


Incognito: The World We Were Creating

Actors Isaac Lamb and Maureen Porter, accompanied by their costume sketches. Photo by Owen Carey.

Welcome to the Production Manager Corner. My name is Michelle Kashinsky and this is my second season as Production Manager for Third Rail. I’m usually behind the scenes, making sure the designers and director have what they need in the room to do their beautiful work. I help the team keep on task, on schedule, and on budget. But since Incognito by Nick Payne never got to open, and with the arrival of the previously scheduled closing date (Saturday, April 11th), I wanted to share the world we were creating.

At our production meetings, the design team works to take the ideas of the play and put them into physical shape. Sometimes this is literal (a character plays the piano, so we hunt down a piano, move it into the theatre, tune it, and use it in the play). But sometimes the process is more abstract. And with Incognito, it was always more abstract.

First a note about the structure of Incognito: four actors play a combined twenty-one characters within the play’s three interwoven stories. A pathologist steals the brain of Albert Einstein; a neuropsychologist embarks on her first romance with another woman; a seizure patient forgets everything but how much he loves his girlfriend.

In the play, the character Anthony says this about starlings (small birds): 

“We watched the starlings. I love how they come together and move away and then come back together. They sometimes look like half a shape. It’s beautiful.”

This concept was a guiding principle that inspired much of the overall design. The designers worked to subtly guide the audience without their knowledge. One small bird, or design element, would not stand out by itself, but when you put all of them together (sets, costumes, lights, and sounds) something beautiful took shape. 

Specifically, a choice was made that the designers would not help us know which story we were following in any given scene. For example, each actor would wear the same costume throughout the show regardless of which character they were playing. And, despite the multiple locations in the play, everything would be played in a void made of black astroturf, wooden cubes, and a string art installation (instead of literal desks/chairs/tables). This disorienting effect would mirror the fragmentary structure of the play, and the design elements would all coalesce at the end: the audience would hear the complete melody of a piano piece, whereas earlier they only heard fragments; the audience would see a new vibrancy of color as the string art installation glowed in special lights, where before it was a dark structure in the space. 

Applause. End of play.

Please enjoy and please be well! And may the arts keep us going, give us hope, and reunite us again, safely, and soon.

Michelle (and Fiona and Rosie)

The Art of Flying

“We watched the starlings. I love how they come together and move away and then come back together. They sometimes look like half a shape. It’s beautiful.”


Designer: Abigail Vaughan

Using different surface treatments we can create patterns derived from plant growth, fractals, brain scans, etc. … Textures or patterns that are barely there but then catch the light and become momentarily visible. The implication of thoughts and memories patched, woven, printed, and superimposed on our form.


Designer: Company Member Jennifer Lin

Art gives us the language to talk about abstract things.”

Scenic Design

Designer: Megan Wilkerson

I love the thought of using materials with unidentifiable qualities.


Designer: Ryan Gamblin

“This selection of cues from Incognito demonstrates a variety of the textures and tones in the show. Atmospheric compositions for piano, realistic underlays that inform setting, and arpeggios that emphasize the pace of the events all come together, woven into the rich story and characters of Payne’s text.” 

Incognito: Two Minute Sound Sizzle


Dramaturg: Brian Myers

“Some of the characters in Incognito are neuroscientists and some are patients. The play is not exactly about the science, but it is imbued with awareness of the questions that neuroscience raises. … Playwright Nick Payne goes further: his concerns manifest themselves not just in the experience of the characters but also in those of the actors and the audience. Several features of the play challenge us in ways that foreground how we receive and process information.”

To read the full dramaturgical notes, click here.

The cancellation of revenue-generating programming will have a substantial impact on our organization, and we are extremely grateful to those who are able to give a little extra support to Third Rail at this time.