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Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Oy! There’s been so much to blog about in the last couple of weeks – an impending home repair project and lots of knitting and spinning developments. Instead of doing that, I’ve been sitting in a dark room for the last week, teching a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.

I feel a bit like Dante from “Clerks”: I’m not even supposed to be here today. This show is in the thrust theater, a venue I don’t normally spend much time in. It’s been good to spend some time re-acquainting myself with the room and how it works, and figuring out all the stuff that’s currently broken and what I’m supposed to do to work around it. I am, however, in tech three weeks earlier than I had originally planned on. Thankfully, if I’m going to do an extra tech this spring, this is the one to do. Last week was the big push week and it was, in the words of one of my co-workers, downright civilized. I think it worked out to about 55 hours, give or take, which is pretty light for tech. We quit early both of the nights we were scheduled until midnight, and none of the daily rehearsals this week have begun before 2 – practically unheard of. My lighting designer is a total sweetheart, and has already bought me coffee a couple of times. Yesterday, a package full of cookies arrived from his Mom. Everyone is pretty relaxed, and I couldn’t have asked for better circumstances. I’ll be back in tech for Time Stands Still in two weeks, and I know that one’s not going to be nearly so easy, so I’m glad this one has been smooth sailing.

Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how easy tech has been by the state of our house. I’m pretty sure the dirty dishes have been spontaneously multiplying when my back is turned, and every flat surface is covered with a thin grey film of cat hair. Adding to the state of things is the fact that the weather has been gorgeous, and so I want to spend every spare moment outside reveling in the fact that it’s March, 60 degrees, and there’s no snow on the ground. Speaking of which…

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The End of the Rainbow set as seen from my spot behind the light board.

 

I spent this week in tech.

 

For the theatrically minded of my readers, you know what that means. For those of you who aren’t (bless you!), let me ‘splain. No, is too long. Let me sum up.

A play goes through several stages (ha!) before it opens to the public. First, the actors and director sit around a table, talking about the script and learning about the world it takes place in. Then , the actors get on their feet and the ensemble begins to put together what eventually will become the show. After two to four weeks of this (depending on the theater), the show goes into technical rehearsals – and that’s where I get involved.

Different theaters handle this process differently, but all of them do it. It’s the time when the work that the actors and director have been doing in rehearsal meet the work that the designers and technicians have been doing, sometimes for months ahead of time. The actors put on their costumes, pick up their real props, and walk on to the set for the first time. And this is when the lighting team kicks it into overdrive and makes sure that the audience can see what’s happening on stage.

Of course it’s more complicated than that, but you get the basic idea. For a week, we sit in a dark room figuring out how all these disparate pieces fit together. It’s when a play ceases to be about one thing and becomes a conglomeration. Each department does their job so single-mindedly for so long that by the time we get here, it’s a struggle to let go and commit ourselves to the group process – but we do, every time. Art is all about ego, but theater has to be all about letting go of that ego for it to work.

As a lowly technician, I get to be pretty devoid of ego most of the time. I show up, I type like a madwoman on that weird computer for ten or twelve hours, and I go home so I can do it all again the next day. As a stagehand, your job is to sit on your ego as hard as you can in the service of someone else’s vision. And frankly? That’s ok with me, most of the time. I’ve worked on this end of things for about ten years and I’ve learned a lot about myself in that time. I’ve worked on the other end, too – the designer end, the vision end – and both have value.

There’s a certain kind of poetry in sitting back and facilitating the process for someone else. It took me a long time to figure that out. When I started this job as a fresh-out-of-college know-it-all in 2001, I was two things: cocky about my artistic ability, and terrified that someone would figure out that as a technician I was a fraud. In the intervening 10 years, I’ve flipped sides. I’ve worked for some of the great geniuses of American and European lighting design (as I am on this show), and I’ve learned something new each and every show. Sometimes I’ve been able to use those tricks in my own work and sometimes I’ve filed them away for later, but what’s become starkly clear to me is that there is still SO MUCH I have to learn, and so many amazing people to learn it from. At the same time, I’ve pushed and worked and struggled to become a better technician, a better programmer, and a better stagehand. At this point in my career, I think I’ve done pretty well. There’s always more to learn, new things to try, and new technology to get my hands on and tinker with. Still, I’ve developed what I’ll call the Stagehand Soul – the ability to sit with the same show day in and day out for 40, 50, 60, even 90 performances and make each one matter.

There’s a lot to be said on that topic that will wait for another post. My point is that it takes skill and care to work ten- to 14-hour days for two weeks straight creating something, and then relax into doing the same exact thing every day, exactly the same way, for the next six weeks after that. When I describe my job to other people, I tell them that it’s 90% boredom and 10% sheer panic. It’s not quite that stark, but the sentiment is there. It’s about being able to focus all your attention to a pinpoint and hold it there for longer than we humans are naturally inclined to do, and then turn all that intensity off and find a zen state from which to operate for the rest of the run. It’s very primordial in its purest form, very evolutionarily relevant. We undergo stress and engage our fight-or-flight reflexes for a period of time, and then we get to enjoy a period of relaxation. Tech is a bit like running away from a lioness on the veldt – you focus, or you get eaten. But you can’t stay that way forever. Eventually, the gazelle finds a safe place to eat, to drink, to rest. She stays there and gathers her strength, because she knows eventually the lion will come back. Both of those states are essential to the process. They create a normal rhythm that brings us artists into tune with the rest of nature.

 

Of course, I make all of this far more grandiose than it needs to be. Functionally, we’re all a bunch of kids who have somehow gotten someone to give us money to do what we love. We show up every day because we don’t want to know what the world would be like without someone to tell its stories. Or to tell it stories. We’re grateful to be those people.

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