June 10, 2007

And on the 7th Day, We Went to Work at 7PM

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:31 pm

Tomorrow is our daylight day of rest, which means our day off is not really a day off. It’s allowed on a lot of contracts for the week of the first public performance. It means that on what would normally be the day off you can rehearse, but you have to start after 7PM. At Reagle this feels something like a regular performance day. We come in, run the show, do notes and go home. If there is extra time and problems to be fixed, selected trouble spots will be worked either before or after the run. I find it a pretty relaxing day, because I figure we’ve gotten through tech, and even if something bad happens, it’ll be over in five hours or less.

The only anxiety left is how comfortable (or not) I am about calling the show. Sometimes I feel ready to do it for an audience, sometimes I don’t want anybody to see it. On this show, aside from a few musical cues I need to learn better, I find that the cues I miss are because I can’t talk fast enough to call them. Sometimes there’s more to explain than there is time between cues. Reagle doesn’t have a cue light system, so everything is verbal, which is challenging, but it’s good exercise. Once I have a better idea of what comes next and just how much time I have, I’ll know when I need to abbreviate. Better/earlier warnings will also help me to avoid having to say too much with the actual cues. I actually don’t have the warnings written in my book yet, I’ve just been flipping ahead to the cues themselves and reading them off. I plan to bring my script to the laundromat tomorrow and work on it then. That’s all I’ve got planned for the daylight day of rest. Well I might go to the Apple Store and see if they’ve got one of those DVI-to-RCA/S-video adapters. I almost needed it today for the projector and was kicking myself for not buying it during the week.


I call this: mac,summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:01 pm

Well I’m finally home. Haven’t posted anything in a couple days, because we’ve been in tech. One of the more interesting parts of the process (at least if you’re blogging about stage management), and of course the time when you’re least likely to be able to do anything like blog, or sleep or eat for that matter. I did go around with my camera in my pocket at intermission on Saturday and took a few pictures.

This is the rain machine. I don’t profess to understand how it works, and quite frankly, I don’t think I want to know. I know there’s a big tank of water, two pumps, and a whole lot of hoses.

When taking that picture, I stumbled upon this, and discovered it’s the controls for the rain machine:

Now I’m sure I don’t want to know how it works.

Here’s the crew pushing the rain deck back to its storage place upstage.

The rain deck consists of two levels of platforms (street and sidewalk) and the buildings behind them, and in theory all the rain falls on those two platforms and drains away instead of winding up on the stage. For the most part that’s what happens, given that it’s pouring rain for about five minutes. You can see as they push it (having mopped and vacuumed the water off first), it reveals the relatively small amount of water that found its way underneath to the actual deck. Some more water winds up downstage and on the sides, as there is much splashing in puddles during the dance, and inevitably some of the splash reaches beyond the rain deck.

At some point in the past week, I very quietly asked our TD if she remembered where in the show they had gotten at the end of the first day of tech the two previous times they’d done it. She didn’t remember, but I mentioned (even more quietly) that I was secretly hoping we would at least make it to the rain at the end of Act I. I didn’t say this to anyone, but it would have been my mark of personal failure if we hadn’t gotten there.

On Friday we spent the evening doing something I have come to call pre-tech. I started doing this in the middle of my first season at Reagle, and it has become my secret weapon to a successful tech process. It’s a run of the show on stage, but to that I like to add about four crew people, usually one a prop person. The goal is to introduce whatever technical elements are feasible without getting in the way of the fact that it’s still a rehearsal for the cast. The motto of the day is “This is Not Tech.” The lighting designer may throw cues on stage, but there is enough house light and work light that the stage is never totally dark, and any set pieces that are too complicated to be used by the cast without any preparation are not used.

During the dinner break on Friday we had our paper tech, where the various departments give me my cues, with the director and choreographer also present to discuss placement and intention of the cues. Because the show has been done before by most of the same people, things were very much in order before tech. The light cues were already written (although they are by no means left as-is from the previous production, there is at least a disk of workable cues to start from). So I was able to start calling the show less than an hour after finishing paper tech. That’s a huge advantage for me to start tech having more or less already called a run of the show.

By the time we finished pre-tech on Friday, I had revised my doom-and-gloom scenario about where we were going to stop on Saturday. Whereas before I would have been content to finish Act I, I was now almost certain we would end the day somewhere in the 13-minute ballet that makes up a large part of the second act. And indeed that’s what happened. We ran it in sections, as there are several distinct parts of it, and then stopped for the night when we reached the end of our 12-hour day.

I got about two-and-a-half hours sleep Friday night, which is not the best way to go into tech. For me, the longest night on any show is the night before tech, because I have usually just gotten my cues, and have to do my homework to come in somewhat prepared to call them the next morning. This can mean cleaning up scribbles in my script so it’s more legible, studying recordings of the show to learn parts of the music I don’t know well enough, or just reading through everything so that I familiarize myself with what comes next and what the tricky sequences will be. It’s also the night to do whatever hasn’t been done yet, which is how it winds up extending to 5:30 in the morning. Up to this point, the director has been in charge and I’m basically an administrator making sure things happen and everything is documented. On the first day of tech the show is turned over to me and absolutely anything that’s wrong or not done from that point until the show closes is my fault. So if I don’t think I have everything in order I will stay up until it’s done. Only once in my career have I actually worked straight through the night and finished at the time I had to leave the house the next morning, and that was quite a few years ago. As I laid down to bed on Friday night I could faintly recall a Reagle show where I got 45 minutes sleep, but I can’t remember what it was or what the hell took so long. If I’m lucky I can get a decent amount of sleep, but I didn’t leave the theatre until midnight, and wanted to spend a lot of time looking over the show, especially the ballet.

So Saturday we teched from the beginning up to the ballet. Sunday we ran the ballet first thing in the morning, and relatively quickly finished the rest of the show.

On the lunch break (named for the fact that apparently some people got a chance to eat), we worked on getting the projector focused more accurately on the screen drop, and confirmed our hope that it could also cover the projection onto a different surface which had in previous productions been done with a second projector operated by the conductor from the pit. Because we’re running it on my computer in Keynote, we had the flexibility to resize and crop the videos in a variety of ways without ever touching the projector, allowing the whole show to be run from the single projector hung over the house. This is greatly pleasing to everyone, as it will be more reliable, saves the conductor and orchestra from inconvenience, and saves the theatre $1,300 on the rental of the second projector. Since some of the video files are very large, we were concerned about the ability of any laptop to run a video smoothly without using too much compression and degrading the quality. Because of this I decided to buy the 4GB of RAM that I was going to wait a year or more for, and paid for extra-super-fast-overnight-Saturday-delivery so that we would have it in time for tech to see if the videos ran smoothly. They’re looking great, and today we even replaced the longest one with a higher-quality version that’s over 700MB, and it runs beautifully. We’re going to use the same compression settings on all of them now. Even before upgrading the rest, the show file is 1.78GB.

After lunch things did not go so well. We were planning to run the show, but there were still a number of unresolved issues that resulted in a run with a number of long pauses, and a few scene changes being run again. We added a number of costumes even though the first official dress rehearsal is tomorrow. We knew there would be quick change issues, and there were. Finding them today, while frustrating, means we will have a smoother run tomorrow. There were also some backstage and onstage traffic issues that required discussion. As Act I got longer, we debated over the course of several hours whether we should use the rain at the end of the first act, because it can take up to a half hour to vacuum up the water and set for Act II. After changing my mind at least half a dozen times as the situation developed, we decided to skip the scene and come back to it at the end of the day so that the cast could do notes while the water was cleaned up. It wasn’t the ideal way to do it for a lot of people’s processes, including mine, but we did get through the whole show, and I’m not sure we would have if we had gone in order. We also saved time by starting Act II (which is a collection of book scenes with the ballet in the middle) with the dancers going off to the rehearsal studio to go through their lifts and other tricky parts in costume so that they would be ready to run it straight through on stage without any problems or injuries from unfamiliarity with the costumes.

When we finished we did some notes until it was time for the dinner break (during which I’m told some people had the opportunity to consume food). I went to the “band room,” which is just that, a high school band room, where the orchestra was setting up for their first rehearsal. Our sound guys had already set up the room for recording a few tracks to be dubbed into the videos used in the show. We weren’t sure how everyone would be able to see the video to sync the music. The rough plan was to use my computer screen and an external monitor taken from… somewhere… and hope everyone who needed to see it would have a good view of either screen.

When I went into the band room to scope it out, there was this large whiteboard on wheels. If only we had a projector other than the one that was lashed to a pipe on the ceiling in the theatre… Like the second projector we rented that we didn’t need and would be returning in the morning. Problem solved. So after getting notes from the director and lighting designer, that’s what I did on the mythical dinner break. We placed the whiteboard behind the orchestra so that the conductor could see it, as well as the actors (basically the entire cast) who were standing in a crowded clump off to the side. It set up in just a few minutes and it looked really good. Again, Keynote makes it so simple. I made a copy of the file I was using to run the show and got rid of all the clips we didn’t need for recording, then with a click-and-drag made the videos as big as possible (as opposed to the show file, where they’re smaller to fit exactly onto the screens on stage). My headphone output was connected to the sound equipment, and a simple click of the mute button on the Mac allowed us to alternate between hearing the original tracks for reference, or having it silent to be sung/played over. For one track, the conductor needed to hear the audio on the original recording in order to cue the musicians and singers in, and he was provided with headphones to monitor the audio from my computer. The whole event went very smoothly, and we only needed a couple takes of each one.

The cast stayed to sing some of their songs with the orchestra, but it had been a long day and they were released long before the scheduled 10:30PM to go home and rest and watch the Tonys. We had a TV in the scene shop on which I caught some of it, and even I got home before it was over (stopping at Burger King on the way for my first meal since I went to Dunkin Donuts at 9AM). No big surprises with the awards, it seems. I didn’t get a chance to see most of the nominated shows, including Grey Gardens and Spring Awakening, so I really didn’t have strong opinions about it. I’m just glad tech is over.