July 7, 2007

King and I Tech

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:14 pm

Done. We had a very successful tech today. Despite my bold predictions earlier in the week that we would be able to run the show or at least one act by tonight, we did not. We did, however, finish the show in less than our ten working hours. In fact — I can’t say I have ever had this experience — we finished the show, let the cast go, had our production meeting, and stood up to go home at 9:55. Rehearsal was scheduled from 10AM – 10PM. We were all shocked that we were leaving before the day should even have been over.

We didn’t really end that early, maybe 20 minutes at most. The tricky part was that we teched the show out of order. It’s always an issue in shows with a large cast of young children, especially those that aren’t getting paid, to figure out how to use the kids’ time without unnecessarily keeping them up past their bedtime, or simply wearing them out to the point where a four-year-old just doesn’t feel like going onstage or doing her blocking. So we called the kids first thing in the morning and teched all of their scenes first, which happen to also be the most complicated by virtue of having 50-something people on stage. After several hours the kids were dismissed, but we did not go back to the top of the show because the first scene change is an absolute nightmare, with only a silent and rather uncomplicated crossover to cover it. Anna, her son Louis and the Kralahome (King’s prime minister) arrive at the palace. Two sailors are following with a large trunk. They cross from stage left to stage right. That’s it. Meanwhile there’s five pipes flying, and about 20 people on the deck required to move all the scenery (for which we’ve used some of the non-union cast to supplement the crew).

Because of all the people involved and the need to assign and teach the change to the cast, we began with scene two and teched from there until the lunch break. The crew set up the first scene during the break. It’s on board a ship — there’s several flats including the ship’s cabin and smokestack, the sides of the ship, a big paddle wheel thing, a bunch of crates and trunks — a lot of it was supposed to be flown, but this goes back to the issue at the production meeting about ugly aircraft cables ruining the look. So before even attempting the scene we ran the scene change twice.

Because we weren’t attempting to run the scene, I had the unique experience of being on the deck during a crazy scene change. Normally I sit comfortably at the tech table, call the drop in, and then listen on headset to frantic banging and squeaking and calls of “Fly this out! Over there! OK, clipped! Downstage! Bring it in!” then some more banging and squeaking, the sound of counterweights whizzing up and down on the rail, then a few calls of “We’re ready. Are you ready over there? We look ready. OK, clear!” then I say, “Go,” the drop flies, and there’s a nice shiny new set on the stage. So when I realized this I went and got my camera. Unfortunately the video is not nearly as interesting as I hoped it would be. First of all I wasn’t able to get it on at the beginning because I was given the honor of calling the start of the scene change and also fumbling to start a stopwatch. And then for some reason I turned the camera off before it was completely over, probably to stop my stopwatch, or maybe because I realized how lame the video already was. But here it is, shot from stage left.

It’s not quite a well-oiled machine at this point (this was attempt #2, 1 minute 15 seconds), but after this we went back and ran from the beginning of the show through the scene change, and the crew and crewlike castmembers were done quite a bit before the onstage cast, who were expertly dragging out what could have been a 10-second cross into an entire play about people walking down a hallway. I’m sure it will only get faster. Actually, the show was written with a whole silent scene there in which we see the palace dancers preparing for the next scene in which they dance for the King — purposely put there to fill time while this unavoidable Huge Scene Change takes place. The alternative if you have a quick scene change is for Anna and company to simply walk across the stage with their boxes in tow. We went the optimistic route, mostly because all the large pieces were supposed to fly, but I think it’s going to be fine.

So after running that change successfully, we then skipped ahead to where we were when we broke for lunch, and continued from there in order, but skipping the second half of the last scene in Act I, which we covered earlier with the children. People love speculating about how long tech is going to take. I’m an optimistic person, but I’m also a realist, and I also know it’s better to make pessimistic guesses so people won’t be disappointed when it takes longer. By lunch we knew we were moving along well, and people would say so, but then in a low voice they would usually say, “We’re going to be spending all night on the ballet, aren’t we?” “Do you think we’ll end the night with the ballet?” “The ballet is going to take a long time, isn’t it?” I think we got to intermission somewhere around 7PM. This was when a lot of the real speculation started. My answer was, “Yes. Hours. I expect 1-2 hours, but I think we’ll still finish the show.” I wasn’t keeping score, but I think it probably took a half hour to 45 minutes.

First of all, you may remember I got to see the entire ballet on the third day of rehearsal. The dancers know it inside out, so there was no problem there. They did it in costume for the first time, and aside from Simon of Legree’s giant mask/headpiece being too loose on her head and having to be removed, they didn’t seem to miss a beat with the addition of costumes. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, but in many cases we added costume pieces when possible and where they would cause potential issues, like for dancers. We had a few small things to take care of, like spiking the location for the gong, and assigning who places it. Once we had done those kind of housekeeping things, we ran it once and were due for a ten minute break. Gemze seemed pretty happy with it, and declined to work anything or give formal notes before running it again when we were back from the break. The second run was especially helpful as we had some followspot assignments that needed to be worked out in a more efficient way, which we applied the second time through.

I said yesterday I was worried about the rapid pace of cues and losing my place among all the “Run, Eliza, run”‘s, but when the time came I didn’t have any trouble. My first attempt was not at all embarrassing, which was a nice change from the Singin’ in the Rain ballet, where up until the final performance I was never quite sure if I was about to make an ass of myself. The key with this one is that it requires 100% concentration, and with that it’s actually quite easy to call. I just can’t lose my place or fall behind, because there’s not much time between cues, and once you’re lost it’s not immediately evident where you are in the script.

After the ballet it was clear sailing. One by one ensemble members with little to do in Act II were dismissed. We were not running the finale or bows because we did them earlier with the kids. By the end of the day we were down to a book scene with just a couple actors, right before the finale. And thus, with a gentle sigh, ended our tech, about 15 minutes early.

Tomorrow we tech from 10:00AM – 6:30PM. We had hoped to do two runs, but we have already scheduled a 2:30 run. Because of the need to give the kids a definite call time regardless of where we ended up today, we scheduled an afternoon run in advance so they could just arrive at half hour. I picked 2:30 because I didn’t feel comfortable with less than four hours to run the show (I’m guessing it will ultimately clock in at about 2:45 with intermission), give notes, and allowing extra padding for any unforeseen disasters. So that means a 1:00 lunch, and we’re not going to be able to call the cast, get them in mics, and run the show in three hours. I mean it’s conceivable, but highly unlikely. So we’re going to do the same thing we did tonight and skip the kids’ scenes since they won’t be there. Then we run in the afternoon, and after dinner the orchestra has their first rehearsal, which also serves as a partial sitzprobe for the cast to sing with the orchestra for the first time, before they have to do it on Tuesday in dress rehearsal. For this sitzprobe we are calling the singers and dancers who are in the ballet, so they can hear tempos and such and avoid any problems, and once that’s done they’ll be released. Then the principals will stay to sing their songs and make any necessary changes or requests. Then we go home to enjoy our daylight day of rest.