Long story short, we worked an 18-hour day, about 7 of those hours were spent outdoors loading or unloading the truck, and the rest were spent in a theatre that wasn’t very far removed from the loading door and aside from the dressing rooms, never reached what one would normally think of as an indoor temperature. I’m not sure what the temperature was throughout the day, but when load-out ended it was -30 with the wind chill. After nearly 5 hours of loading the truck, we should have been dead if that was the case, so I think the walls of the building, and the truck, shielded us from some of that, but still. It was well below zero all day.
And what I learned today, because we were short-handed and the show crew had to fully participate in all the loading and unloading, is that the Comedy set is ridiculously heavy. The deck, which is in theoretically 32 pieces (although we only used 24 here), is several layers of plywood and each piece weighs so much that every piece is individually demoralizing. The truck is packed too full with the R&J set to allow all the flooring to be on carts. We have one very high-quality plywood cart, but all the loads except the last one have to be unloaded once they’re in the truck.
There’s no dock, of course, so we had to use the ramp. Oh, and when we arrived the ramp was covered in snow from riding under the truck, which we had to continually try to clear with a broom to keep our stuff from skating down in freefall and killing everyone. Also, if you grabbed onto a several-hundred pound thing and held onto it tight, it would simply pull your entire body along with it as your feet slid on the snow on the ground. But with enough people doing this, I guess we at least created enough resistance to have control of most things. Purposely grinding the castors into the side of the ramp to create friction also helps a lot.
The first load of flooring we took down had probably 10 people holding onto it, and one brave gentleman tried to get in front of it on the ramp. We got about halfway down when gravity really started to take over and the cart started accelerating beyond our ability to slow it down. I started yelling at the guy to get out of the way, because other than him nobody was going to get hurt if we lost control of it, and the scenery would probably survive too because the base of the ramp was covered in several inches of snow which would stop the cart before it slammed into the wall of the building. We managed not to run him over, in fact nobody got hurt at all except our TD, which was minor and not snow-related, and mainly resulted in him doing the entire day in a pair of pants that became more and more comically ripped as the day went on. Later on, I was stupid and was working in the truck alone, and became trapped for about 5 minutes when the load I was strapping shifted and an 8-foot strip light wanted to tumble down. I had to keep hands on it, but was otherwise fairly secure that the rest of the load would fall the other way if it went, so I waited to be rescued while nobody felt the need to come out to the truck or take a smoke break, or come anywhere near the open loading door for an unusually long time.
Anyway, it was a painful, miserable time on and around the truck, and we all had to take frequent breaks to come inside, where it wasn’t much warmer, since the loading doors were open. To get warm at all you had to spend some time in the dressing room. Towards the end of the night one of the locals gave us a tip: not only go to the dressing room, but turn on the mirror lights and warm your hands by them. Here Meaghan demonstrates the technique:
Note Meaghan’s nice new truck-loading jacket. She says it’s very warm. I’m a little jealous. I don’t have a truck-loading jacket for this kind of weather. When I saw we didn’t have enough crew I just dug out my windbreaker to put it over my sweatshirt, and I was wearing a T-shirt under my turtleneck because I knew it would be cold for load-out. But I’m not, you know, supposed to actually be loading the truck, just pushing and strapping things into place. Actually I’m supposed to be sitting in the bus watching TV while everyone else works, but I’ve never done that.
We finally finished just before 2AM (the show being so short, came down around 9PM), and limped to the bus on our frozen feet. I brought my remaining half-bottle of Ketel One from our stay in Minneapolis onto the bus, planning to pour one out in memory of the unopened $40 bottle that was destroyed in a tragic slide-retracting accident on the bus just before our departure from Brainerd last year. That was easily the saddest day of the tour last year (for me at least), and I hoped to make it right by successfully sharing my vodka with the crew at the end of the day. Little did I know we would need it so badly! So this time I smartly kept it in the cabinet until we were on the bus, and we toasted to our survival.
Our departure was also filled with uncertainty, as we were driving right into a bad snowstorm on our way to Madison, WI. During the show ideas were being tossed around about us staying another night in Brainerd, since we had a day off and the hotel had the rooms. But we left it up to Bart (our driver) and he felt better about pushing on ahead of the storm and stopping mid-way if we needed to. We made it to Madison a few hours later than we should have (it took 8 hours instead of the projected 6), but sometimes after a day like that I prefer arriving late because it means we can sleep longer! I was very grateful when my alarm went off and I cracked an eye open to check my GPS and saw we were nowhere near Madison, and rolled back over. I had slipped a doom-and-gloom note into the report last night about how we were uncertain whether the crew would make it on time, or what would happen to the cast the next day, but we got in almost on time, and the cast arrived early this evening with no problems.
I wasn’t too worried about the drive because Bart can make a bus do pretty much whatever he wants, and several of us commented that if we died in the night, at least we wouldn’t have to unload the truck. I don’t know about them, but I really meant it. Most of us didn’t sleep particularly well because our bodies never really warmed up, no matter how high we had the heat cranked on the bus, or how many layers and blankets we had. We’re all sore in crazy places and our bodies are generally out-of-whack. I didn’t get to do much on the day off because I felt like crap and had to sleep it off for most of the day. I still don’t feel recovered enough to do it all over again in the morning.
The misery of getting the show in and out pretty much overshadowed the part where the actors and the audience show up, but it was a good show and our cast handled their first new venue with Comedy very well. It was very different from the setup at the Guthrie and the moment they arrived they were proactive in working amongst themselves to plan out how they would do things. They definitely have the right attitude for this kind of touring, where being able to adapt an existing performance to a variety of conditions, without rehearsal, without getting freaked out is a must.
I called the show from backstage, which was a lot of fun. I was in front of the masking, so I had a good view even without a camera, and it was cool to be backstage and see what else goes on that you can’t see from the front. R&J from backstage doesn’t reveal that much more, but Comedy is all about layers and concealing things, so seeing it from the wings was fun. I was also in the corner where a lot of our live offstage sound (which consists largely of banging loudly on pots and pans) is performed, so I was ducking and covering a lot, but it was cool to see the actors as they watch the onstage action. We also did our first show without a front curtain, and the alternate cues worked perfectly and as expected. I appreciated that towards the end of our tech at the Guthrie, we took about 15 minutes to tech the alternate version (without actors), but until you try it for real, you never know!
Other than the weather conditions, and our set being constructed from plywood, steel and pure evil, it would have been a good day. The folks in Brainerd were very nice again, and provided us with a great breakfast (best bacon ever, we all agreed), and ordered some pizza for lunch, since there’s no food we could walk to. For our first load-in of Comedy, even with the extended time it took to unload the truck, we weren’t rushing to prepare for the cast’s arrival, which is a great sign. And it was the first time our crew could run the show (they’re not allowed to at the Guthrie, so they have to jump in at the first tour stop, having only trailed their Guthrie counterparts), and they all did a great job.