August 9, 2014

The Chaos of Tech Paperwork

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:58 am

There comes a point in tech where your paperwork is made up more of scrawled corrections than actual paperwork. But you can’t update it, because you’re comfortable with your scribble, and having it neatly typed up would terrify you as you had to re-learn where to look for each cue. And of course taking the time to re-type it would cut into the 5 hours of sleep you’re getting.

One day, about four days into tech for Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter, I was visiting Ashley’s domain backstage and spied her run sheets, which were completely illegible to the untrained eye, and obviously contained little information that had remained accurate since the sheets were printed.
Her pages bore a striking familiarity to what my calling script had turned into, so I pulled it out to compare:

Part of my issue with the calling script relates to the perhaps misguided decision I made to have the calling script not follow the page breaks of the rehearsal script. We were getting 10-20 replacement pages a day during tech (often during tech, not overnight), and only on like 2 of them did I ask our PA, Jonathan, to re-create the calling script pages properly. Most of the time I just shoved the full-size rehearsal script pages into my calling script as we teched them, and through a maze of pencil crossings-out, and brightly-colored Post-Its with arrows and “X”s, I direct my attention from one page to the next, landing my focus on the next cue that actually exists.

The real problem is that this method works, so although it’s sketchy as hell and looks awful, when you’re in the midst of tech and early previews, having ugly paperwork is not as scary as having paperwork you’re not used to reading. And so, even after eight previews, this is what my script looks like, in about 10 places.

I’m at a point now where I’m comfortable enough with the show that I could switch over to a new script, but now I’m just waiting for the day off to tackle it. And really, if I’m calling the show for press, I think I’d still rather have my Post-It trail than take a chance with something neat and tidy.

Also, this is largely made possible by Super-Sticky Post-Its, which I’d never really used before. Ashley was adamant when we were shopping during pre-production, that all Post-Its be Super Sticky, and I’m now of the same opinion.

So from this I learned:
1. If you’re working on a new piece that’s still frequently changing, keep your calling script pages consistent with the rehearsal script pages unless absolutely necessary (to avoid bad page turns, leave enough room for complicated dance breaks, etc.).

2. Super-Sticky Post-Its. Always. I like the accordion ones, because I have my dispenser at the theatre.

March 15, 2013

In Which I Have a Long Run with a Show

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:23 pm

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you probably know that my luck with open runs is, shall we say, abysmal. In this post from 2007, I proposed a theory that Phantom sucks the long-run karma from everyone who works on it, taking whatever luck they had in their career to feed its insatiable appetite for a longer run. Six years later, I don’t see any real reason to change this theory.

Except, I’ve managed to get through six months as PSM of Silence! The Musical, and despite the fact that we’re not currently doing 8 shows a week, my job doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

I have some observations about my first experience of just getting to sit and relax into a run, in no particular order:

  • I just agreed to ASM a benefit. Not for the money, not for who’s performing. It’s ultimately a favor to a friend, but I don’t take every favor to a friend I’m offered! I said yes because I feel like I need to do something different to keep myself on my toes. I need to load in and tech a show in a day. I need to be backstage worrying about whether the right black stool is set for the next number.

    One thing I’ve been seriously concerned about for a while is how long it’s been since I’ve called a big musical. The kind of musical where you can kill people. Calling a small show has many perks (the biggest of which is not having to worry about killing people), but I wish I could get a little exercise at all the other types of theatre I haven’t been doing lately. The benefit won’t give me that exact experience, but it’s one variant of stage management to mix things up a little.

  • I’ve spent my whole life thinking my career is a journey to the promised land of sitting down on a show that will run for years and eliminate so much of the uncertainty and chaos that comes from starting a new show. I still think that’s a worthy goal, and constantly being in production isn’t my style either, but I find myself strangely enjoying my job when it gets “interesting.”

    I value my free time very much. I love having multiple days off a week. But when I have to put a new actor in, or go to a meeting, or coordinate something out of the ordinary, I always sigh at the prospect of having to do extra work, but also get surprisingly invigorated when I actually have to do the work.

    This is a totally masochistic career, but I’m conditioned to it, and when I have to buckle down and actually do the harder parts of my job, it feels right. It’s like how exercise is exhausting, but afterwards you actually have more energy.

  • Our happy home at Times Scare is growing, as we begin sharing our stage with the new show Fucking Up Everything. Which is an ominous title for a show that’s coming into a space you used to have exclusive access to, but has so far proven to be untrue!

    FUE is in tech right now (first preview tonight), and while I’m glad not to be in tech, I also kind of miss it. Silence! was in a bit of a transitional period when I took over, having recently moved to Times Scare, but I basically came into a long-running situation. The last show I teched was Triassic Parq nine months ago, which was a blast, and not really that long ago. But long ago enough that the prospect of going back into tech sounds fun rather than miserable.

    I spent about an hour at the theatre today before FUE’s final dress, working with their PSM and Production Manager to look at what they’ve done during tech and address any final concerns, and it was cool to hang out at somebody else’s tech. I don’t often get to spend time at techs that aren’t mine. In this case, I do feel a bit of personal investment in it, as I’ve been having meetings, walk-throughs and exchanging emails with their team (several of whom I’ve worked with before) for over three months, and can sympathize with anybody going through tech.

In short, I remain stunned that I’m working steadily in New York, as PSM of an Off-Broadway show, a show that would have been my top choice out of all the Off-Broadway shows that are running, and have been doing so long enough that I can safely say if anything happens, it wasn’t the fault of my infamous Show Karma.

I’m really enjoying finding out what it’s like to just do a show for a while. I hope this won’t be the only time in my career that I’m so lucky, but I’m just grateful that I’ve gotten a chance to learn all the things I’ve never gotten to do before. Out of the ten tracks in my show, I’ve already taught two of them three times each, which is definitely not something I’ve ever had time for before. It’s equal parts “didn’t we just do this?” and “oh that’s no big deal, it’ll be fun.” Which pretty much sums up everything I’ve learned!

June 10, 2012

Triassic Tech

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:51 pm

Well tech is basically done! We still have one 10-out-of-12 tomorrow, but it’s a rather unconventional one, as it will consist of both a photo call and our invited dress, which I think is an interesting way of doing it. It should be a fun day.

Here’s my tech table:

Yesterday we finished teching early in the day, then did a stop-and-start run out of costume (which only had like two stops, so it was basically a run), and then in the evening did our first full dress run. We’ve still been making significant changes, which is a struggle to keep up with now that all of us have our own responsibilities, but the changes are great, and well worth it!

The tech process has been going very well. I’ve got like 300 cues in a 90-minute show, so I’m pretty busy. I think there are about 3 pages that don’t have cues. Tomorrow I make the transition from calling the show to the assistant lighting designer, to running the Ion myself. I’m a little scared, because now I have to re-learn all the timing again, but I’m hoping I’ll just instinctively be able to figure it out. I get two (maybe three?) cracks at it before we have a paying audience. If you want to see if this is effective, feel free to go to triassicparq.com and buy tickets to Tuesday’s show!

As usual, I’m having a great time. We had a few people in the house last night who hadn’t seen any significant portion of a run before, which was nice (they appeared very entertained!), but I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night when we’ll have people who, although they’re our friends, haven’t seen or read (or written) any of the show.

January 8, 2011

An Invited Dress

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:14 am

Tonight was our invited dress of The Comedy of Errors at the Guthrie. Over 300 students attending the Minnesota Thespian Society’s conference were in attendance. They also came to R&J‘s invited dress last year, and were probably our best audience of the entire tour, so those of us who experienced last year have been greatly looking forward to having such a warm group to be the first outsiders to see our Comedy and let us know if they thought it was funny.

We had five hours of rehearsal in the afternoon, a relatively tech-light day, as we fixed little staging things here and there. Last night we did an almost-run of the show (which could have been considered a relatively smooth run, but we ran out of time about five minutes before the end of the play) — but for all intents and purposes, we had already done a complete run before tonight.

I was nervous, but not really about calling the show. More about going from our 5:00 end of rehearsal to eating, re-typing sections of my calling script with things we changed that day (that were too convoluted to read without being re-typed), getting the stage prepared, our cast to their warmup, bringing my stuff up to the booth for the first time and making sure nothing is wrong up there while there’s still time to fix it, getting fight call done in the allotted 15 minutes (which never happens on the first couple tries), getting blackout check done, and opening the house in some manner of timeliness that doesn’t leave the Guthrie house staff thinking I’m incompetent. Then pacing around for a half hour (I only made it 15 minutes before I radioed Meaghan that I was going up to the booth), hoping none of our actors run into a costume or wig delay that requires holding the curtain, then going through the places procedures, coordinating Ian’s preshow curtain speech, remembering to leave time for Ian to get back to his seat before beginning the show, and finally starting the show. Everything after that point, I wasn’t really nervous about.

As I arrived in the balcony, I was anxious to just sit in the booth for 15 minutes putting the re-typed pages in my script and checking cue-by-cue that there were no errors, but before unlocking the door, I was compelled to pause for a moment to take a picture.

So the time came, I got the house right on time. Ian was with Meaghan backstage, waiting to hear word from me that we could begin. He came out and gave a brief speech welcoming the Thespians, telling them that he too had been a Thespian, and gave the usual director-at-invited-dress speech that basically goes, “this is a rehearsal, if something goes wrong you may hear my voice or someone else’s [i.e. mine] saying ‘hold’ and we’ll have to fix something.” I vaguely remember the kids either laughing or outright clapping at this.

Let me tell ye: all this week I’ve been hearing it from people. I have literally been stopped in the halls by Guthrie staff telling me how excited the Thespians are to come see the show. And I, in turn have said how excited we are to have them, since a comedy especially needs an audience to get its bearings. And I would be told, how the Thespians are so excited to be able to be the first to see it, and they don’t mind that it’s a rehearsal, and the thing they want more than anything in the world is to see the show stop!

Now, I was a young technical theatre person at that age (and a Thespian), and I felt the same way too — whenever I met someone who worked on Broadway, all I wanted to hear about were stories of things going wrong. So I didn’t take any offense to the fact that 300 kids desperately wanted to see me experience the ultimate disgrace a stage manager can suffer. So I would just laugh and say that I understood how they felt, but I hoped they would not get their wish!


Ian gives his speech, and as foretold, the kids titter at even the possibility of seeing the show stop.

I remember to hold for Ian to come back. When I see the side house door swing open, I call:
“Electrics 2, Go” (which also takes the house to half)

I wait a little while longer for Ian to get up to the production row.

I’m about to call Electrics 3 (which is a fade to black) when I realize I hadn’t given a formal warning to our prop man Craig, who is also our flyman for the house curtain.

“I’m sorry, Craig, are you standing by?”


“Craig? Craig? Meaghan? Hello?”

This is not the first, not the second, not the third, and probably not the fourth time in my career I’ve lost contact between the booth and everyone on wireless comm just before or just after a performance has started. So it was more of a “here we go again” than anything else.

By this point people on the electrics and sound channels are chiming in that they can hear me, and our sound engineer, Brandon, is starting to talk me through troubleshooting my console (which is not the same one from the tech table, so I haven’t used it since last year, and haven’t had a chance to familiarize myself with any of the buttons beyond the three channels — and the conveniently labeled “God Mic” button, which I only knew about because when Ian mentioned it in his speech, Brandon was like, “hey have you found your God mic button yet?”).

So Brandon and I are making sure that I’ve got all my listen buttons and talk buttons lit, but I had successfully been communicating with Meaghan up until just before Ian’s speech, so it seemed unlikely that something was set wrong. Then Susan, our wardrobe supervisor, calls in from her office that she can hear me. This is also interesting, as she’s on the same channel as the deck crew, but not wireless. So it looks like we’ve lost the wireless. The whole time this trouble-shooting process is going on, I’m glancing from time to time at the red-labled “God Mic” button, deciding when to use it. I know the kids want nothing more in the world, so I’m not dreading it, just deciding based on the information coming in when to formally admit defeat.

Some time after the delay had gotten obvious, Michael (lighting designer) had said, “maybe we should go back to Cue 1,” which sounded like a good idea. Ian, sitting near the tech tables, had by this time been informed of what the problem was, and it was he who invoked the God mic (which was probably nice because the kids had a pre-existing relationship with him by now). He said something like, “I told you we might have to stop!” and the kids went wild. I also felt I was now off the hook about providing them with their desired train wreck, and thankfully in a way that didn’t disrupt the show at all.

Ian explained that we were having a communication problem (which surprised me momentarily at how he would know that, until I realized he was sitting with four people who were on headset), and that we would begin soon.

I was getting frustrated, and had just picked up my radio to see if Meaghan had maybe turned hers on by now, when suddenly the voices of Meaghan and Craig popped on headset! A split-second later my phone received a text message from Meaghan, which I no longer needed to bother reading. We rejoiced for a moment, and they told me they could hear me the whole time. We conferred that none of us had touched anything at the time the comm suddenly started working again, so we were at a loss to explain why it had broken or what could be done to prevent it again. It was a mystery, without any hint of an immediate explanation, so all of us, across all channels, agreed that the only course of action was to press forward and cross our fingers. There aren’t very many cues that pass between me and the deck crew (“unless there’s a problem!” we said uneasily), but Meaghan and I agreed to keep our radios on for an emergency.

Ian had something else he had wanted to say to the students, so he requested to be the one to speak when we were ready. Once we all agreed to employ the solution of “hope that doesn’t happen again,” I passed word to Ian, and he made his announcement, and off we went!

From that point things went very smoothly. This show, especially being a comedy, moves fast, and has lots of intricate parts that go from hysterical to “meh” pretty quickly if they’re not timed perfectly, so while we knew we could go through the motions safely and more-or-less correctly, we had only run once, and this was going to be a big test for us to not just do our jobs correctly, but to do them like a well-oiled machine. I think we all exceeded our own expectations. Things came together really well, and the audience was with us the whole way.

The big excitement for me was the curtain call. We didn’t have one. We hadn’t even run the last moments of the play in two days. So word was passed around to the cast to get in a line behind the curtain and take a simple bow.

I had a bunch of cues scrawled on the last page of my script that I had never called. We had only ever teched up until the curtain fell. Thankfully the cues existed, but I have a thing where curtain calls make me nervous. I don’t know why, they don’t even really “count” in the same way as the rest of the show, normally. I just always get all up in my head about doing the sequence of events properly.

I’ve been calling Phantom for six years, and the curtain call still gives me butterflies every time. To be fair, it’s actually pretty crazy, involves catching the Phantom’s mask from one person, handing it off to someone else while listening for clears, checking for open traps and cueing a bunch of automation. Like, “really? I have to do all this other stuff, and in the middle of it I have to have this mask in my hand?” Actually the way I do it is more like
1) remember to stick hand out
2) close hand when mask is felt
3) open hand when someone tugs on mask
and then the rest of my energy is focused on what’s happening onstage (which you can barely see because scenery is being struck right next to you).

So anyway, curtain calls freak me out. And here’s one I’ve never actually tried. Who knows that any of these cues actually do what they allegedly do? So I spent a good chunk of the last scene reading and re-reading the sequence so I could smoothly move from one cue to the next, knowing what was coming. It went flawlessly, thankfully! I won’t say I called a perfect show, but it wasn’t bad, and my crew backed me up when I gave them short preps on a couple occasions.

Everybody was in a celebratory mood afterward. Our production meeting was short and sweet, like our show is, and was done by 9:40, which was amazing after a couple of post-midnight nights this week. Pretty much the entire Comedy team went to Sea Change, the in-Guthrie restaurant/bar and most convenient source of post-show beverages. The mood was incredibly festive. We remarked several times how everyone was toasting and congratulating as if it was opening night. In a way, I think it was. We proved to ourselves that we could do it, and I think that’s far more important than whether the audience paid for their tickets or whether we’re having a formal party afterwards. I’m looking forward to building our confidence even more in our remaining rehearsals, so we have a really solid show to play in Minneapolis, to be ready for whatever the road throws at us.

January 5, 2011

This Page

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:27 pm

It was never my intention to start typing cues into my calling script until we finished tech. But this morning I had to type out this page, and the rest of Act 3 Scene 1, just on the off chance we finished tonight, or for some reason had to go back and run this.

My handwritten script of this page was so convoluted that one time I literally called Sound 75, called four other cues, and then found myself following my lines and arrows back to Sound 75, knowing I had already called it, but having no idea why it looked like it was the next cue. Crazy.

Some blessed power deliver me from hence.
– William Shakespeare’s Stage Manager

January 3, 2011

Twas the Night Before Tech

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:16 pm

Today is my day off. We just had a day off two days ago, which is a strange, but very enjoyable phenomenon that comes about every year as a result of our attempts to wrestle ourselves back onto the traditional Monday day off, after two weeks of taking holidays off (Christmas and New Year’s Day). So to get us back on track, we end up with two days off close together, but in different calendar weeks.

Yesterday was a very long but very productive day on stage, in what in Guthrie parlance is termed the “first onstage rehearsal,” although in our case we were miraculously given the stage on Thursday and had it for our last three rehearsals. But since Sunday was our “first onstage” we introduced the new element of our deck crew, Craig and Natasha, which sort of creates a bridge between rehearsal and tech. We even tried out our fly cues (on this show we will use the house curtain, when a venue has one, at the top and end of the show). I love fly cues, so I’m incredibly excited at the prospect of sometimes having them. I’d never seen the house curtain at the McGuire Proscenium. Can you guess what color it is?
A funny story about this photo. I googled “McGuire Proscenium” and picked the first picture I saw that got the point across. Then I saw that it linked to Flickr, and I thought, “I probably took this picture, or Nick!” Well it’s Nick’s. So this image is copyright of Nick Tochelli, who always was better than me at getting venue photos.

Anyway, on the day off I finally managed to go on the grocery run, since it’s the first one we’ve had in weeks that wasn’t dangerously close to or overlapping with rehearsal time. Then I went downtown to Target to buy some needed supplies. Then I watched several episodes of West Wing while gaming and doing laundry, before deciding it was time to get down to business and work on my script.

It was 8:50 and I was marveling at how cool it was that it was still a reasonable hour, and suddenly a little voice wondered what I have to do tomorrow. Tomorrow is TECH. Yes, TECH. When I decide to go to bed and the alarm clock goes off, it will be THE FIRST DAY OF TECH. In an instant I was completely terrified, and immediately relieved and excited. Tech really isn’t a scary thing. It’s a necessary and final step to being ready to perform the show, and it’s when I actually get to start doing the part of my job that’s fun. Scheduling costume fittings is terrifying. Tech is fun, even if it’s not going particularly well. When tech goes badly enough to cost money, that’s the only time it stops being fun, and I have almost never had that problem.

So my project for the night is to take our lighting designer’s script and transfer his tentative cues into my calling script, and then pencil in the ones I think I’ll have from other departments (sound and those two fly cues, basically). This will be the fifth show Michael and I have teched together in three years, so it’s no problem to flip through his book and jot down the cues. There are no cue numbers, but it helps me to have a guide to what’s coming up, and to start to see his thought process of where he wants cues and what they’re doing. When we actually tech the scenes I’ll get the numbers, and in many cases a lot of the cues that have been marked may not end up existing.

I haven’t actually done anything with my calling script since printing it, so it’s exciting to see it coming to life, even if it’s the faintest outline. At this point it’s just the rehearsal script with a 3.5″ right margin and the font reduced from 12 point to 10. When we finish tech the cues will be typed in, in the style of the Romeo and Juliet script you can see here. I’ll post it when it’s done, if for no other reason than because I intend it to be awesome and resplendent with decoration that will beat my “swan = crow” graphic in the R&J script.

October 19, 2010

Tech Photos!

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:39 am

We’re five hours into tech. Here are some dinnertime pics!

Meaghan bought an awesome clipboard when we started rehearsal. It has a compartment inside, and a small pencil compartment at the bottom. I was kind of lusting for one in rehearsal, now it looks even more awesome in tech.

There’s a long stairway from the dressing rooms down to stage left, overlooking the prop tables.

Stage left. Props on the left, stage management road box on the right, sound console in the rear.

The backstage headset station. Meaghan’s beltpack, containing everything you could possibly need: leatherman, Maglite, pencil, chapstick, cell phone, Tootsie Pop.

October 16, 2010

On the Cusp of Tech

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:54 pm

We finished our three weeks in the rehearsal studio today. I don’t think I got a break all day from 9AM to 8PM, except about 15 minutes to scarf down a slice of pizza at around 4:30 while Meaghan minded rehearsal. We rehearsed lots of scenes, ran Act II, loaded out all our props, furniture and road boxes from the studio, rehearsed some more scenes, and then restored the rehearsal room to its natural condition.

As soon as we had the studio looking clean and orderly, with all the chairs and tables stacked exactly as they were when we found them three weeks ago, Meaghan and I lugged the last remains of our rehearsal supplies down to the theatre (the Schimmel Center at Pace University) to check out the set.

We’re not planning to be back until the morning of tech on Tuesday, so we wanted to stop in and make sure everything looks good. The theatre is really nice. It’s much wider and less deep than I pictured, but it seems very intimate. It reminds me of some of the venues we played in the early days of the tour last year. The deck is of a nice size, with sufficient wingspace on both sides, a large-ish shop upstage and enough room for an onstage crossover. The backstage area reminds me a lot of our venue in Philly where we closed the show last year.

I had been warned that the dressing rooms were up a long flight of stairs, but what we found up there was not at all the dark and dirty dressing rooms I pictured from my experience of narrow backstage metal staircases. The staircase, though very long and somewhat narrow, is sturdy and safe, and leads to the cheeriest backstage area I think I’ve ever seen. The color scheme and lighting create a warm and cozy (cozy as in comfortable, not cozy as a euphemism for too small) atmosphere. The green room is off the hook. Everything is red and gold — there’s an entire wall covered in gold silk. It looks like it should be Queen Victoria’s sitting room or something. I’ll have to get a picture sometime this week.

Feeling very good about the accommodations, we returned to the stage to scope out the set. If we encountered this house on the road, it would be a very good day, so it’s nice that we get to spend a week here. The set looks pretty much as it always has — it was initially a little disorienting when we first saw it from the back of the house because it’s been cut down a little, I think by 2 feet. I did my usual inspection, walking up the staircase shaking everything looking for loose bolts. It feels like we’ve never left. I feel very confident because we’ve had most of last year’s crew involved in some part of this process, so there’s a clear handing off of experience with the show to our new crewmembers.

Tuesday we’ll start tech. The cast has been running the show for about a week and a half, so they are very accustomed to the sequence of the show. We’ve had all the show props and the actual prop tables in the rehearsal studio, so I think they will adjust quickly to the stage. Navigating the stairs, and adding the element of costume and wigs will be the biggest adjustments for them. Tech-wise, the show already exists, it will just be a matter of seeing if everything looks and sounds the way it did before, and if we still like the way that was. Including rehearsals, I’ve probably called this show about 90 times in the past year. I’ve never teched a show that I already knew so well. I’m prepared that problems may crop up, or there may be things we’re asked to change, but it’s nice to have a very solid framework to follow, and to only need to make changes to that, rather than starting from scratch, as one normally does in tech. I’ve also gone through three weeks of rehearsal knowing what my cues are, and have watched this cast with that in mind.

We’re very close to our departure. Just three days of tech, culminating on the third day with an invited dress rehearsal, then three performances, and the next morning (Monday) we get on the plane to California. This weekend is our last time off before our first day off on tour, on Halloween in Phoenix, AZ. Crazy! I need to pack!

I’ve got a lot of work to do this weekend, mostly with the script. We’ve been making changes to the text up till today (and might make more), so I didn’t want to commit to a script until today’s rehearsal was done. I’m going to send the revisions to the production team so they can show up on Tuesday with all the changes, and then re-do my calling script with the current text. I’m going to start with last year’s calling script and just edit the text, as that seems easier than adding hundreds of cues into the new script (as each cue involves messing with margins, borders, underlining, colors, etc.) Check out the scripts page to see what it looks like. You can even download last year’s script from that page.

It’s still tech, but I am determined to have fun.

And as we depart New 42nd Street Studios, I want to share my favorite bit of signage:
You know for every rule like this, there’s a good story.

June 15, 2010

Tech Complete!

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:56 am

Well we just finished tech.

It was a long few days. Things moved along quite smoothly, but just slowly. The show is a unit set, and as such, it’s very simple in terms of moving scenery, but a lot of care had to be taken to create new looks for each scene, and that takes time. The show is also LONG. I think most people probably aren’t aware of it, but Into the Woods can apparently reach three hours with intermission in many productions. The script is 188 pages long. And the show switches setting sometimes several times per page, so there’s a lot of tech to be teched.

Today was supposed to be our first dress rehearsal, but we ended up using the day to finish teching Act II, and then we ran Act II, which was all we had time for. The run actually went very well. It’s one of those shows that goes like a freight train, and it was a very smooth ride, that felt much shorter to me than the hour and four minutes it took.

I’ve been very wound up for three days, because my job is to tech the show, and the difficulty we were having keeping to our timetable has been very heavy on my mind. The first night I got a very restless sleep, dreaming about mics breaking and other assorted theatrical disaster. Last night I slept a little better, mostly because we had already sketched out a contingency plan for tonight, and it was one I wasn’t too worried about being able to pull off. Today for the first time since Saturday morning, I felt I could walk out of the theatre with my head held high, knowing that we have something resembling a show, and that at least Act II is proven to be in good shape for where we are in the process.

Because of the pressure, I haven’t actually been enjoying tech as much as I usually do. Once we began the run, and it started to feel like a run, rather than just an especially long unbroken stretch of tech, I started to have fun. Act I is a lot more complicated, so once we get there tomorrow — with costumes, wigs and makeup, and an orchestra on the clock — I will be more nervous, but tonight really cheered me up.

Obligatory tech table photo:

Several fun things about this tech table: I have to give credit to Justin Scalese, who is a loyal reader of this blog, and although I can’t get him program credit, I can at least acknowledge here that he has been dubbed “Ms. Parlato’s Personal Technical Advisor.” The program will refer to him as “Sound Engineer,” but we know the truth. I’ve asked for a number of creature comforts this season. First of all, knowing how many fly cues there would be in this show, I said I really wanted a working cue light system. Reagle had one in the past, but it hasn’t been functional in the five years I’ve been around. Justin was able to get me one cue light on very short notice for this show, and by the next show, we should have at least two, and will steal an idea from a theatre I toured to in Texas, and use rope light along the length of the rail, rather than a few light bulbs. The other complexity I threw at him was that the controls for the lights had to be able to be used not only in the booth (where the wires already ran through the ceiling), but also to the tech table, or else there would be no point to the whole thing. He came through.

With just one light, I’m using it on most of the cues, but for the really complicated sequences, it’s a combination of verbal cues, by cue number, for the flypeople on headset, and the cue light for those who aren’t. I think there’s one section that requires six people on the rail.

A few days after Project Cue Light, I posed one more challenge to Justin, which I thought would be impossible, or at least impractical: to get the conductor video monitor at the tech table. The cues in this show are all very musical, and there are a lot of vamps and safeties, where the only way to know what’s coming is to see the conductor. Apparently there’s a large surplus of BNC cable, and that project was completed before I knew it. Both improvements made the tech much easier, and will contribute to the overall quality of the show when it’s seen by audiences, because it was able to be teched with more precision.

January 8, 2010

End of Tech

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:35 am

The show, she is teched!

Just as we got down to the wire, we finished the show with about a minute to spare! To be perfectly honest, we were writing light cues as we went through the tomb scene and I never got to call them, but they’re fairly simple and Michael and I felt we could see them in the first run-through. In our last moments we just ran the last few lines of the show again to make sure we got the final music and fade to black looking good, and then dismissed for the day.

Tomorrow the cast is called at 12:30 (making Nick, Ashley and my call 12:00 noon — yes, afternoon!), and we work for four and a half hours on a few notes (some funereal choreography and a wig quickchange) and then we’ll do our first run of the show around 2:00. After dinner we come back like it’s a regular show call, with a voluntary warmup, followed by fight call, and then the house opens at half hour for our invited dress. How “invited” one of those is can range from a few close friends of the creative team to a wider selection of friendly theatre people, to what we have tomorrow — 300 high school students from local Thespian societies, who are apparently so excited to attend the show that at least some of them have planned to wear formal wear. In response to this I am rearranging my wardrobe for the week to wear my dressed-up-for-calling-a-show outfit to the invited dress rather than to one of the public performances this weekend.

A few thoughts from the day:

We experienced one of the funniest, most pure forms of comedy I’ve ever witnessed in a tech: towards the end of the show, Romeo visits the shop of an apothecary to buy some poison, and calls out to the apothecary when he arrives. This scene is staged right in front of the staircase, and Sonny tried to knock on the set to summon the apothecary to crawl out from his hovel, where he keeps his business apparently somewhere under the stairs. Seems like a simple task. So Sonny knocks on the side of the stairs, and it’s rock solid and makes no sound. So he knocks on the decorative spindles on the staircase. Same thing. He tries the handrail. He tries the bench which is right downstage of the stairs. Every surface he tried to knock on had absolutely no resonance. Every time he tried something else everybody in the theatre howled with laughter. The stairs are steel encased in wood, and I guess this proves that they’re very well built! Eventually, the staging was changed so that he goes up the stairs to the first landing. From there he can stomp on the floor, which is lexan over metal grating, and that makes a satisfying noise.

Today was the first time the database has saved me by giving me an error when I schedule something against Equity rules. It’s always been a good guard against typos, but this time I was so sure in my incorrect math that I was actually digging in the formulas to figure out why it was broken. The formula actually thinks of the problem in a more correct way than I was counting it in my head (span of day minus length of meal break), and showed me that I had reduced the meal break without reducing the span of day, thereby making more working hours than allowed. So I felt like the time I took to build some rudimentary rule-checking into the schedule form was well spent. It doesn’t understand things like tech days, but when I get a chance to revise it before my next show that will be something I flesh out.

Another somewhat funny observation:

At one point we must have spent 10 minutes sitting watching the director, staff director, prop master, costume designer and prop crew gathered in a quiet circle, apparently discussing how Juliet can conceal a dagger on her person. As our lighting designer and I decided, we were witnessing the costume equivalent of everybody standing on the stage looking up in the air (it’s sort of a tech stereotype that if you see a large group of stagehands, a stage manager or two, and especially a director or designers all standing on stage staring silently and thoughtfully up into the grid… you’re not going anywhere for a while!)

Ow, My Ear!

By the end of today I have had a headset on my ear for 28 of the last 49 hours, and my ear was starting to hurt, despite the recent modifications I’ve made to my headset with a Dr. Scholl’s pad. I don’t have a default ear preference, though I generally have a strong preference on a per-show basis. It almost always has to do with which ear will generally be pointed at what I’m listening for — either at the stage, at people who might come up and talk to me, or at an audio monitor — and then putting the headset on the opposite ear. For example at Phantom on the deck I’m most often standing stage left facing upstage, meaning my left ear is pointed at the stage, so I always wear my headset on the right. Twice I’ve been cushioned from head injuries because I just happen to wear my headset on the right side, so I guess it’s a good choice. However, when calling the show I wear the headset on the left because the audio monitor is next to my right ear.

During a long tech I will usually try to switch ears every few hours, but in this case the comm rack is to my left and I’d be getting tangled all the time if I put the headset on my right side. I do think the Dr. Scholls was a great idea though. It’s definitely more comfortable than any on-ear headsets’ padding I know of. My custom orange earpiece foam cover is really starting to rip, and that’s making me sad (it’s a little smaller than it should be to fit properly, but it’s the only non-black one I could find, and I like it because no one can take my headset by accident, or “accident” even).

One more cute story:

In a fascinating example of how light and music can tell a story, we were kind of hanging out waiting for a light cue to be written. Ray (Friar Laurence) was lounging on an onstage bench up against the stairs. Laura (Juliet) was lying down in the tomb, where she had been for probably hours, with an occasional break.

While the cue was being built, a single par on the floor stage left was turned on, casting a wash of sidelight across Friar Laurence in his priestly garb, and creating grotesque shadows of the staircase all across the wall of the set. At the exact same moment the light was turned on, the sound department, completely independently, tested a sound cue of very loud, ominous music that we had never heard before. Everyone in the room had been just kind of doing their own thing, but for the few seconds that sound cue played, there was a very specific story happening onstage that captured everyone’s attention — the young woman laid out in a tomb surrounded by candles, the mysterious priest sitting nearby — was he there to dispel the demons, or might he be possessed himself, concealed in the disguise of a man of the cloth? Once the mood had been established, Laura played into it, reaching her arms up from under her shroud, an overhead shaft of light on her being the only other illumination besides the par and the candles. All the while Ray just sat there, silently contemplating… what?

And then the sound cue was cut off, and more lights were added to the cue, and it was just another moment in rehearsal. I feel like I studied directing for years where my teachers tried to teach us just that: it has nothing to do with your budget or resources. You can tell an entire engrossing story with a single light, the right music and some simple costume pieces like a priest’s collar and a sheer piece of fabric, without a word even needing to be spoken. I absolutely sucked at that when I was in school, and here it happened completely by accident. It was just a wonderful little moment that highlights the things that really make theatre work.

Tech Table

Finally, here’s a picture of my tech table, which I love very much, and will be sad to say farewell to after the afternoon’s rehearsal. I saw the booth for the first time today. It was rather uneventful. I don’t expect anything about it to bother me, but I didn’t see anything that blew my mind either (knowing this place, there probably is something, but like the electric pencil sharpener built into the cue light panel, you just need to know where to look).

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