Monday, November 2, 2009

West Side Story Tech - Day 1 of 11 (Yes, this one goes to 11)

Got to the theater around 630. I'd spent the last hour reminding myself that I'm running the board. I'm not the LD, I'm not the SM, I'm just a trained monkey - programming cues and pushing go. I've been working in this space for 20 years now. I've done everything technically in that building that can be done except run live body mics. In fact, the house hang was built off a plot that Tom and I did years ago. I know what the city's requirements are, and I know what kind of communication is needed to light a show well.

My health has gotten in the way of my love for theater, so I haven't done a show in the F.Scott in a year and a half. I've done some smaller shows in smaller venues, but not the big musical in my home space. Getting back into it is exhilarating, wonderful, and stressful. I'm trying to manage my headaches with the 16hr days that will be the next two weeks. I haven't worked a schedule like this in years, so we'll see how it goes...

Getting to see a bunch of my theater buddies yesterday was wonderful. Did a little catching up while the set was coming in. Having been president of the group in the past, I got caught up on some of the *fun* that goes with putting up a show with different personalities everywhere.

The truck was in the bay, being unloaded. As I walk in, the first person I'm greeted by was Allison. :-D I head over to Joe (City guy - Manager of the space) and he hands me a light plot. History: The city does the hang. So we are required to get them a plot 5 weeks before we move in. They start working on it as time (and any current productions) permit, and do the majority of the work after the group before us has closed their show. In our case, the show before us closes Sun at 5p, we move in Mon at 6p. Well, the plot Joe hands me has maybe 15 lights on it. To be generous I'll say 20. Keep in mind, we are not working in a black box. There are a little over 50 instruments hung in the house, and over a hundred over the deck. While the city has done some upgrades, it's not unusual for us to use every instrument, every inch of space in the ceiling, every volt/amp/watt in the place.

40' proscenium, 30' deep, with an additional 16' thrust over the orchestra pit. 20 lights on the plot. Joe had 3 techs in the building on Sun eve to hang our plot. The instruments on the plot did have circuit numbers, no color. It took more time to drag the genie lift out than to actually adjust the lights. My first reaction - WTF?!? How do you light a big musical with 20 instruments? Ok, maybe if they're like the SUN, but at the most we're using 750w lamps. I was stunned. This is going to be a *very* productive evening... or not.

By now I'm biting my tongue. I'm not the designer. I am familiar with the guy who is. The one thing we both agree on is that we have a very different philosophy about how to do a design. This has led to a few tense discussions, but and an agreement to disagree. I am also in no way saying I'm better at designing than anyone else - I've never won a WATCH award, and probably won't. But that's ok. One thing I do know - no matter what kind of show you're doing, you have washes broken into areas, DL, DC, DR specials and NO SHADOWS if you can help it. It's basic, but people can be seen.

By now I'm sitting in the house wondering how this is going to work itself out. At the same time, I am thankful that this is not my beast. Of course, anyone who knows me knows I won't put my name on something I think is crap.

There is a production meeting at 730p. I was up in the booth getting familiar with the light board when Joe called me down to the stage. *OMG it's warm in the booth - that's where all the heat is going! Remember to bring a fan...* The designer came in with a new plot on his way to the production meeting. I didn't look at it, but Joe said it was more complete and had color. There was gel, but it wasn't cut, and there was no list of how many sheets were needed and what size.

By now the production meeting has started. Joe does not have staff to work on the light plot, so it's sitting (and will probably cost the group extra since again he has to get people in there to work on it). It's so hot up in the booth my eyes were watering, so I sit down to the house. I'm not allowed to help with the set (medically) so I'm staying out of the way - supervising and schmoozing.

At 915p, there was still nothing going on lighting wise. As I pass thru the lobby where the meeting is being held, the SM, LD, and director are going thru the script page by page noting the cues that the director requires. Again I find myself asking WHY!?! Why is this happening now? Why didn't this happen weeks ago? Like maybe before you do the plot? Like maybe so you can include in the plot the stuff the director wants? So that like maybe the city can get it hung before we move in? And so we can focus and tweak for a few days and be completely ready for a Q2Q by the end of the day Thursday? Right... I'm not the LD. Not my issues. LD must deal with the director/producer/crew. I'm just the trained monkey (who isn't really trained on the board yet...)

Adding to the fun - rumor has it the SM wants to do a Q2Q starting Thursday. The cast is back on stage on Thursday. In the past, set and lights would fight for stage space on day 1. Day 2 lights got the stage to themselves so they could have darkness. Day 3 the set people are back and by day 5 the cast is in on the set for the first time - learning what it does, where it goes, where they need to be, yada yada. Day 6 - marathon Q2Q. Start at 9a with donuts and coffee. Break for lunch - crappy pizza - at 1p. At 5p break to finish the crappy, and now cold, pizza. Finish Q2Q by 9ish - if the day has gone smoothly. Head to Benigan's and drink heavily (crap - they closed Benigan's...) Day 7, two run thru's, first no costumes no orchestra. 2nd w/costumes and orchestra. Costume parade and publicity photos in between. Full dress day 8, 9, 10. Day 11 is the final dress and Blue Hair night. Day 12 - OPENING NIGHT!

But according to the rumors, the SM wants to start the Q2Q on Thurs. With the cast on stage. Then continue on Friday. Saturday we have to be out of the space by 4, so we have to be done by then or we roll it into Sun morning. Have ya ever tried to write 270 cues with the cast on stage? Typically the Q2Q involves the LD and Dir in the house. Light board op at the board. SM on stage with 2 or 3 crew changing the sets as we go, spiking them, moving straight to the next thing. The cast is off doing whatever they do - sometimes they use the day to rehearse, sometimes they get the day off.

Maybe this can work. Some cast members are assigned to handle the set changes, so we won't have running crew - at least as I understand it. So while I see the need for the cast to learn where the pieces are stored and how they move, I don't believe trying to learn that while doing a Q2Q is very productive. Esp when you have a big cast. But maybe. I'm interested in seeing how well it works.

Oh wait - I forgot. We don't have lights yet. Hmmm... When we have the plot pretty much done and submitted to the city before we move in, we can knock out our tweaking/focusing/whatever
in a couple evenings. Lights crew would have maybe Thurs, def Fri off to prepare for the Q2Q Sat. But we've already lost Monday. We won't know 'til we get there tonight if the city was able to hang the revised plot, and we don't know if the plot will change again after the meeting between LD, SM & Dir from last night.

My goal tonight is again to remember - I'm not the LD. I just program the board. Tell me what light to turn on, what intensity level, and I'll do it. No whining. No opinions. No suggestions. Just sit back and do my thing. And have FUN!

This is why it's called Hell Week. It's hell at first, but when you're done and the audience is cheering, it's worth every painful moment. You know you contributed to an awesome thing that can't be done with robots or CGI. There is no 'CUT!' when something happens that isn't supposed to. You just keep going and hope the audience didn't notice. That's the thrill of live theater. The rush that each and everyone involved gets when you hear the first audience clap. (provided it's not a golf clap...) That feeling is indescribable, and anyone who does this will tell you it's intoxicating as well. 9 times out of 10, those involved are nearly in tears when the set comes apart after closing night. Some shows you look back at and smile. The songs are stuck in your head forever. Some shows you wonder - what the hell were we thinking?? And while you may never work with some of those people again, there is still that little bond that we worked together to make magic. And damn it, people like it.

We know we'll have a great show by the time we open. That's the way it's always worked. And that's why we do this. That doesn't mean there isn't a little drama getting there....

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