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Adventures of an ALD…

I’ve been dropped off the surface of the earth for nearly a week now, and in answer to the question why, I have a one-word answer… lighting.

I’m writing this entry at the end of a hectic bundle of days of working on a show – though a lack of internet access probably means it won’t be posted until after I get home!  In these days I have been at the lighting desk at 8.30 a.m. without fail and not got off the desk until 9.30 p.m. at the earliest. Lunch has been 1 p.m.-1.20 p.m., dinner has been 5.30 p.m. to 5.50 p.m..

Or, to throw the maths at you…

That’s 39 hours of work, 24 hours of sleep, and 2 hours of rest in the last 72 hours, with the odd drop-off hour here or there explicable by the fact that when coming to this job, I remembered everything I might need except a clean towel. On the plus side, having resigned myself to an undignified time of things on this front, I have re-discovered baths in a big way. My god I’d forgotten the joy of a really hot bath after a day of labour. Point being, it’s all been a bit of a whirl.

I was hired as an Assistant Lighting Designer, with a heavy dose of programming and op-ing thrown in. Mostly, in fact, it was programming and op-ing that was supposed to be my main focus, but alas, circumstances changed and I quickly found myself sat in a tech looking at a screen showing data for a show that was approximately 40% plotted, having not seen a run or read the script. (Dear reader, ALDs do read scripts… it’s just unfortunate that these circumstances meant I hadn’t been given one, as it hadn’t been considered likely that I’d need it….) To complicate matters (again) the show was a musical, which were pretty much invented to justify the use of codeine for lighting designers’ migranes. Throw in a dimmer rack whose numbers don’t correspond to anything that you’re actually likely to ever use ever, a hazer that eats up fluid faster than a pirhanna can gobble red meat, a lighting console that was really starting to feel her age and a production process that was already heavily overruning and suddenly you begin to understand why in the last 3 days I’ve had 2 hours off. (Although it is arguable that as every minute of those 4 hours was spent shovelling down food in preparation for going back to work, this too constitutes a sort of work…)

Now! Under these circumstances your ALD is put in a tricky position… there are at any given point a number of voices all asking different things of you. A designer, for example, might have imagined a particular scene to be washed in saturated blue while the actors spin across the stage, with a touch of warm cross-light to add a certain arty depth. Yet your choreographer might have decided that what is needed is an earthy reddish hue to highlight the emotional force of the piece, and your director again may be wondering why he can’t see faces even though your choreographer said ‘less faces’ and your designer said ‘more side’ and your director said ‘more faces!’ and of course when your lighting designer actually does get back you can be fairly sure he’s going to say ‘what the hell?’ with probably very good reason and you haven’t even seen this number anyway ever in your entire life ever and your stage manager is saying ‘are we ready to move on’ and you’re looking at a blank screen and thinking… … well, I won’t put down exactly what you’re thinking, but I’m sure you can guess at the punctuation.

Naturally the sensible answer, and the only one which at the end of the day is really going to get the show teched on time is ‘piss off the lot of you, let me think for two seconds and then I’ll be able to throw up something twice as good and twice as fast as I will with you lot shouting at me’ but alas, the manners of theatre generally dictate that this isn’t what is said. And besides, you’re only the Assistant Lighting Designer, and everyone is aware that you haven’t seen a dicky bird and thus feels the need, if not the right, to tell you what is desired and did I mention the stage manager asking if we’re ready to move on and by now the cast are getting restless and there’s a problem with the hazer but you’re the only electrician in the room and the only programmer and the op and…

… you’ve got it by now, I’m sure.

But what! (I hear the strangled cry…) But what is the moral of this story?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

First, may I say, that even if it’s going to set you back the cost of a small and reasonable train fare, with a youth railcard discount no less, I would urge all theatre companies to get their ALD in to see at least one run. Just one. Just once. Especially if it’s a musical and it looks likely that you’ll be throwing the whole thing together in five and a half hours flat.

Second! When my production manager at college ran get outs, he’d always begin with the sentence… ‘wear steelies, drink lots of water’. Were ever truer words of wisdom uttered, I doubt it.

Third. If in doubt, the sentence ‘we’ll move on and get it right later’ in a stressful technical rehearsal is without fail, trouble, as that ‘later’ very rarely comes when you’re ready for it…

Fourth. Who’d have thought that one bottle of dubious haze fluid could be so much more punchier than another bottle of dubiously marked haze fluid? Not me….

Five. A good Deputy Stage Manager with a sympathetic ear, an updated version of the actor’s bloking and a willingness to only ever be five cues ahead of the approaching scene, can and will actually save your life. And did mine.  Throw in a designer who somehow managed to exude calmness and understanding even when the rest of the world was running a little mad, and the heaven-sent mercy of the man who ordered us pizza at 11.30 p.m. on the night of the get out, and I almost feel tears of fatigue-induced gratitude begin to well in the corner of my already puffy eyes…

Sixth and final pillar of wisdom…. cheese makes everything better. I mean, I may not have had much in the way of time off in the last few days, but I personally think what time I did have was made that much more blissful by the addition of ridiculous, obscene, joyful quantities of cheese.

But! Do not think it was all woe! The show is finally looking very good after some frantic last-minute programming. The tunes are still bouncing round and round my head, the dance numbers were absolutely fantastic, the acting was brilliant and the overall effect was, considering the circumstances, a triumph.  A stressful triumph… but a triumph.  I also learnt tonnes. When you only have five hours in which to tech something that in normal circumstances you would have teched over at least two, if not three days, you quickly learn the art of prioritising. Thus, if someone comes up to you and says ‘I thought your cue there could do with being maybe five percent less blue’ and someone else comes up to you and says ‘you seem to have gone to a blackout in the middle of a song about how beautiful the summer sunshine seems when in love’ then you don’t really have to think hard about which you’re going to deal with, even though you are required to nod and smile to both requests.

So all things considered…

… I’m really glad I took the job… but may have to sleep for a week before I can even consider taking another one…