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Adventures in a Technical Rehearsal

As anyone who regularly follows this blog will know, I spend a lot of my time sat in darkened theatres waiting for stuff to happen, and that is precisely where you find me know.  At this exact point in time I am in tech for a production that I think we will call Four Men in a Church.  I would give you its full name, but it’s not yet teched, it’s not yet even dressed, it seems bad manners to discuss something with too specific references until I – and everyone else – knows how it all works out.

So, consider this entry something of a general ramble on technical rehearsals in general, even if it occasionally does refer to Four Men in a Church.

I am currently ‘tech support’ which is code for the person who has to do stuff when things break.  The aspiration of course is for things not to break, but kit is on for a prolonged period of time, stuff is moving, things haven’t yet been tested, there’s a cast of around fifty just waiting to drop something on small yet curiously vital parts… something will break.  It just will.  However, while waiting for stuff to break you find me here; sat at the back of the auditorium stalls next to the video control desk, quietly getting on with my own thing.

A lot of time is spent waiting in technical rehearsals.  Waiting for other departments, waiting for something to be finished, waiting for your cue, waiting for your scene, waiting for smoke to start pouring out of the back of your servers etc..   And humans, when bored, start behaving in abnormal ways.  A job – no matter what – suddenly becomes all the more important to he who does it, on the basis that when you have so few opportunities to do anything, what you actually have to do becomes all the more important when you get to do it.  Thus, a stage manager who is usually perfectly rational about being sensible and not being a tit, suddenly becomes a tyrant of health and safety; a movement director whose job is basically done spontaneously feels the needs to be on stage getting involved in everything, from where people stand to how they’re lit.  A dresser starts getting annoyed at the ASM for standing in their way, and the ASM starts getting frustrated when the DSM can’t talk to them because LX wants to update their cue list.

And people fiddle.  The longer you’re sat waiting, the more the mind races to find occupation to fill the void.  Thus, costumes which the actor found perfectly tolerable five minutes ago is, by the sixth minute, suddenly an unbearable imposition that is utterly inappropriate to the needs of the character.  A scene which has been played one way for several months, to everyone’s satisfaction, is suddenly too cramped for the director’s eye, and an actor who was entirely satisfied that he could command the house begins to twitch about whether he’s really in a good enough place to play to the cheap seats.  Directors in particular are prey to tech boredom.  They are the leaders, the bosses, they guys who have to be in the know, but a lot of the time they’re forced to wait for something incredibly technical which has to be fixed by the one specialist in the building who knows how, and it’s frustrating.  The specialist knows how long the job will take, and the other technical departments may have a suspicion, but your average director has no idea why this motor tripped out or that dimmer rack went pop and just can’t understand what we’re all waiting on.  Under these circumstances, a stressed director can often, dangerously, start fiddling with things that shouldn’t be fiddled with, changing those faults he can understand – timings of cues and where actors go – in an attempt to compensate for something that only the specialist really understands.

The bored actors on stage have many ways for dealing with their tedium.  Chatting, gossiping, hugging, chatting up the dressers (a time honoured tradition), doing the crossword, fiddling (wrongly) with costumes, running lines and – something I’ve only seen in the most ridiculously energetic of actors – skipping relentlessly with a rope hidden in who-knows-what recess of costume.  Technicians have rather more options.  For my part, the laptop is a blessing, allowing me to work when not occupied with broken stuff; the advent of the smart phone has also led to new generations of technicians who can sit on their perches texting, emailing and playing games without ever having to leave their little corner of the dark.  We also have cans packs – wired intercom headphones – allowing the various departments to communicate and, occasionally – often – gossip on their private channels while waiting for things to happen.  My current occupation – besides, obviously, writing and doing my editorials – is running a series of sweepstakes with the follow spots on a variety of topics, ranging from when someone’s going to fall off a particularly impressive bit of scenery, to how many times we will run a scene change to get it right.  At the moment, we’re on eleven attempts, and still counting…