Recently I did 5 days of tech. They went like this:
Day 1. Sunday. Arrive 9 a.m. at the venue, meet the crew, trot through any final, obscure details on the lighting plan, then commence rigging. Rigging involves lifting some heavy lights – the heaviest being about 50kg – onto lighting bars, plugging them in, flashing them out, then flying the bars to their deads. This process takes to about 2 p.m.. At 3 p.m. focus commences. Focus is pointing the lights at the correct place, and requires one person – today for ease of speed it’s me – climbing up a 7m tallescope to the nearest cluster of lights to point them at places. Usually you can then be wheeled around the venue to the next cluster by the people at the bottom of the tally – however this venue as a raked stage, meaning I’m climbing up and down every five minutes as we move the unit around. Focus takes to about 6 p.m., when cast arrive on stage for a health and safety briefing. During this briefing I sit at the lighting desk and program moving lights – a lot of moving light control is very easy, so long as you’d done your prep, and I can do this while actors are told not to fall off things or walk into things or anything of this ilk. This talk will become important later, as actors seem set on constantly refocusing some of the lights I have on the side of stage, and not telling anyone about it until it’s too late….
At 7 p.m. my programmer rejoins me at the desk, and we carry on programming and plotting show 1, until 10 p.m. at which point we leave. The sound designer is staying on until 2 a.m. to try and get all his work done, and invites us to stay, but frankly, after 13 hours without break, I’m down with a little sleep.
I get back to digs at 10.40 p.m. and collapse.
Injuries: minor, at most. Feet hurt, knees a bit sore from all the ladder climbing, the inevitable slightly scorched fingers from handling hot lights (especially crispy from having to remove a gobo holder someone put in upside down), but basically, still functioning.
Day 2. Monday. I am sharing digs with a stage manager. At 7.20 on the dot her alarm goes off and she has a shower. The bathroom in digs is lovely, but there’s no hot water out of the tap. Plenty out of the shower, but not the tap. My alarm goes off at 7.50, but I am long awake as the house sings with heated pipes and splashing in the room next to mine. At 8.20 I’m out and en route to the theatre, picking up breakfast on the way. I’ve been organised and made myself a sandwich for lunch; the sandwich doesn’t make it much past 11.15 a.m. before it’s been eaten.
At 9 a.m. actors arrive for our first tech session. This is blindingly, ridiculously, obscenely fast tech. Between 9 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. we tech an entire play. Our stage manager is… lovely, keen, enthusiastic, and very clearly not trained. “So… is it lights… go?” she asks over cans, and as she does my gaze flickers across to the sound designer, who’s face is falling in despair at these words, for they are not those you need to hear when you have to tech an entire play in essentially 1 hour longer than its natural running time.
We get through.
At 1.30 p.m. the cast from the first tech leaves, and my programmer goes on break. I load up the show file of the second play – barely plotted – and continue plotting at blinding speed, the workers still on. At 2 p.m. we commence the second tech for the second show; at 2.30 p.m. my programmer rejoins the desk. “1 @ 50 15 @ 25 update to track ok put 2 into it’s DSR position and zoom out update all ok knock 121 down and…”
This is all anyone can really hear from the lighting desk for the next 8 hours.
The tech is fine, though gently fraught with misunderstandings. “Can the cyc be more orange?”
“Yes, but I though it’d be nice if it gets more sunsetty throughout the scene…”
“Now that I know it’s doing that, all I can see is the cyc changing colour.”
“It takes 15 minutes, I doubt that….”
“It’s really distracting me, can it just be one colour throughout?”
“I guess so….”
Sometimes, you don’t have time to argue the things. Sometimes there’s no time to test a 15 minute fade. I start cocking up; a note comes through “make the cyc blue from this point!” and I misunderstand and make it blue from that point. My programmer says, “No, we can’t spin the gobo in the VL1ks,” and I sigh and go, “right, let’s think of something else….”
24 hours later, I realise that this is complete bollocks, and you totally can spin the gobo in the VL1ks, and I show him how and he sits, mouth hanging open, miming the effect of his brain exploding. He’s a damn good programmer, but it’s nice to know that I’m not a total muppet too.
At 22.00 the tech ends, the end having just about been squeezed in. “Do you think we’ll have time to re-run parts of act 1?” asks the director.
“No!” gasps the tech manager, before recomposing himself into something more serene. “No,” he repeats. “I really don’t.”
I go home.
Injuries: hunger, mostly. My sandwich did not last the day. The director of the first tech kindly picked me up a lamb kebab, which has helped a bit, but my programmer has suffered from its after-effects as I have to position myself further away from the desk to hide the farty after-shocks. Thank goodness we can talk over cans. I’m also starting to feel a certain ache in the back of my legs and small of my back. The seats in the theatre are too low to sit on if you want to clearly see the whole stage, and having nothing better I am sometimes squatting on the thin wooden backs, and most of the time standing upright or leaning back against the raised wooden backs of the chairs. This will have an effect, I fear, yet to come….
Day 3. Tuesday.
Dear god is it only Tuesday? My programmer is at a funeral. I’ve told him not to hurry back – these things matter more than theatre. So for 8 hours I sit in the programmer’s throne (a thing constructed from wood, poles and padding) tapping away at the lighting desk as we tech the third show, which is, from a lighting point of view, the fiddliest by far. By now the fact we’ve done three shows in two days is beginning to show. The sound designer is running out of cues he can play, and we’re starting to have to schedule breaks based not on when it is convenient to eat, but on when both he and I are grinding to a halt in the face of an empty cue stack. We both work through lunch, as always, desperately trying to stay ahead of the tech. The stage manager has cue points in her book, but no numbers, there wasn’t time to give them… “I’m guessing… LX 38 go?” she calls, and whoop whoop, I reply, lucky guess! Let’s see what happens….
The director is lovely, delighted, even, by what’s happening on stage, but every cue that runs, particularly in the last 80 cues of the stack, is a mad dash to fudge in what it should look like a few seconds before it goes. At 4.30 p.m. my programmer returns, and we eat industrial quantities of chocolate and keep on powering through. At 5.15 the tech ends, and at 5.20 the cast from our first tech are on-stage, ready to re-tech anything we missed from our first tech on Monday – distant, distant Monday. I run around as they get ready, madly refocusing booms and adjusting groundrows, fixing programming notes and checking points with the stage managers, until at 7.45 p.m., after reteching some stuff we missed, we go into a dress rehearsal for show 1, the stage management team barely upright as they battle to reset the stage from tech.
At 22.35 the dress rehearsal comes down, and a blast of icy air fills the stage as the Prod LX opens the roof of the theatre to suck haze out. I wonder what it looks like from outside; not unlike the theatre being on fire, perhaps. I hug the set designer, and we all stagger home.
Injuries: more hunger, but largely suppressed by the industrial consumption of chocolate. Skin starting to get greasy and red, feet aching most definitely, a strange twinge in my neck. When I try to sleep, all I see are lighting effects flashing across my eyes, and I wake at 4 a.m. desperate to pee and not sure if I’ve remembered to drink enough, all at the same time.
Day 4: Wednesday
9 a.m. in, and my mornings are now beginning with this ritual:
“Morning, Cat! How are you?”
“I am awake! I am wide awake! Wide wide wide awake bouncing with energy yes. Yes totally awake utterly and completely awake yes yes whoop whoop wheeee.”
No one looks very convinced by this. I have up to this moment had maybe 10 minutes break since Sunday 9 a.m., and those ten minutes were spent peeing. Oh that the toilet were further from the venue… how blissful then would those minutes be….
A dress rehearsal for show 3 comes down at 1.30 p.m., followed by a mad-dash turnaround to get the LX desk away and the stage set for the opening of show 1 at 3 p.m.. I sit in the upper circle next to the set designer, the two of egging on each other’s need to be alert. Our bags are full of pistachio nut shells. I have no idea why – maybe they’re in season – but this has been the week of pistachio nuts, which I very rarely eat, and yet which seem to currently be ubiquitous. I am out of chocolate. It’s a very stressful day.
At 6 p.m. show 1 comes down, and we rush to our various prop stores/LX desks/sound desks to do notes in time for the 7.45 opening of show 3. I also watch this from the gods, and damn me if it isn’t still a bloody brilliant show even after weeks of rehearsals and with my face falling off. I write down notes but save them for the next morning; there’s no way at 22.20 with the LX desk hidden away at the back of the venue that I can do them tonight. I just hope the next day I’ll be able to read my own handwriting.
Home for 23.00.
Injuries: spectacular bruises have emerged across the backs of my thighs. It takes me a while to work out what they are, before discovering that they exactly match the backs of the seats in the venue, which I have been perching against for the last 4 days, without realising that was what I was doing. Now I’ve spotted the bruising, the remarkable discomfort I experience whenever I cross my legs makes more sense.
Day 5: Thursday
In for 9 a.m. and I was intending to help get out the LX desk again for the dress rehearsal of show 2, but find that the floor at the front of stage is actually really comfortable and cozy and just… but no, no, it’s ok, because I am very, very awake! Absolutely, wide awake, ready to go, oh yes!
“What does this say?” I ask my programmer, as we leaf through the notes from last night’s show.
“Um… fumbly twangfast?” he suggests, squinting at the page.
“Yes,” I sigh. “That’s what it looks like to me too. But I’m sure it meant something else when I wrote it yesterday.”
We commence the dress at 10.15, and both myself and my programmer are a bit worse for wear.
“Channel… channel… that one… uh… 121… at… let’s say… 50!” I drawl.
My programmer tries to type this very simple bit of syntax. 122… no… 212… no… 112… no… on his forth attempt he nails it, 121 @… what was it? Oh yes… 50. The light comes up.
“Oh. Damn,” I say. “I didn’t mean that, did I? I think I mean 122.”
We muscle through, and finish at 12 p.m. just in time for nearly two hours of tech notes. At 2 p.m. a mad dash ensues to get the LX desk away again in time for a 3 p.m. show of the first show (remember, the one we teched on Monday?) and I think I’m going to have to watch it, even though I’ve seen it, it’s part of my duty but then….
“The director isn’t going to be there,” I whisper to the designer. “And he didn’t give me any notes yesterday so maybe….”
We cling onto each other by our wobbling elbows and silently agree – we’re bunking. However, before we can bunk off, there’s a minor crisis unfolding in the LX department.
“I’ve got to go home at 3 p.m.,” explains my programmer. “That’s when I’m scheduled to leave.”
“I’m scheduled to leave at 9 p.m.,” says the other LX tech. “And I’ve got to, my kid needs me, there’s no choice about this…”
“The show comes down at 9.45 p.m.,” I muse. “So… who’s oping tonight?”
Much debate ensues, before finally I agree to op the show if only as an act of humanity towards my very stressed-out crew, who have worked their socks off in this crazy week. It’s been a while since I’ve opped, but hell, if I gotta be here anyway….
At 15.00 show 1 commences it’s second performance, and I sneak out into the streets. Daylight! Daylight and cool, crisp air! This is the first break I have had all week that is longer than the time it takes to go to the toilet. I buy my programmer an easter egg to say thank you for all the madness that has been the week, and then head to digs to pack. Packing takes twice as long as it should. Everything seems a bit otherworldly. I make the mistake of lying down on the bed. Getting up at 5.45 p.m. is an Olympian feat of courage and strength, and the bliss of having stopped leaves my brain fuzzy and my words a bare mumble.
I gather up my stuff, head to the theatre. Make sure the turnaround goes alright, do a rig check, flick through the cues for the coming show, accidentally insult an actor’s fiance (who I mistook for her mother, oops) and at 7.35 as the haze sneaks into the auditorium and the show gears up, I realise that I’m also going to be oping sound as well as lights, if only because I can clearly see the sound screen. I resist the urge to cackle manically down cans – it would only have given a bad impression of my sanity and competence.
At 7.45 p.m. the show goes up, and at 9.45 p.m. it comes down. I tear through LX notes, grab my gear and run for the station, heading for the 22.05 back home. I arrive gasping for breath, shoulders buckling under the weight of tools and script in my bag, only for the entire line to be delayed, and me to sit on the train drumming my fingers until finally, 40 minutes later, it cranks off home, calling… everywhere.
At the station in London I meet a friend, who’s trying to go the other way. The line is truly buggered, however, and there’s no sign he’s going to get back in one piece. It’s now 23.40 – we catch a bus together back to my flat, where he can stay the night. On the bus I sit and burble.
“I’m very tired! Have I said that already? I’m very very tired. Look! This is a bus. I like buses. Buses are good. This is a nice bus. I think I should sleep soon. Tired tired tired. But in a good way. Wheeeeeee! I’m not drunk. I’m just tired. But also alert! Alert and energised yes yes yes I think I should sleep now….”
At 00.10 I stagger in through the front door, to find my partner has cooked a steak pie and left a spare fork on the table. I try eating with the fork, but it seems quite taking, so end up just scooping up goo with crust held in my fingers. My partner and my friend seem to find something about this funny; I have no idea what.
Sleep has never seemed so blissful.
Injuries: my brain, and a dodgy shoulder muscle from trying to heft my rucksack at an odd angle. But mostly my brain. My dribbling, dribbling brain….
24 hours later, I swam a Swimathon. Around about length 58 I had a spectacular burp, and things got easier after that.
Today, I shall sleep.