The joy of techs revisited


For me, the last week in October was largely spent dressed in black, navigating with the aid of blue lights.  In other words, it was spent backstage, specifically as a stage manager for Herne Bay Operatic Society’s compilation show Thoroughly Modern Musicals, the first time I’ve performed that particular function for a show (though I have played the character of a stage manager before).  I thought this was a rather crazy move on the part of the Society’s committee, and was fearing I would manage to do something truly disastrous.  As it turned out, I  didn’t cause a calamity, but the day of the tech and the days afterwards were still remarkably scary and exhilarating.  After all, the stage manager is in charge once the show is up and running – the thought that it was all my responsibility was positively terrifying.

As an actor, you know that the technical rehearsal is really all about the technical side of things – lights, sound, traffic control, set, stage management, props etc.  But from the other side of the line, you know that almost all of these things involve the actors in some way – where they stand, how loud they talk or sing, what they do or what they have in their hands.  In the amateur world, you have a very short period of time to sort everything out – how a particular moment will be lit, how sound equipment will be used, where all the props should be, and so on.  This, being my first attempt at stage management, was theoretically a simple show, with only one set, no costume changes and minimal props.  However, as I found myself alone backstage, with between 2 and 3 people in the lighting booth to control lights, sound and the spotlight, I found myself involved with everything: putting the set up, rigging and focussing lights, managing the props, passing the microphones to the right people, rounding people up and, in the end, providing some off-stage narration.  As a consequence, there were some periods of the show when I had very little to do, and other periods when I was running around like a headless chicken (though hopefully with the appearance of being in control).

I found that the key was lists.  Or rather one list, but with three copies scattered around my backstage domain.  This list included the running order of the show, which props were needed at a given time, who needed microphones, when I was supposed to be narrating (and what I was supposed to be saying) and so forth.  I wrote in exactly when to get each item ready, so that it would be where it was needed when it was needed, and hoped I had everything covered.  Sometimes I needed to be ready in the stage left wing to grab a hand-held mic from a cast member who’d just done a solo and was about to be involved in a dance routine.  Sometimes I was needed in the stage right wing to hand a stool over or collect a half-full wine bottle (half full of grape juice, of course…).  I spent a *lot* of time listening under the platform which housed the band to check that the soloists could be heard loud and clear over the foldback, as the balance between foldback and feedback was very fine indeed.

And, happily, I loved it.  It took until the third performance for us all to feel that we knew what we were doing, I think.  The cast adapted readily to several changes in what became known as the microphone relay race and I eventually worked out the optimum timing for a lighting cue which needed to fade over fifteen seconds at the end of the overture.  I learned a lot about lighting and discovered that stage managers should be sent on people management courses, as there were a few personality conflicts which I felt powerless to resolve.  I learned to appear calm and in control even when I really wasn’t (though this was something I could have done with learning before the week began, so that I could have seemed in control at the technical rehearsal rather than assuming this during performances).  This is something I will definitely do again, though probably for another small-scale show or two before I dare tackle a full-scale musical.

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Related posts:

  1. January 16th, 2010
  2. November 6th, 2010
  3. November 29th, 2010

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