Day 11 In The Land of Corn…Day 1 of Tech

The most amazing thing happened tonight.  I left the theatre at 5:30 p.m.  and I didn’t have to go back.  I was thrilled.  Of course instead of coming home and going to bed, I’m still up at 1:45 in the morning…but even if I get to bed at 4:00 a.m. I still get eight hours of sleep.  Yippee!!!

So today was the first day of tech.  Pardon me while I explain tech.

Tech is the part of the rehearsal process where all the technical elements are brought together and rehearsed for the first time.  It’s when the scenery is moved around into position and scene changes are rehearsed.  The costumes are worn for the first time.  And it’s when the lighting designer (me) finally gets to turn lights on and off with the actors/dancers for the first time.  For me it’s the best part of designing.  I love the thrill of sitting behind the tech table on headset at work.  For everyone it’s a stressful time, but for the lighting designer it’s the most stressful.  Scenery designers and costume designers do all their creative work in the studio.  No one is looking over their shoulder and no one is saying hurry up.  A lighting designer does their creative work sitting at the tech table while actors, directors, stage managers, dancers, crew, other designers etc. tap their fingers saying, “what’s taking so long?”  You have no time to think about what you are doing.  You have to have a clear vision of what the show is supposed to look like, and you hope like hell all the tricks up your sleeve work.  If not you’re fucked because that means the next day you have to come in with new tricks and hope that you have the crew, the resources and the money to make changes.  If not you are stuck with what you’ve got and nobody is happy.

In most colleges and universities tech takes about a week.  It’s true here in Iowa too.  When I was in grad school tech was two weeks.  Most of the professional gigs I’ve worked tech is about three to seven days depending on the show.  Broadway shows can tech for sometimes up to three weeks before an audience sees anything depending on how complicated the show it.  Obviously the longer you have the better.  It gives you time to finesse and make the show look as great as possible.  The less time you have the faster you have to work and the more important it is to know what you want to do before you get there.

One of the reasons I came to Iowa so early was so that I could have time to prep my ideas and get some of them into the computer before tech actually started.  So I have been here for more than a week and during that time I have watched rehearsals, made changes to my light plot, had lengthy conversations with the choreographers, and done a ton of prep work in hopes that tech would go smoothly.  So I’ve been staying late at the theatre each night to start laying in the foundation of what the show is going to look like.  I don’t have dancers on stage so it’s impossible to truly know what it looks like.  And unless light hits something you really can’t see it.  So I guess at it.  I do have white fabric draped around the stage which helps.  But even that is difficult because the costumes are only white in one piece and then you have to account for skin tones.  The duet that was cued today has a very dark African dancer and a very white woman.  The lights have to be colored so that it looks good on both skin types and the intensity has to be such that it doesn’t blow the white girl out of the wather, but doesn’t let the black man fade into the background.  In case you can’t tell, it takes a lot of knowledge and talent to do what I do.  And I think I’m pretty good at it…if I don’t say so myself.

So tech started today.  And it went well.  We started with the duet mentioned above.  It’s a piece about immigration and the perceptions someone who doesn’t speak English has about the U.S. when they first move here.  Especially when their skin is dark.  I had many conversations with the choreographer about the piece.  When I first saw it I was surprised at the violence contained with in it.  It’s hard to describe, but watching the two dancers relate to each other really portrays a lot of what the choreographer was saying.  It was a little difficult for me to get into the piece at first because they dancers were using this new agey African music and it was a little too zen for me.  The composer finally provided sound to us yesterday and it made a world of difference.  Suddenly the music matches the action of the choreography.  It’s intense, and violent and dramatic.  As soon as I heard it, I was able to climb into the piece and know exactly what to do with it.  It’s very dark and moody, with very abrupt changes as the choreography changes.  The hard part about today was that the choreographer is also one of the dancers.  So he’s unable to see what I’m doing.  He can feel it.  But he can’t see it.  So he really has to trust me.  I was worried about this going into rehearsal.  His English is limited at best and his reality of how theatre and dance works in the states is skewed by his vision of what he thought America would be like.  But his being on stage turned out not to be a problem.  He had a few notes for me, which I provided and he liked everything else.  I have notes that I have to deal with tomorrow but we should be in good shape for the next time we run it.

On to piece two.  It’s another duet.  With the choreographer dancing in this one as well.  This one is a little more difficult because the choreography is based on paintings of the choreographer.  So he has very specific ideas about what the piece should look like.  I had a very long conversation with him as well and we made some very significant decisions.  His painting are in black and white, so we decided to embrace the black and white idea in the design.  His painting were also full of shadow and contrast so we decided to explore that as well.  The real trick for me was being able to make the white light white.  It’s tricky because if you look at the lights in your apartment, house, condo that are on right now.  Not the ugly fluorescent ones that save energy.  The ones with the traditional light bulb in it.  If you look, you’ll notice the light has an amber quality about it.  When put on stage it often looks more yellow than white.  So it’s about tricking the eye into thinking it’s seeing white when in actuality it’s seeing blues and ambers.  This is one of the first things I learned in grad school.  Aren’t I glad I didn’t miss that day.  And so that was the way I went.

I feel like I’m writing some academic statement or something.

After rehearsal I went to dinner with my friend Elizabeth who was a fill in professor last year same as me.  She was invited back to do one more year after someone didn’t get tenure.  I love her to death.  She is much more serious than I am.  And we balance each other well.  We mostly sat at dinner and chatted about teaching here and the problems it entails, but we also talked about life, and our search for work etc.  All of this talking was helped along by the two VERY large margarita’s that I had.  It was nice.

Now for some complaining.  On Wednesday the girl in the piece about the drawings came to me and asked if we could switch the tech schedule.  She and her partner were scheduled to start tech and the other piece would finish it.  I initially said no, but after some thought and discussing it with everyone I said sure.  As long as she was back by 2:00 p.m. to warm up and to get into costume.  She said fine.  And so today at 2:30 there was no sign of her.  She rushed in around 2:35 ran to get into costume, didn’t warm up and kept us all waiting the whole time.  When she got on stage I reminded her of our agreement and although she apologized she said that she was only five minutes late.  I was too busy to point out that she was actually 35 minutes late.  Just another example of the ___________________________ (you fill in the blank) of the students that go to this school.

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2 thoughts on “Day 11 In The Land of Corn…Day 1 of Tech

  1. Lemuel April 21, 2008 / 05:13

    Thank you for the description of the “tech” part of your work. As I read your description of the effects of lighting and the role it plays in making the show a success, I was reminded of the differences lighting can make in the most common of our experiences. I thought of how many times I bought something – clothing or even food – in a store (with one kind of lighting) only to get it home and see it as different in color or hue in the light of my own home. What you do is as important as the music or dance or action.

  2. Rick April 21, 2008 / 05:40

    When I did community theatre, tech week took a week. We also used to call it “hell week”. Long, late rehearsals.

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