Monday, April 19, 2004

Lifting Up The Curtain: Everything Wrong is Right Again

Finally had our tech today. We ended up inadvertently canceling Saturday’s half of tech. We got into the space, spent the first half adjusting the blocking to the real set (instead of the rehearsal room) checking out sight lines, and listening to some of the great sound cues our designer, Brian PJ Cronin has come up with.

Then at six PM, Shelly showed up, surveyed what had been done and said, “I can’t really go into tech with the lights like this. We need to hang a bunch of lights, we’re missing all of the practicals [real lights, like table lamps, Christmas lights, wall sconces etc. that appear in a set], very few of the lights are focused. We can do everything on Sunday, it’s okay.”

So I took the actors upstairs for some work memorizing the lines, and did some physical work with them and went home.

That was Saturday. Simple, busy, and a little bit discouraging. I worked into the schedule two days of 10-out-of-12s, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. Because of union rules, if you end up rehearsing the actors for 12 hours (and there are restrictions on when, for how often, and how many times you can do this), you must give them two hours worth of meal breaks, hence, 10-out-of-12. Anyway, my TOOTs had both turned into less than that (one 8 and one 10 hour rehearsal) and it seemed at some point like we weren’t going to get anything done.

Then came Sunday. Thank God for Sunday. Not a day of rest (sorry Jesus) but rather a day of extreme activity. For those of you who have never been in a tech rehearsal, this is pretty much what they’re like: you make your way through the show (slowly), usually in what is called a cue-to-cue. A cue-to-cue is where you jump from tech event (i.e. a change in the lights or the sound) to tech event, stopping at each one and getting them to look/sound/be timed correctly. It is very slow going (in the first four hours of tech, we got through maybe ten pages of the script) but also very rewarding. It is the first time when you see the play really come together. It’s also the only overtly product oriented part of the whole rehearsal process. Tech is also probably the most boring time for an actor. You basically don’t get to act all day, because by the time you get to anything interesting, someone is screaming at you to stop and go to the end of the scene.

Food is also really important during a twelve hour rehearsal, especially since the tech staff always works through the meal breaks. Everyone eats. Usually, they eat shit, because it’s all that’s available. Saturday, I ate shit. I must’ve eaten about twenty Dunkin Donuts Munchkins in the course of the afternoon, on top of the soda and the Worst Coffee In The World brewing in the theater’s coffee pot. And I smoked too many cigarettes. I felt, quite frankly, like I was going to die.

None of that for me on Sunday! No, no! Animal Crackers, Edamame, Chinese Chicken Salad, Water, only two cups of coffee, no Diet Coke at all, and I felt great.

It’s hard to describe tech rehearsal without going into too much detail. Basically, it’s both head-spinningly productive and mind numbingly dull to recount at the same time. I loved it. Takeshi Kata, our set designer, and Shelly Sabel, our light designer, are not only wonderful people, and great designers, and great artists with good suggestions for me to improve the look and feel and arc of the show, they also get along with each other well. As the day wears on, things get sillier and sillier, of course. Tak starts biting people for no obvious reason, and then he starts kissing the tops of people’s heads, blurting out “before I felt like biting people. Now I feel like kissing people”. It’s Tak’s anniversary with his wife tomorrow, and here he is on a Sunday night in a theater while his wife tries to make a living as a production designer in LA. Two nights ago, Shelly pulled an all-nighter designing a window for Ralph Lauren, and yet here she is teching away.

Why do people do this? What could possibly be worth living across a continent from your wife, or basically not getting a good night’s sleep for two weeks? We’re not saving lives, we’re not creating anything particularly tangible or real, and yet we believe very strongly that what we do has meaning. Meaning enough to not get paid a living wage to do it. Meaning enough to spend an enormous amount of money on education and be in debt for the rest of your life. Meaning enough to come here to the Peter Jay Sharp theater and hang out with people for a few hours literally looking at how light looks on a wall.

And it has meaning enough to drag me here, to plunk me down in a chair and start making some real decisions. It has meaning enough to make me choose what I like and what I don’t. It has meaning enough to make me work through my breaks and feel tired and cranky but still make the effort to be nice to everyone. It has meaning enough, in other words, to get me over myself.

The show is beautiful. If nothing else, if nothing else works, if, for some reason, I’m a terrible director, the actors are having an off night, you hate the play, whatever, if nothing else, the play is simply gorgeous. The scene that has been my bugaboo for this whole process, a scene is which the different characters share one dream and are all on stage at the same time, has been solved through sheer simplicity and a great sound design.

In other words, I feel like we’ve gotten our groove back. Now it’s just time to make it good.

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