LIFTING UP THE CURTAIN: HOW DO YOU SAY TIRED IN DANISH?
It’s Friday, the day before our first Tech rehearsal, and here I am, at the Sharp theater. It’s roughly 10:45 AM, and I’ve just zipped up on the F train to go help build my set, which, while it’ll hopefully appear simple, is actually a complicated and gigantic undertaking. We’re understaffed, I have the day off, so that’s why I am here.
Our jobs today:
Gromit all the fabric for the surround. In other words, take the fabric that will form the U-shape around the set, and punch little holes in it that form these metal-ringed things called gromits and get it ready to hang from the ceiling of the theater
Put roofs on the three set areas. The set is basically three apartments. The apartments (reading left to right) decrease in size, and each has a ceiling exactly the same size as its floor. So thus we get a 12’ X 12’ X 12’ apartment, a 9’ X 9’ X 9’ apartment and a 6’ X 6’ X 6’ apartment. In honor the characters, the first one is called Axel’s, the second on Lis and Pis’, the third one Viktor’s. Anyway, they all need roofs. Only one of them has one (the 6’ one) the other ones need their roofs put in. Did I mention that they only really have one wall apiece and thus the roofs need to be tied to the ceiling using a complex array of different aircraft cables?
Assemble the furniture which has arrived from Ikea
Hang and focus the lighting instruments
By the end of the day, only one of these jobs will be done. Thankfully, it’s the second one. The fabric turns out to be a complete disaster, much of which is my fault.
For those of you who have never built a set or hung lights or been around tech people in general, well, there’s kind of a bizarre culture that’s arisen. First of all, everyone working tech becomes possessed of a sense of humor that would get you fired from most non-carnival-related gigs. So, for example, when you’re up a two-sided ladder with a girl and she says “okay, you go down first and then me” everyone in the theater will burst out laughing and make jokes about your skills at cunnilingus versus hers at fellatio. For some odd reason I can’t put my finger on, this isn’t sexual harassment, it just kind of comes with the territory. Or maybe it is sexual harassment and no one’s figured it out yet, I don’t really know.
The other thing in building is that everything becomes your bitch. That IKEA table you just assembled? “I just built that bitch” that person who just helped you might tell you that you are their bitch now. Certainly anything difficult becomes “a bitch” to do.
The third thing is the ever-present music. I’ve brought my iPOD today, and we’re listening to various mixes. Yesterday, someone brought inn Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, or was it Godspeed You Black Emperor! I can never remember, anyway, it was pretty good. Today, I’ve got my iPOD playing every Morphine song known to man. This brings back memories of high school and making out to Mark Sandman singing “I can tell you taste like the sky/ Cause you look like rain”. Looking over at the build crew, I can tell that some of them have made out to this song at some point in their lives as well.
The fabric catastrophe strikes roughly 5 hours after I’ve been sitting there gromiting. My partner comes to help me gromit. I buy an extra gromiting set so we can do it together. Gromiting is tedious, blistering work. You take a special tool and punch a hole in the fabric using a hammer, said tool, and a block of wood. Then you use this other tool to attach a metal ring to the whole using said tool, a hammer, and a specially designed metal base. Anyway, we’re gromiting away like zen masters of gromiting. Gromiting becomes increasingly fun to say and we’re sitting there, shooting the proverbial breeze, and finally they are ready for us to hang the bitches on the set.
Only it turns out that, unbeknownst to us, we’d gromited the wrong side of the fabric. That’s right, people, bitches that we are, we gromited the side that’s supposed to hang down. If they hung the fabric by the gromits we’d attached, the fabric would hang three feet off the ground instead of hang all the way down.
Also, at this point, it’s three PM, we’re supposed to give the space over to the lights people so they can focus the lights. Also, they need the set built (which includes the now-improperly-gromited surround) to be able to focus. Also, one of the ceilings isn’t done and nothing is pained.
Oh, and then Shelly realizes that the apartments are all in the wrong places by about 6” to a foot each. Crap.
I pull the light designer aside. She is a fabulous woman, Shelly Sabel, dressed like a rock star, and often calm under pressure. “So… um, Shelly. Should we cancel tech tomorrow and just, you know, build and focus?”
Please say no, please say no, please say no, please say it’s salvageable, please don’t let’s cancel anything just yet please find a solution, Shelly, please…
“I don’t know. Honestly. We’re really behind.”
So then we confab for awhile. Shelly figures out a solution for the apartments (moving one of them 6” accomplishes a lot, as it turns out) and we find a solution for the mis-gromited panels (overlab the gromited areas, and regromit on the correct side) and we decide not to cancel tech and get back to work.
My partner goes home, she is exhausted, and we have a dog to walk. I said I was going to leave the theater at 5:00PM, but we’re short staffed, and it looks like I’m staying until nine. Which I do, gromiting gromiting gromiting and then, finally, it’s time to hang the ceiling for Axel’s (enormous) apartment space.
You might find this hard to believe, but the way we put the ceiling up there is to have two guys on ladders in the back of the ceiling, and two ropes in the front. Then we have people on the ropes, which are thrown over pipes, hoisting this goddamn thing up until it’s high enough to stick a big 2 X 4 under, and then we shimmy it into place.
It takes roughly half an hour to get it into the right place. I’m on one of the ropes, two very little women are on one of the others. Something smells horrible. Really really horrible. I realize, eventually, that it’s me. We hoist. We hoist. Up, mateys! Pull, mateys! The ceiling is rising. When it gets about seven feet off the ground (it has to get roughly 11’ up, remember) the guys run to the ladders to get a grip on it. Then we pull with all of our might and they lift with all of theirs and Yasmine, our wonderful producer, runs and gets a 2X4 and pops it into place.
Now the guys on ladders get hammers and other things to bang the (enormous!) ceiling into place. For the next hour they are tying something called aircraft cable onto the ceiling using something called a circus knot. Someone suggests we put some festive calliope driven circus music on the system. I mention that I happen to have several variations of that. No one seems to bite. I go back to gromiting.
This was all a little over 12 hours ago. Today, we start tech. I’ll have more on that later. I promise.