Welcome to tech week, (sometimes affectionately referred to as Hell Week by actors and stage crews). This is the week where we start adding technical elements to the show – lights, sound effects, music, etc. It's also the most exhausting week we've faced yet.
Tonight is Crew Watch – it’s pretty much the only chance most of the stage crew will have to watch the show from the audience. It’s a good way for the crew to get a feel for where scene changes will happen, or where spotlights will be pointed, etc. This show has a surprisingly small crew: a lightboard operator and sound operator, two spotlight operators, and backstage only three crewmembers, including the assistant stage manager.
Jessy starts off by walking the crew over the set and giving them an outline of their responsibilities. Stage crew will assist with quick costume changes, help move set pieces in the wings, and operate the flying walls and curtains.
Derek leads the cast through physical warm ups to help bring the group together and get them energized. Nate Williamson is out this week, and someone will be reading in for his character off stage. The rest of the cast will have to act around an invisible Black Stache. Once we get started, it’s nice to hear the crew out in the audience, laughing and giggling along with the show, even if it’s still barebones and an actor down. It’s a good indication for how good it will be once it all comes together.
During the day, over the last few days, some of the technical aspects of the show have been coming together. The set has been painted, including the floor. Lights have been hung and programming light cues has begun. Sound cues are coming together. Props are being finished.
Tonight is crew integration night. Last night the crew got to watch, tonight they have to participate. Normally the stage manager has assignments already set out for every crew member, so they know what they’re doing back stage during each scene. This show is a little different – since the scene changes are handled entirely by the cast in full view of the audience, it’s difficult to know exactly where crew will be needed, aside from operating curtains and flies. Hillary and Jack are assigned to separate sides of the stage and asked to take notes. Cast is instructed to let them know when costume changes will happen, or when they need assistance with a scene change.
There are a few hiccups. The headsets for the crew aren’t working, there’s still a few props and items missing or misplaced. The cast is still acting around an invisible Black Stache. Overall things go really well. Even when Megan (playing Molly) has to leave early unexpectedly, we carry on. Afterward, Derek keeps notes very brief: “We’re all tired, threadbare. Take care of yourselves, and each other.” This is the worst time for people to get ill, and the point where they are also most likely to. Everyone is tired and ready for a break, but we still have three long nights left before we’ll get one.
For most of the day, Jessy sat with Heather (sound) and Patrick (lighting) and marked and labeled every single lighting and sound cue in the first act of the show. A typical stage show might have anywhere from 5-30 lighting/sound cues. A musical might have hundreds. This one has an even larger amount than normal, and Jessy’s calling script (which she’ll use during the production to call all the cues), bristles like a colorful porcupine.
During a cue-to-cue rehearsal, we jump literally from cue to cue. We start at the top of the show, with lights up in the house, and then Jessy starts calling cues to get things moving. House lights go to half light, the curtain speech is played, the house lights go out. Stage lights and curtain go. Light cue 4, go. The cast enters. And so on and so forth. When we reach a stretch that has no cues, we jump ahead to the next one.
These rehearsals are primarily for Jessy, to get used to when each cue must be called, and figure out the right timing. Some cues are called based on a line spoken onstage. Some are called based on where an actor is moving or what set piece is moving. It’s a tricky business, but Jessy is a pro at this. Despite a few more hiccups with the headsets and some volume issues with the music, things go fairly well and we get all the way through Act One in about two hours.
On Thursday we pick up where we left off last night, and begin working our way through Act Two’s cues. There are even more sound cues in act two than in act one. Some script pages might only have one or two cues. Others have ten or more, some called in quick succession. Jessy has to track not just lights and sound, but also order standbys for curtain cues, spotlights, and flies. It can be incredibly stressful, and several times we have to go back and adjust. Occasionally Derek asks questions about the lights or sound, pointing out adjustments that will need to be made, or asking to hear different options for certain sound effects. Sometimes we decide that it’s better if the musicians do a particular sound, other times we decide the effect is better or faster if run from the sound board. The idea, however, is to refine the technical aspects of the show so that they match what the cast has been doing for the last seven weeks.
Tonight everything comes together for the first time, with the exception of costumes. The plan is to run the entire show, beginning to end, with lights, sound, music, curtains, flies, and special effects. Everyone is on their toes, and even though the cast is tired, they give it their best. Up in the booth, Jessy is trying to keep up – and there are a few rough spots where a cue gets called late or wrong, but that’s the point of these rehearsals. The crew have their backstage assignments now, and dart around silently, adjusting things in the wings, flying in walls or running curtains. We finish early enough Derek can give detailed notes to the actors and to the crew, asking for certain adjustments. After tonight, we’ll have two days off and return on Monday for our first dress rehearsal. In the meantime, we’re all instructed to get rest, study scripts or crew notes, and take care of ourselves to prep for opening week.