Everybody has weak moments. One of mine was at an after show party when somebody (you know who you are, James) twisted my arm into agreeing to direct a “Green Room”.
In our little theatre group a “green room” is a one-act play put on, for one night only, for the members as a social occasion and as an audition piece, as it were, to be considered able to direct a full show. In this instance there were two of us, potential directors, and we agreed to put our plays on together.
I won’t bore you with tales of the stress of trying to organise everything, cast the show, actually directing and working backstage (in my case lighting) that went into making the evening happen.
I will tell you it was a fascinating challenge and an awful lot of fun, that we had wonderful cast and crew who made it possible and that the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I will also tell you that all production meetings should also involve ice cream sundaes.
So, whatever the official verdict (and I’m still waiting for that) I think we did ourselves proud.
Why am I telling you this now you ask. Because somebody (you know who you are, James) gave me a very special Christmas present; a framed copy of our programme. And it turns out, just for a moment, I felt like a real director.
A year ago I helped with the lighting for the first time in our little theatre. While not my first ever lighting job (I’d helped with a folk gig some years before) it was practically my first and my first as a ‘house tech’. Over the year I’ve done a variety of things and it seems a good time to review what I’ve learned.
- It’s never routine.
No matter how much you think you know what is required for an event, on the day you will end up improvising, making do and making it so much better than you expected.
- We’re all winging it.
You think you know what your job is, but then again you can end up doing something that surprises you. I’ve done lighting, sound, crewing, followspot and production assistant (that means I ran around fetching things). It all depends on what is needed and that’s the way i like it.
- I’m not really a sound guy.
I’m sure I can do enough sound for a play (and that’s a win) but I’ve watched enough visiting sound guys for a variety of gigs to know I really don’t have the ears to do live mixing.
- I love doing lighting.
I’m a visual person so lighting is more my thing. I’ve learned you have to look (and concentrate) all the time. But it feels so good when you get it right. A sense of rhythm can be useful too.
- Every show can use a black sheet (or two).
From turning a pile of pallets into a professional followspot stand to propping up a sound desk a large piece of black cloth is your best friend (along with a huge supply of tape and sharpies).
Before / After
- There’s never enough time.
No matter how early you arrive at the theatre you will be wishing you had another hour or two to play with by the time the house opens.
- There is no better kind of tiredness than the end of a show.
By the end of the day you’re exhausted, achy and still have tape to get off the floor and cables to coil and put away, yet somehow you feel better than you ever have before and you’ll mark today down as a fantastic day. Once you’ve got some sleep that is.
And so I wake up the next day to reflect on finding myself followspotting Hats Off To Led Zeppelin a year after I first sat at our lighting desk (also for them) and I’m actually amazed at how much I’ve packed into that year, how much I’ve learned and how much I still have to learn.
But I am having the best time ever.
While I usually write here about my experiences performing (in one form or another) I have been taking an increasing interest over the past year or so in working backstage. I’ve enjoyed helping out with sound and lights for various visiting performers at our local theatre but then I accidentally fell over* an advert asking for backstage crew for a production in Oxford, a show called “Seeing Grace“.
So allowing serendipity a chance I duly offered to help out and to my amazement they said yes!
The project was a fascinating one. A challenging topic (human trafficking and prostitution) rendered through a mixture of drama and dance. Much of the cast were still quite young but all incredibly talented, hard working and professional.
My job was easy; move chairs and tables, oh and keep track of an array of props including an ever increasing amount of crumpled paper. It was, despite the seriousness of the topic, a lot of fun. There was a great camaraderie and even one night an impromptu yoga session.
The run was far too short, only two nights, but those two nights saw a show that was simply breathtaking, powerful and emotional. I’m very glad I could be part of it.
The photos are some we were able to take dring the dress rehearsal.
*Google search results can be unpredictable but I’m certainly not complaining. If every search brought such an opportunity I’d be delighted.