More than Meets the Eye

This past week I had the opportunity to help out with a show at the New England Center for Circus Arts. During the summer NECCA runs several day-camps for students of all ages. Circus Camp for kids, Advanced Camp for kids who already have a background in performance, Boot Camp and Aerial Skills week for adults, and the list goes on. This past week was Advanced Camp. Unlike the other kids camps during the summer, this session has a focus on producing a 45-60 minute evening show by the end of the week, complete with lights and sound. During the week the campers work with the coaches to develop acts, and by Friday they have a stumble through, a Tech-Rehearsal, and finally a show in the evening.

Earlier in the summer I was a coach for some of the other kids camps, but this week I wasn’t scheduled. I offered to help run Tech for the show, but the director was fairly confident that I wasn’t going to be needed. I spent the week working on blog posts, working on how-to guides, and noodling in some software. On Thursday I was asked by the Camp Director if she could take me up on my offer to help with the Tech process for the show.

Thursday day I made a quick and dirty cue sheet in QLab, and got a few things in order to make the process as simple as possible. That night I got the music, programmed most of the show, and made a set-list for pre and post show music. On Friday I took notes during our cue to cue, programmed the lighting board during lunch (a Leviton MC 7016), and was set for our run through. The show went without a hitch, lights and sound behaved just fine and it was an all around success.

One of Lauren’s tasks this summer as Camp Director has been to tackle writing a more comprehensive manual about how camp runs. On Saturday morning we were talking about my process, and if I thought a single person could run lights and sound in the future. That got me thinking about what it is, exactly, that goes into something like that. I told Lauren that as long as the person was familiar with QLab (or any que based playback system that) and lighting systems (comfortable enough to google the light board, and learn how to program it) that it would be fine. It wasn’t until I said those things out-loud, however, that I realized what I was actually saying.

There’s more than meets the eye in working in Technical Theatre. I suppose that I knew that, but it’s something else to find yourself confronting the fact that the designer / operator / programmer in this case is expected to be proficient and seasoned enough at this kind of work to learn about a show in the morning, program and practice it once in the afternoon, and run the show in the evening. While that’s certainly not an unreasonable request, it’s certainly not a small order.

This keeps drawing me back to the discussions that I have with Dan Fine about the importance of rehearsing with media. Many new media performances are slowly edging away from systems of operator and cue driven playback; instead they’re evolving into shows where the media system is more like another character, watching and responding to what’s happening on stage. Those kinds of systems have to be integrated into the rehearsal process, into the performer’s process, and into the director’s process. These machines that have always helped us tell stories are changing, growing, evolving. It leaves me wondering what the future of this is really going to look like.