I spent all day yesterday and most of the night before in the theater, doing lighting. It brought back many unrepressed memories.
I used to do a lot of that sort of thing, way back when. Most of my high school and college friends were theater techs of one variety or another, and I stopped counting the number of shows I worked on when I hit four dozen. Every semester in college I would wonder how many shows I could do before it seriously impacted my academic work.
The answer was six, by the way.
Not that this turned out to be a problem, in the long run. I was taking a class entitled “The Psychology of Drama,” taught by the only faculty member there who ever had anything to do with the theater. All of our theater was entirely student run – I don’t think they even offered a theater major – and there were eight or nine major student groups putting on shows as well as a few one-offs every semester. There were a dozen of us who did lighting, and we’d go from show to show, feeding on cast parties like locusts.
The class turned out to be a dud from my perspective – it was all about the psychology of acting and directing, which to my mind is not the same thing as the psychology of drama. I understood why it didn’t focus on the tech stuff that I loved – all that is add-on, and while fascinating in its particulars and an awful lot of fun to do is not at the heart of drama. You can put on a play in a field, without any tech at all, and it will be fine. The audience, however, is the core of theater. And the class never addressed the one question I thought would be of paramount importance for anything labeled “The Psychology of Drama”: Why is one group of people willing to watch a second group of people pretend to be a third group of people?
I still don’t know.
We had a group project due at the end of that class (and don’t get me started on the absolute uselessness of group projects – that is an hour of your life you’ll never get back). But I had promised a friend of mine that I would run the lighting board for her for that sixth show – a production of Hair. One of them had to give. Eventually I figured that there was really only one person I could ask about this, so I called the professor at home and explained the situation. There was a pause at the other end of the line, and then his German-accented voice softly replied, “Vell, you do vat you tink iss right.”
“Thank you,” I replied. I called up the leader of the group project and announced my retirement, ran the lights for Hair, and spent the following 48 straight hours writing my final paper for that professor. In four years of college that class shows up on my transcript as the only A+ I ever got.
I didn’t even know they gave those out.
Yesterday down at Home Campus we had a performer come in for three shows – a magician with an act geared toward mathematics education. For the two day shows we invited some local schools to come in, and the evening show was open to the public (and packed, I might add – oddly enough, the acts that sell down at Home Campus are almost always science-related acts that people can bring their kids to see). As with all of these events, it was my job to do just about everything support-related, from negotiating the contract to hanging the lights to providing the snacks backstage. During the show it was my job to run the lighting board.
It’s a computerized board, as they all are these days, but one that is at least fifteen years old and whose manual was clearly written by engineers rather than theater techs because – like all such manuals – it is organized around features rather than tasks. “Oooh! Look what this button does! And that one! And this one!” All of which is fine except that nowhere in there is there anything that says “If you want to get the cue you just programmed in using those buttons to show up on the stage, you need to do this…” Eventually the sound guy and I gave up trying to figure it out and I went with smaller cues I could do manually with the dimmers.
The thing about these shows is that they’re not like my Bright College Days when we had a week to work with the cast and practice running the cues. The performer showed up at 7:30am and spent two hours loading in his gear, after which he and I managed to squeeze in almost four minutes of explanation as to when he wanted the cues on the cue-sheet he helpfully provided to actually happen. The house opened at 9:40. First curtain went up at 10.
At least he provided a cue sheet. That’s one step above most.
So there I was, running cues on the fly.
Old memories indeed.