When you come to see a night of theatre, it all looks like magic. Everything flies on and off the stage effortlessly. The performers are all, hopefully, flawless. But getting there can sometimes be a bitch. For those of you who aren’t theatre folk, let me enlighten you about a special thing called tech.
Tech is where you put a bunch of actors who almost know how the show goes onto a stage with props and set pieces they’ve never worked with before so that sound, lights, and costumes can be added. The lighting, sound, set, props, and costume designers generally haven’t slept in a few days and are running on coffee and Redbull, but they try to be patient with the actors who have suddenly forgotten all their lines now that they are holding something new in their hands. I don’t know why you forget everything you rehearsed as soon as you have a shiny prop tea cup in your hand, but it is an undeniable theatrical truth that it happens.
Actors always whine about how hard tech is, but it’s the backstage staff who really have it hard. When we go home exhausted at the end of the night, the tech crew stays and builds the set, paints the stage, and generally tries to make magic happen on a budget.
Once I was an intern for a theatre company, and one of my many duties was to help with tech work. So, I would be an actor forgetting the entire show during the day, and then at night, I would help put up the set. Once I was doing the show All Shook Up, and I can say without question that it was the worst tech I have ever experienced.
There were giant walls that looked like the front of a juke box that were supposed to hang from the ceiling so they could be slid on and off stage. When we began the hanging process, we found out that, due to a designer error, the wall units were like two-hundred pounds heavier than they were supposed to be! We didn’t have enough chains and clippy things to hang them. Our rigger had to go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night to buy more chain things while the rest of us stood there and literally held the wall up, since it could not be laid down. When the tech director found out we were going to have to rig with Wal-Mart chains, she told everyone to take ten (except the people holding the wall up). She cried for five minutes on the back steps of the theatre, figured out a plan with the next five minutes, and we got the wall hung that night.
We had won! And then the dimmers for the lights all blew up. Well, there wasn’t an actual explosion, just sparks and dead dimmers. We had to borrow a dimmer rack from another theatre to open the show. It was terrible. No one slept. Everyone cried at least once. But we got that show together for opening, and no one in the audience ever knew the hell we had slogged through to get there.
When something seems effortless, don’t believe that it is. Just know that the people who are creating the magic are skilled enough to hide how hard it is.