Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Teechers - The Preparations

Warning - some of the below pictures contain profanities in the context of the play.

I've been out of the internet loop for an entire week.  I'm not sure I even remember how to type properly.  I also now have a backlog of blog posts.

I wanted to start with this one.  It is quite wordy but I am not going to apologise for that.  I am saying goodbye to something that has been a huge part of my life and I need a cathartic release.  I'm hoping that this post will help. 
The 10th-16th March was production and performance week for Teechers.  The last three months of hard work came down to this one week.  This was the week where everything came together - where the set was built, costumes and props were completed and the sound and lighting was created according to the design. 

I had the week off work so I was completely able to focus on the production of the play.  This also meant that I was in the theatre for a huge amount of time.  Not that I mind - I love being in the Theatre, I love sitting on a stage making props or set or soft furnishings - it makes me very happy.
Sunday was Get In - this is basically when we get the keys to the theatre and can transport all our stuff (set, furniture, costumes, people etc) from our Warehouse where it has been constructed and stored to the Theatre.  We normally need about 10 people for a small size set like this one.  4 of us met at the Warehouse (freezing cold in the middle of nowhere with snow) to load the van, then jumped back in the cars to get to the Theatre 20 minutes away.  Matt, one of my cast members, came in the car with me as he had no idea where he was going and had never been to the Warehouse before.  He and I spent the journey discussing the varying merits of Linkin Park and Grand Designs; how we got onto that mix is still beyond me.
At the Theatre more people met us to navigate huge items of set and very narrow stairs and banisters - always tricky and it takes a lot of vocal cooperation and cries of 'to me, no, to you, left, up and rotate!' as well as a fair few swears.  It is normally good to have a few men around for this - their height has a distinct advantage when carrying heavy items of set.  Their muscles don't hurt either.

Once everything was in most people could say goodbye and get on with their Sundays and leave us select few to the painting of the stage.  The music went on, the shoes came off (easier to paint in socks) and we popped to the local co-op for some milk.  Tea and coffee supplies are vital for a successful production week.

This was a very, very simple design - an old school hall with a ragged backdrop, a set of lockers (hollow - they have a shelf in the back for prop storage), a whiteboard with a timetable and two outdoor areas.  Everything else was conveyed by movement.  Simple and easy.  Or so I thought.

When originally designing the set I had said I wanted a parquet floor to convey an old school stage.

I was stupid.
9 hours.  9 backbreaking hours of painting a black floor a weird orange, chalking, stenciling, painting over the stencil lines and then painting the wood grain in.

Damn it looked good though once it was finished.  I may rethink my Victorian tiled floor for Arcadia though.
The rest of the set was simple though.  Derek had already built my bank of lockers for me (7 foot high and 4 foot wide) and the whiteboard (nearly 8 foot high and 5 foot wide) as well as the two brick wall segments that conveyed the outdoor areas and they all just needed to be fixed into place and covered in graffiti.
That was fun.  I gave my husband a spray paint can and the cast marker pens and told them to go wild. You would not believe how creative (and childish) a group of adults who have just been given a free license to scrawl on furniture can be.
We had a backdrop as well - this was practical as it masked the entry of cast members from the access corridor we had created using blacks that ran across the back of the stage, but it was also a nod to the Mikado, the play that is being rehearsed within the play within the play (confused?) - the idea was that it looked like the Mikado set on our set.
This entire set took three days to build gradually, stopping for Tech and Dress Rehearsals.  In the meantime we conversed about relationships, music, television, the nature of life, festivals.  If you want to get to know someone, build a set with them. 
Tech rehearsal was on the Monday.  RV, my assistant director and tech designer was in the Theatre with us from the Sunday working on the tech design in the FX and LX box pre-programming the cues.  We had a slight issue.  A fuse went on the Sunday - not just any fuse but a pretty significant one that managed to take out an entire section of the lights with it.  Luckily one of the residents was on hand by the Monday to help work out what had happened, and a quick trip to an electrical supply store and all was solved.
Tech is normally always painful - you jump cue to cue traditionally but this production had so many cues it was easier to run the entire play, giving the cast the extra time to adjust to the space that they were suddenly in and stopping and re-running any sections that need it.  This Tech rehearsal went really, really well; actors found their light (not easy the first time on a new stage!), projection and energy were good, scene transitions were mostly flawless and very few sections needed re-running. 
Dress was on Tuesday.  You treat dress like a normal performance - full costume and props, stay backstage when not onstage, quiet in the wings, Stage Manager has full control, full lights and sounds and you drill all the pre-show checks as well.

They say that if dress goes badly you have a great show.

This dress went badly.

I don't want to go into it.

I gave my last pep talk, we worked out what the major problems were and then we went to the pub.
By now I was shattered.  RV and I had been in the theatre for three days and we were emotionally very invested.  It didn't help that neither of us would be around for the last two performances and RV would not be around for the Thursday as we were both at a friends wedding.  We had a relatively inexperienced backstage team, and sound and lighting engineers who had just been trained on the desk on the Monday.  Lines were still wobbly and props were missing.  It was looking messy.
They had Wednesday to get it right.  After that they were on their own.

And get it right they did - Wednesday was a dream and so were the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances.  It was amazing how much of a difference having an audience to perform to makes to the energy levels of a play.  Lines were spot on, props were remembered, furniture moved when it was supposed to, lights and sound cues were great and most importantly the audience loved the show.  I watched one show from the gallery and could get a real view of the joy on people's faces and enjoy the laughter coming from the auditorium.  One of the best reviews I got was that this show opened an 18 year old eyes to the wonders of theatre - how it is not all stuffy and old fashioned and that theatre can be hard hitting, fun, loud, colourful and fast paced.  And rather rude and coarse as well!

We marketed the play heavily and it paid off - we had about 5 schools in total attend, all of whom loved it as well as members of the local community.  Numbers were consistently high over the 4 night run, and we raised £260 for Comic Relief.

It's the wrap party this Sunday.  I can't wait.

I've got the post show blues at the moment - a common complaint but one that will eventually pass.

I am so proud of everyone involved - cast and crew were slick and it really showed.  I just kind of wish it wasn't all over.

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