I am sitting outside of the Scene Dock Theatre on the USC campus. It is game day tech. A 3:30 game between USC and Colorado clangs up against our technical theatre rehearsals for The Dream of the Burning Boy. When we arrived at 10:00 AM, the campus was already littered with the football fans and their tents full of cooking carne, televisions and even satellite dishes arrayed around the little football fan fiefdoms that dotted the campus.
All that stands between us and the fans is a strand of yellow caution tape, strung between the potted trees on the theatre’s Patio. The steady drone of the Goodyear blimp overlays the disco super fly beat of the fans’ stereo just off the edge of the patio. Sated fans haul their trash to the trash cans, and fold their tables up, chattering eagerly about the game. I can hear the squish of crumpled aluminum cans and the car alarms in the nearby parking structure as tailgaters return their coolers to their cars before their pilgrimage to the stadium.
The gentle breeze swings the caution tape and the leaves on the patio rustle all around me. It is our own little theatrical Eden now, as the last of the whooping fans leave, the Goodyear drone louder now in contrast to the earlier soundscape.
Tech this morning was extremely smooth, thanks to last night’s dry tech. The student sound and lighting designer, Kevin Vasquez and Michelle Black, roughed in their cues under the auspices of Jennifer Caspellan, the stage manager and Edward Edwards, the director, and Michelle’s mentor, Jason Thompson. The set designer, Jessica Hong, and her assistant, Jean Hyan, worked during the cueing to dress the set, filling the bookcases with the tomes that props manager Hannah Burnham was able to retrieve during a chance encounter yesterday with a dumpster full of discarded legal books.
Serious theatre juju creates opportunities like that. We have come to almost expect them and certainly to embrace them. There is a certain amount of planning and budgeting, mixed in with a healthy dose of Joseph Cornell in our work. We celebrate the found objects, or in PC parlance, sustainability. We dressed the Dark of the Moon’s set with found tree branches from behind a church in the neighborhood that Vika, our Russian-born scenic charge artist noticed on her way to work one day. We thanked them in the theatre’s program.
You see, one of the skills you develop as an artist in the theatre is the ability to steal and cull well. Actors steal behaviors, stances, accents, hair styles, bad makeup choices, high style and gutter abandon, you name it.
Stage managers steal time, paperwork, contacts, work tips, favors, cookies, scotch tape and hugs from each other and from their fellow designers.
Your local lighting designer has larcenous intentions every time he or she enters a space, or throws the door of the theatre open at the end of the tech to emerge into the cool night, or the hot sun.
Sound designers are attuned like safecrackers, heads bowed, ears close to the door of the world, dialing left then right, listening for the clicks, which come in the form of passing traffic, or waves rolling up on a beach, or crickets, the orbit of that ambulance speeding by; the bell in the classroom separating periods ends up on stage separating the action of scenes.
And the director is the worst thief of all, observing everything and making use of it now, or filing it away for later use.
I used to have a little sticker on my stage management console at the Pasadena Playhouse that said “Tired of working in the dark?” And I would look at that every day as I came to call half hour, at the page mic, and I would think to myself, Never!
Well, I have to go back into the theatre now. Because our theatrical game is about to kick off.