Thank you, week 6 is over. It has been a week where I find myself filled with gratitude.
Our first tech week of the fall. One of the strangest I’ve ever experienced in my long life of theatre making. I sat squarely in my living room from Tuesday’s first tech, through the opening this afternoon. Tech is a time for much work getting done, and in fact, sometime mid week, I started typing this post while I watched the tech rehearsal happening on the other side of my living room.
The streaming webinar rehearsal was on my computer, about ten feet away. I moved to my comfy chair, and brought my mouse over next to me so I could still pipe up with helpful producer-type feedback. Is there such a thing when I know 50% of what the technicians know? It reminds me of my personal penchant for back seat driving in a cab in a city I’ve never been to.
In the virtual tech rehearsal nothing is familiar. There are no stage managers, no designers, no technical directors. With the help of our events team member, Jen Franco, I’ve set up the webinars, invited the participants, who’ve gathered in a room which has rules of engagement unlike those of the physical theatre. There are no headsets, unless you include the ubiquitous earbuds and headsets of the doyens of Zoom. The lack of com necessitates frequent appearances “on stage” by the director and CB Borger, our Theatre Manager, performing the function of stage manager, board op, and central communications hub. Chris, the director, had done much of his work prior to tech, staging video sequences to establish moments before the play’s action begins; we’d hung a virtual house curtain (video card) at the top of the show. As we began our tech, we used a big homey SLACK direct message for all the cast members, Director, CB, Jordan, our assistant director, and me. Jordan provided the calls for breaks during tech. Direction during a Zoom tech isn’t so much about blocking movements, but often about the finer keystrokes required by actors and technicians to keep the audience seeing the right thing:
When the video first starts to play, it bumps to speaker view, but actors can switch to gallery view during the video to be ready when the video ends.Chris Shaw, Director of Death and the Maiden
The zoom windows have an irritating habit of changing order, in spite of the latest Zoom updates which allow the host to specify and pin an order. Each time an actor “exited” and turned off his or her camera, it still changed the order. Which complicates blocking, as did the sun in the window behind one of the actors today, causing her to tilt her head with feigned curiosity to obliterate the blinding light behind her.
Streaming tech isn’t what I’ve done for the past 15 years at USC or the thirty-five before that. I’m in uncharted territory. As Production Manager, I’ll often slip into the darkened theatre to observe, spending countless hours unnoticed by the student designers and stage managers. I’ll whisper something to a director, or offer a slight adjustment to a stage manager. I’ll ask an actor to put on shoes, or ask a crew member to turn off their computer during a run. It’s invisible work, work that I have loved. I’ve been told that my silent presence in the room has sometimes changed the focus, stopped bad behavior. There is no such unobtrusive entrance into a zoom webinar tech. If I enter, I barge in, microphone open, hauling my most recent virtual background onto the stage like Linus with his blanket, startling the technicians and actors. It only takes that happening once to train this visitor to arrive early, way before the start of the run-through.
I was able to get a lot of work done during tech – the time in the darkened theatre of communal focus is always productive. And so relaxing when the theatre is in your living room. Especially if it looks like the above.😏
And just as in normal tech weeks, tech days are exquisitely long, Tuesdays and Thursdays when I teach, a quilt of zoom windows blankets all the hours of the day.
With tech happening far from campus, surprisingly, there were still physical projects happening this week in our technical theatre lab, including the build and paint of a Goliath-sized USPS postal box, part of the Empower the Vote: From Suppression to Expression. This piece of installation art had it’s literal “moment in the sun” on Friday, courtesy of The Sidewalk Cafe in Venice, where student stage manager/designer Harrison Newton shared it with the many passersby. I hope you will check out these students’ project when it launches Oct. 2nd – USC School of Dramatic Arts.
Wednesday I received some additional support from USC’s IT department, in the form of a booster for my zoom connection. I invited my brother over to assist with me with the install. I promised him lunch after we got it up and running. Don dove in and pulled out the equipment, plugging in everything which was soon running smoothly, thanks to FaceTime with the ITS technician. We walked to the Habit, then returned to eat on my patio. Shortly after I took this goofy shot almost dropping my phone to the street below, Don noted:
I think there’s someone naked up there on their balcony.
Sure enough, someone was standing out on their balcony on about the 20th floor sans pants. Well, you don’t see that every day. I’ll have to remember to seat my lunch guests facing west next time.
This week included many walks around the reservoir, the last this evening as dusk fell. I rounded the crest of the hill under this canopy of willow, then proceeded to continue to pick up trash, a new habit my older brother has instilled in me. Tonight I was thanked three times by passersby, including by one man who stopped his car on the road to grin broadly out the window and thrust his thumb skyward. I’d already been thanked, though, by finding a pristine $5.50 Rifle Thank You card on the sidewalk, which I scooped up to utilize sometime soon.
But the thing I’m most grateful for this week is having begun a six week intensive mental fitness program. Based on the research and work of Shirzad Chamine, the Positive Intelligence (PQ) training provides you with tools to overcome your inner saboteur voices, like the Judge, the Controller, the People Pleaser, etc. You can take the free Saboteur assessment here. The course is extremely well-organized with a lot of support to sustain you. I’m enjoying it so far, and am looking forward to reaping the rewards of this mental training.