Sunday, August 11, 2013

In Buxton: August 7, our joy day unalloyed

As promised, this story starts with a joke, straight from the pages of Bugs Bunny. You see, for the past ten years or more I have lived in a room with a bed on the off-prompt side of the room. So naturally, when I wake up, I merely list heavily to port, raise my right leg and apply pressure to the floor until I arrive in a standing position.

Now the room I'm in here in Buxton has the bed on the prompt side - probably because we're in the northern hemisphere (although it could be that hemispheres are irrelevant and it's simply a nod to the fact that European and American students stay here as well as Poms, and they drive on the right). This hasn't been a problem so far, because I've been able to wake slowly, orient myself based on the sun (get out of bed toward the window, not the wall) and alight without incident. But on Yeomen Day, the most critical of my stage career so far, I was still tired from having prepared dressing room allocation lists and sign-in sheets the previous night. So of course when my alarm went off I immediately pivoted at the waist and rolled over to port in double quick time, thinking I was at home and about to be late for work.

The walls here are made from painted concrete bricks. The mortar between them is perfectly flush, which makes for a wall that's as smooth as it can be considering the uneven texture of concrete bricks. Well I'll put you out of suspense now - the wall is still perfectly smooth, my head did absolutely no damage to it.

OK that's the end of the joke.

My nose started to run as I was in the shower, and I knew that the various drugs I had subjected myself to had been ineffective. After all, if you treat a cold seriously and take all the right medicine it will clear up in a mere 72 hours - but if you just try to soldier on it will hang around for three whole days!

So I loaded Clippy's case with all the remaining medicine, a spare water bottle and a spare hanky. Then off to the theatre.

First job was to collect lighting gear and bring it to the theatre. The last show I was in where extra lights were brought in was Yeomen in 2009. And before that, Orpheus. Both of which turned out to be amazing. I have a good feeling about this, except in my nose.

When the theatre opened and I'd dumped my stuff at the prompt desk the job of rigging lights began. Yes, this is a lamp, I recognize it and its clamp and its safety chain. It's just the British style power plug on the end that's unfamiliar. But what's this other thing? I see it has a gobo inside it but what's with the little electric motor? It SPINS the gobo? Coolness!

Rigging lights didn't take long and we were able to lay the floor cloth while the designer was focusing them. The set crew laid out rostra and flats without wanting our help so I was able to think about props and cast members and stuff. In a brilliant display of timing the set was basically in place by the time the crew took their mandatory half-hour tea break, so I made my first backstage call for the show, telling everyone to come down and rehearse on it.

Everything went quite smoothly. Unlike two years ago the set was exactly as we expected it to be, so it was just a matter of running a few of the more complicated bits to make sure they'd work as well on a real set as on a masking tape outline of one. A few minor issues to work out, that's normal. I stood in a little hide-away on the apron to relay Diana's directions (yelled from the Upper Circle) to the cast, especially those in the wings who could hear literally nothing.

The crew came back and there were some lighting issues to deal with, which didn't require my input. Time to go back to my list. Test the cues to the MD. Five minutes, no problems at all. But I felt much better after having tested them (despite having used them before and the memory coming back vaguely). Get the expert to rig the pyros. Ah, is that what that box at my desk is.

The expert did his magic and handed me a control box. Use the key to turn it on. Then switch on circuit A. Check the light goes from red to yellow, indicating no electrical fault. Then press the button. No, don't do it now. I felt rather like Douglas Bader did when he was given his first walk-around of a Spitfire and looked at the EIGHT machine guns. This is not a prop, this is a real pyro firing rig.

Lunch time. Unlike two years ago I had no real problems to be solved, so I actually went and ate something. Now I have nothing in particular against cheese and onion pasties, but I swear when I get off the Skybus at Southern Cross I'm going to go to one of the eateries and get myself a meat pie. They don't seem to sell them here, so I haven't had one since... pi day.

After lunch I took a last look at my list and realised that I'd done all the things that needed me to talk to other busy people but hadn't finished putting stand-by cues into my score. Some or all of you may have seen Jack Point's photo of me and Chris sitting in the doorway of the stage door office, Chris typing on Traal and me writing in my score. Well now you know what I was writing. Why were we there? Because the stage was closed and there was literally no space anywhere else. All the dressing rooms were fully occupied and the rooftop area where people were having a mini-picnic was a place for conversation, not work.

Emily (our completely brilliant MD, who looks about 25 but conducts better than some MDs do at 50) wanted ten minutes of music at 2:20 and then ten minutes with the orchestra at 2:30, and I'd to see to that. No problem at all, apart from my nose I was completely unstressed. Besides, it meant I didn't have to worry too much about giving half-hour calls and all that. Not that any of that mattered much in this show - we had to have a Smith make his pre-curtain talk, a longish overture and then an opening scene before the main company were due to come on stage.

The dress rehearsal went off flawlessly all through the first act. The lighting director was plotting each cue live, giving the usual tech rehearsal talk over the cans ("Can I have channel 59 at 30... at 50... Now can I have channel 80 at full... Now save that as cue 14, over 8 seconds") and usually managed to have it plotted by the time the next one was due to be called. Amazing. I guess a lot of the cues (especially when there's three in the space of one song) were basically the same but with a special coming up to highlight a certain piece of action because we don't have spots - but still it's fairly brilliant.

We had a very brief interval and then went on. We got to the only slab of dialogue which goes over two pages and I switched on the ignition of the pyro control. We got to the second page of it and I checked the switch. What, it's already on? Curious. I'd better not do that tonight. We got the cue and I pressed the button.

Nothing. Except Diana yelling.

I checked the switch again. OH NO! It's actually off... the switch for the second circuit (which wasn't plugged into anything) was the one that was on. Me: "Sorry everyone, can I have that line again?"
Fairfax: "Nay Elsie, I did but jest, I spoke but to try thee!"
Elsie: "Try me?"
Pyro: Bang.

Now just in case you think that bang was just a small one, like a firework going off in the distance or a bass drum being tapped with a gentle hand, let me take that notion away from you. I can best sum it up by saying that seasoned performers were put totally off their stride, I was seeing stars, and a few of the orchestra had to emerge from the pit during dialogue to cough up smoke. It was later described as sounding like the start of Wordly - I mean, World War Three. And not one of the modern noise abatement legislation compliant World War Threes either, a really loud smoky one with real JT3s from the 60s.

The technical term for a pyro of that description is "maroon", and in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny... WHAT a maroon!

A few more yells from Diana (which I thought a little unfair, she was shielded from the blast by the proscenium arch) and we got back on track and the rest of the rehearsal went flawlessly.

Until the finale, that is, when there were so many lighting cues that we weren't ready to close the curtain on its cue. Shout shout shout. Calm down, I haven't dropped the ball. Ok we're done plotting, let's go from the last couple of notes. And into the curtain calls. There, done without a hitch and two minutes before the orchestra walk out. You should learn to rely on your stage managers.

There were just a few things to sort out after the dress rehearsal of course, and then a few more, and by the time I got to head home for dinner it was 6.14pm. What are the chances of getting home, cooking, eating and getting back an hour before a 7:30pm curtain? Nil. Good thing I had a big lunch.

So I just sat at my desk and chatted with the crew. Having the extra time to chill out was exactly the right thing to do, stress dropped to zero and the buzz of audience chatter was the perfect lift.

The show went perfectly. Nobody got out of sync with the orchestra, nobody lost a line, nobody missed a cue, acting was flawless, props worked fine (even the spinning wheel), singing was exquisite, and the audience applauded it.

Forewarned this time I had told the cast to block their ears for the explosion. I'd double checked the switch was on too. "I spoke but to try you" "Try me?" BANG! Several audience members commented afterwards on its effectiveness.

Well Jack Point had his dramatic death scene, we got to LX96 and the audience finally stopped applauding and let us go. I never did get to use the jumbo size Aussie flag Chris had put on my desk though.

The adjudicator came around to my desk and the Opera House crew knew he wanted the mid-stage red curtain in and the main house curtain out, to give him a bit more room to stand. They did that and I thought he'd go on straight away, but he gathered his notes together in the wings first. I was a bit impatient but eventually just busied myself with packing stuff up.

He was very complimentary! He's a polite person, unlike some adjudicators, and it takes a while before you know he's actually disliked a show. But this time he was really enthusiastically on our side. Who knows, Savoynet might finally win the festival!

Bump out? We've only just started! Just like the morning we didn't have to worry about set, just props and costumes - and the added lights just had to be stacked out the way, ready for another show four or five days hence.

So it wasn't much past 11pm when we got to the Festival Club to hear our lovely cast do a cabaret. One of our first time chorus gentlemen opened with a hilarious song about a bassoon and all the useful noises you can make with it - demonstrating as he went of course. Our principles did solos, and to do them justice they did them extremely well. There were a few chorus numbers, including a full cast and crew rendition of "Strange adventure". See if you can tell Chris and I aren't singing, I challenge you. :D Strange adventure, that we're trolling...

They closed the bar, we were still all talking. Eventually they came and said lights were going out in five... so we had to farewell these wonderful people. Dame Carruthers and a few others specifically came up to thank us for what we'd done too. Now it is not easy to make a principle smile on a crew member.

Hopefully one day we'll work with these people again. Ah, but tush, I am puling. I always say that after a show.

Don't forget to tune in tomorrow for the exciting tale of how we deal with post-show blues in Buxton.

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