Curiosity is terminal

Sunday, 14 January 2018

It Was A Wonderful Show

I mentioned last fall that I had taken a job as the the set carpenter for the local theatre. The theatre was in a bit of flux this year: The set carpenter for the previous two years decided that he wanted to stay with his summer job; the light tech moved to England to be with her fiancĂ©; the prop expert decided to go back to school and the costume/wardrobe mistress moved south because of her husband's work.  Previous to all of this happening, I had made the acquaintance of the production manager and he put me on the volunteer list for the second MainStage performance. He thought, until the day before the season actually started, that his carpenter was returning.  

So I was offered the actual job at the last minute in a bit of a panic. He was pleasantly surprised that I could build things, needed little instruction or supervision and also that I was interested in learning new things. Because Jules and Dirk and Jake's Gift travels with all of its set and nothing needs to be built, all there was to do was hang and focus the lights. Lights are their own art, and I have a new appreciation for their importance in theatre. Sadly, we do not have a mechanical light system, which means that we work from scaffolds and ladders. I am not fond of being up high. I prefer the stability of a scaffold over working on a ladder, not to mention the advantage of being able to reach multiple locations from one, but I don't care for being off the ground very much.  It's not my favourite part of the process, no matter how much I admire the effect.  

Mainstage 2, on the other hand, had a big, busy set. I started building set pieces in September, when I would ordinarily be building MainStage 1, and there were several changes before it was all finally assembled. I don't care much for spending my days undoing and then redoing the work I did yesterday, but apparently this is a theatre thing. In the end, the work was worth it. 

We presented It's a Wonderful Life as our Christmas production.  I have never seen the movie, can you believe that? We presented it as a radio play, with live a live foley artist doing sound. The set was the interior of a  40's radio station.   Doing a straight up radio show doesn't provide a lot to watch, so our director did something I thought was pretty cool: He started the play 15 minutes early, as soon as the house opened, with 15 minutes of improvisation. As you were taking your seat, the actors were arriving at the radio station, checking out the microphones, practicing lines and sounds and chatting informally with each other. The actors are called to the mics, a countdown is called,  the "On Air" sign lights up, and the radio play begins. For the first 15 minutes of the play, it is a straight up radio show, actors coming to the mics with their scripts and reading the play. All sounds are produced by the foley artist at stage right, including all footstep and door openings and closings. But then, just as a now grown George meets the also grown Mary, it becomes a play. From this point, the actors begin to act and interact as the characters in the play and they also produce the footstep and door sounds. I thought it was pretty cool, and nearly all  of the feedback I saw on the play was positive, although some people were confused at first.  

That is my set, at the top of this post. I built its bones, all of them, the raised floors, the walls, the foley desk at stage right (that's on the left of the photo), the benches and desk, and the wind and thunder machines as well as a few other noise machines that are not visible. I didn't design it and I neither painted nor dressed the set, but the bones are all me.  

You might notice that there is a sound booth behind the foley desk. Because a radio station needs a sound booth, right? A sound booth needs someone doing sound tech and running the mics, right?  There is no sound tech in the script and there are no characters who can believably be put in that booth, so what to do with a booth that actually takes up a large portion of the set? Why, run the light controls into it and put the light tech on stage, that's what! And so I was on stage, playing the sound technician and running the lights. I was the first one on stage, and most of the actors checked in with me during the improvisation as if I was the boss. It was very fun.  The actors, all professionals from Toronto and Stratford and Vancouver and Calgary, were fantastic. They were utterly professional, generous and kind. I have worked two shows, with a total of 12 out-of-town professional actors and two professional directors, and if they are representative of professional theatre in this country, then something REALLY great is happening in theatre here.  They were a joy.  It was one of the funnest experiences of my life. I am really glad I had this time and met all these kind folks before my real life went to hell in a hand basket.  

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