Know where you are going

When I was starting out in college, I majored in theater (emphasis on technical theater).  Silly thing is, I only received an Associate of Arts (2 year degree program) in theater, because I wanted to be an archaeologist.  So, yeah, I went to another college/university to get my degree in that.  But I digress.

While getting my degree in theater I had to take acting classes.  Acting can be fun, but I prefer to be behind the scenes.  Something very useful that they teach the actors is to know where you are going.  This is useful for them when something goes wrong (someone forgets a line, there is some technical glitch, whatever).  It is obvious when you have an amateur actor on stage when something goes wrong because they will often freeze, run off stage, or do something really stupid.  On the other hand, a well trained actor will handle the situation so well that you, in the audience, will be hard pressed to know if they are covering up a faux pas or if they actually rehearsed it that way. 

We as technicians should follow their lead.  We should be prepared for all contingencies for when things not going as planned.  How will you make it look?  How will you get the set changes done?  How is it going to sound?  How are you going to keep the magic alive?  This is especially difficult for those of us who have very short runs (one or two weekends) like academic theater.  You have been spending all your time making the costumes, sets, setting up the lights and sound, and only have one week to rehearse with the cast to make magic.  How are you supposed to plan for every contention?

The first thing that needs to be done with any show is organization.  By having all of your paperwork prepared and carefully organized, not scribbles on random scraps of paper, then you will have a point of reference to make accommodations for the inevitable.  Do not depend on others to tell you what you are going to do, but give them the options to choose from.  After all, the stage manager needs your expertise to make everything run right.  They will just be coordinating the action, but you have to know where you are going. 

Hopefully, technicians who work on long running or permanent productions have the opportunity to rehearse contingency plans.  After all, there is more likely to be returning audience members and they will be able to spot mistakes unless you make it look like a planned change. 

Let's think about some of the things that could go wrong.  If you have to skip a scene (say a major scenic piece prevents you from going there for some reason), it should be simple to just jump a few cues and get on track with the next scene.  What will you do with any scroller units that have to change frames or a mover that has changes but are live in the cue you are in and the one you are going to?  What if the stage manager decides to do the skipped scene in front of the main rag but all your cues are written for upstage?  What if you are using wireless mics and now don't have time to switch packs on actors?  Can you accommodate a quick costume change?  Can you finish the rest of the show if the set piece is now blocking other scenes as well?

I can't tell you the answers to all of these scenarios, but I can tell you that a well seasoned technician will not build a show without contingency plans in place.  After all, everyone expects the show to go on and no matter what the problem is, they expect you to make it happen.  We make our jobs look easy when things go right, make sure that you do so even when things go wrong.  You will be appreciated.