There comes a time in the course of every theatrical production’s rehearsal process where the focus shifts. Actors’ lines are learned and their characters have been developed. Movements have been choreographed. Scenery is built and lights are focused. Costumes are fit and music is composed. Cue the proverbial dusting off of hands, the satisfied sighs. Show-ready, I used to think.
But first comes a four day marathon known by theater folk as “tech week.”
Tech week is brutal.
It’s the first time we get everyone involved in the show under the same roof, put all the pieces together, and run the damn thing all the way through. It’s a lot of starting and stopping. A lot of going through a scene and realizing that the lights were off a bit, and then going back and doing it again. A lot of actors accidentally saying the wrong line and triggering the sound cue a bit too early. A lot of fumbling with scene changes during intermission, as the stage crew figures out how the merciless iron castors on the bottom of each moving set piece functions.
It’s a week of pre-opening troubleshooting – all this to produce a show that can run all way through, with all the bells and whistles, no stops, no regrets, nothing but applause. Hopefully.
In my past experience, tech week does not –in fact, cannot – happen until the show has been in rehearsal for at least six or seven weeks, as it usually takes six or seven weeks for us college-aged, chronically over-committed students to get our shit together enough to begin running a show as a whole. As anyone could imagine, with the opportunity to develop a show over the course of almost two months, it all can go to hell and back before the cast and crew even dream of performing it in front of any audience.
Stanford Summer Theater puts on their shows in less than four full weeks. That’s just 22 days of rehearsal and crew work.
Let me be clear: a lot can be done in 22 days. In fact, my time spent on the show averaged between 10 and 16 hours per rehearsal day. I’m not one for math, but that adds up. I’ve been eating, drinking, and sleeping this show.
But I mention all of this because tech week is a stage manager’s time in the sun. In the chain of command, I suddenly get catapulted to the top. After weeks of coordinating pieces of the show, I’m the single member of the company whose purpose is to have a true sense of everything’s place in relation to each other. I’ve been on this coordination game all along, so when it comes time to cement the show during tech week, I get to call the shots.
Needless to say, it’s thrilling.
I am the one who comes up with the schedule for tech week in the first place, the one who determines how the day will run, which sections of the show need to be rehearsed and perfected right away and which should be saved for later. During tech week, a lot is going on. Designers and directors and actors alike are making a lot of changes. We all can lose focus, or get frantic, or some alternation of the two, and it is my responsibility to both get the ball rolling during our twelve-hour tech days, and keep it rolling. All members of the company, including higher-ups who’ve been directing me all along, now look to me for direction. Never before has the title “Stage Manager” felt so appropriate.
By far the most delicious aspect of tech week for a stage manager is the ability to operate an expansive PA system, which is lovingly nicknamed the “God mic.” The God mic is a special function on my headset (yes, I am on an actual headset, so as to communicate from the booth behind the seats to the stage crew in the wings – another wonderfully exciting mode of power) that projects my voice not only onto the stage, but into the house, into every actor’s dressing room, the lounge, the front of house, the theater’s bathrooms even. My voice thus can project over the God mic to get actors to hold their places for technical changes, to command folks from one place to another, to order the re-do of a particular scene or the skipping ahead to a particular line during the run, and essentially notify the whole company what the plan of action currently is and will continue to be.
On day one of tech, I couldn’t sleep the night before. To have a room full of talented and expecting peers (whose respect I’d likely lose if a major managing mishap were made during tech) and many adults (almost all of whom have been acting, designing, directing, producing, etc. in theater for longer than I have existed on the planet) was incredibly overwhelming. But day one went well. No real issues. No problematic slip-ups. And day two went well. As day three approaches, I hope it will continue to do so.
No, I’ll make sure it will do so.
Stanford Summer Theater’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Lynne Soffer, opens tonight at Pigott Theater on campus. Get tickets and more information here.