Monday, June 16, 2008

10% of Molly Snyder; 110% of Tech

Yesterday was Tech Day for the next Montgomery Theater production: 10% of Molly Snyder by Richard Strand. I had anticipated fairly light duty: All the props had been secured; the lighting designer had already gone through a "dry" tech with the director; and my sound design consisted of only eight songs for transition music and two sound effects. One of those effects I had to build from three separate files, but that took all of 5 or 10 minutes.

This is, however, the first production using video projection, and that brought a new set of issues for us all to consider. Perhaps these issues could have been considered prior to the tech. Perhaps I should have been the one to direct that discourse. I'm not certain as I'm still trying to stay afloat while I work out what exactly my interactions and responsibilities are regarding the professional designers hired by the theater.

Let us briefly look at the challenges that video projection introduces:
  1. Coordinating Technical Cues -- With the addition of video projection, we now have a separate set of video cues to add into the mix of lighting and sound cues. On top of that, the stage manager, who runs the light board and the sound PC, must call out cues to an ASM who accesses the computer for the video system backstage.
  2. Short Training Time -- Yesterday was the first day for our ASM to start playing with the video cues ... on a system he has never before seen. There will be a bit of a learning curve to say the least.
  3. Competing Light -- Video projection, by definition, is the projection of a video image onto a screen. If you have ever been in a theater (even a home theater), you will soon understand where I am going with this comment. Usually, projection is done in a dark room. However, for a stage performance, we need to light the actors and the set. So now there is a delicate balance between how bright the stage lighting can be before it cancels out the projection. Particularly in our case because the video projection is coming from behind the set.
  4. Blackout? What Blackout? -- This is an expansion on the previous point. There is no "blackout" for a video projector. "Video black" is still a projection (that does not look "black" at all), and it is brighter than the exit signs. During a full stage lighting blackout, this eerie rectangular glow can be something of a nice effect -- unless you actually need a full stage blackout to move actors and props around. Apparently, there is an add-on device (or maybe a standard feature on certain projector models) that shutters the projector to achieve the full blackout. Well, once our set designer realized we needed to go full black for several scene transitions, he went in and worked with the ASM to mock up a manual version of the shutter/douser. Now the ASM just needs a little practice with it -- and he needs to be cued to use it.

Now, all of the above points are simply challenges we have to work out this week. Nothing insurmountable. And I love a challenge as much as the next techie. The only complaint I have, if indeed I am raising a complaint, is the lack of communication going into the tech run.

Oh! That and the fact that a soundFX speaker that had worked fine during the last production was completely silent at the beginning of Tech. So I had to spend a good 3o minutes or so troubleshooting said speaker, only to finally locate the the source of the issue in the control booth -- the problem is always in the last place you expect -- and not in the line to the speaker or the speaker itself. An input wire for the speaker selector had been broken, presumably when the lighting board and monitor were taken out for use in the house.

The rehearsal this Tuesday should be much smoother.

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