Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thoughts on the Muny

Anyone in St. Louis during the summer probably goes to the Muny at least once. It's located in Forest Park, and it is one of the largest and oldest outdoor theatres in the world. During the summer, the Muny puts on a series of musicals, which this summer included Aida, The Wizard of Oz and The King and I. The Muny employs professional actors and technicians, and is probably one of the preeminent summer stock venues in the country. If you look at the cast bios next time you see a Broadway musical, chances are you will find that some of the members of the cast performed at the Muny at one time or another. In addition, 1,200 of the seats at the Muny (the ones way in the back) are free, so college students can afford to go see all the shows. Having said that, however, the Muny isn't all that great. The main problem at the Muny is the number of shows they do. In order to maximize profit, they cram seven shows into seven weeks, without skipping a day. This gives them less than 24 hours between the end of one show and the beginning of the next. In that time, they have to rip all the set pieces out, put in the new ones, program the light and sound cues, and put it all together into a show. Granted, everyone working at the Muny is very skillful, but even so, putting together a show in under 24 hours is a monumental undertaking. In order to make it work, they cut corners. The lights are bland and static, because programming complex cues takes time. The sets always have similar features, so that it's easier to build them and work the scene changes. The acting and directing isn't very inspired because there isn't much rehearsal time. All these things add up to performances which are enjoyable, and which involve people who are clearly very talented, but which are decidedly, well, blah. They're not sloppy, because the actors and techies are both too talented for that, but they're lacking the kind of intense, refined energy that you would see at a show that had more time to rehearse. Luckily for the Muny, no one really seems to notice. This is a general trend of theatre audiences in general; they have an astonishing capacity to be bored out of their minds for an entire performance, and yet when it's all over, only remember the sparkling, glitzy Act II finale. They'll give the actors a standing ovation and gush about how much they loved the show. I'm still going to go to the Muny for the rest of the summer, because I would never skip an opportunity for free theatre, but if you consider yourself a discerning theatre viewer, don't expect great things from the Muny.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hanging lights with St. Louis Shakespeare

I spent most of my day today helping the St. Louis Shakespeare Company hang lights for their upcoming production of Ovid's Metamorphoses. They work in the Grandel Theatre, which is on Grand, just north of the Fox. The theatre's lighting grid is absolutely awful. There is no metal grating next to the hanging positions to walk on. Instead, someone put a whole bunch of two-by-sixes over top of the support structure for the grid. But they didn't bother to fasten them down. So when you're up in the grid, you're simply walking around on a whole bunch of loose boards, 50 feet above the stage floor. The boards are uneven, and being loose, can be easily moved. So it's easy to trip, and as people shift the boards around to make room for lights, giant gaping holes can open in the floor. Not only that, but as I was working, I noticed that one of vertical support struts, which was supposed to be supporting the weight of the grid, was loose. So loose, in fact, that when I tried to tighten it, it simply came unfastened in my hand. Luckily, the lighting grid didn't come crashing down, but it certainly doesn't inspire great faith in the safety of the theatre. Not only that, but some of the lighting positions aren't even over the boards. They're just sticking out into space. So to hang a fixture on them, one person has to haul the light into the air with a rope, while the other person hangs the fixture one-handed, since his other hand is clamped in a death grip to the nearest solid object, and only his hand is preventing him from pitching headfirst off the grid into the seats below. That person, this time around, was me.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A few instrument maintenance tips

I learned a couple things about destroying lighting instruments today. First: never put a 1000-watt FEL lamp into an old Altman zoom fixture. The bulb is so big that if you slide the back lens all the way back, it will contact the tip of the bulb, causing the lens to shatter because of the heat. We found nine or ten Altmans with this problem. Second: never put a 1000-watt FEL lamp into one of those teensy baby Altman fixtures--it will melt the reflector. As for theatre this summer, I'm currently helping with lighting at St. Louis Shakespeare, and they have a gorgeous theatre. I'll also be running the light board for Hot City Theatre's production of MOments in August.