Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 8-15-07

Sorry I haven't posted much recently--I've gotten to that part of the summer where everything has pretty much become routine (Oh, you want us to replace an entire lineset? Yep, been there, done that), so I don't consider as many things interesting enough to write about. At the same time, I'm also tired, so I have less energy to write. However, we're getting close to the end of the summer, and there are some things I want to cover before I forget about them.

First off, last week was Mark Morris Dance Group. For some reason, they traditionally start their performances a day early, which meant that we didn't get a day off last week. That was okay with me, because I ran sound, and I got to work with live musicians, which are kind of a trademark of Mark Morris. Another trademark of Mark Morris is that he's a personality, and he certainly is that--when one of the interns came onstage to give him flowers at the end of the performance, he swooped her down and kissed her full on the mouth in front of 600 people and a bunch of video cameras.

This week we have Henri Oguike, and his choreography is some of the best I've seen this summer--I really like it. I also like the fact that he brought freaking taiko drums with him. The drumming piece is loud and energetic and a whole ton of fun. Apparently the drumming keeps shaking loose bits of wood and dust from the rafters of the theatre, and anything loud enough to do that gets my enthusiastic approval.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/26/07

A couple notes of interest:

We have a new production coordinator, named John, in the Duke theatre, while Hannah (Rocky) is now the Shawn production coordinator. It's not really my business to say why, but the old production coordinator of the Shawn is no longer at the Pillow.

This week's company is the "Bad Boys of Dance". It's a "project company", which means they were assembled for the specific purpose of doing this one performance. That means that the tech process was a little less smooth than normal, because they're putting this all together from scratch. Most companies come in having performed their pieces dozens or hundreds of times before, so the stage manager and lighting designer know how everything works. With these guys, however, our day and a half of tech time is also what would be the equivalent of tech week at the university level. Today was a bit frustrating, but I think we'll get it all worked out.

A reporter from the local NPR station, WAMC, was here today, which I thought was cool, because it's the first time I've ever seen a radio reporter in the field. Print journalists and photographers carry cameras, laptops, and notepads, but this guy was just walking around with a microphone and some sort of recording device. It was very simple and elegant. I'm going to see if I can find out when his piece airs.

I encountered a frog in the men's bathroom this evening. I caught it and released it in the local pond. There are a couple frogs and a salamander that have taken up residence in the pools of rainwater caught by the tarps covering our piles of platforms. Still haven't seen any bears.

I'm starting to get tired. Not that I don't enjoy being here, but the days are long, and the summer is even longer, so I find that I need more and more alone time and sleep to stay happy and energetic during the days. I'm glad we're past the halfway point--I can at least see the end on the distant horizon.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/21/07

Inside/Out was actually outside today! Huzzah! I'm glad it was, because today was the performance of the School, and trying to cram all 25 students into the Ruth St. Denis would have sucked. Plus I'm sick and tired of setting up chairs.

I met a very friendly (but somewhat shy) Bichon Frise named Dudley, who was coming to his first I/O performance, and I saw a girl avidly reading the 7th Harry Potter book. The show itself was a toughie--the first half was a bunch of short pieces with quick bits of speaking in between. The show went something like this:

  • Un-mute microphone
  • Mute microphone when speaker finished.
  • Start music playing
  • Fade up music
  • Fade out music at end of dance
  • Pause music once it is faded out
  • Cue up next track
  • Repeat
The cues themselves weren't tricky, but there never seemed to be more than 30 seconds of downtime, so I was constantly checking levels and equalization settings and trying to visualize my next set of actions so that the coming cue would go off correctly. It was a pretty big adrenaline rush; I was feeling exhausted for fifteen or twenty minutes after that.

Derek told me today that I did a really good job this week, which makes me proud. Derek isn't really the kind of person that I would normally seek out to work with, but I know he has very high standards for the work he does, and so the fact that I seem to have (mostly) lived up to those standards is pleasing.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/20/07

We almost managed to have Inside/Out outdoors today, but despite a lovely afternoon, it started to rain at around 5:30PM, so we had to move into the Ruth St. Denis studio again.

The only other point of interest is that I almost ran over Paul Taylor today; he was backstage during the second intermission scene change, and I nearly collided with him as I was coming down the stairs from the fly loft. Oops.

I can't deny that I'm excited for Harry Potter #7, which will hopefully arrive in the mail tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/18/07

Today was our first actual Inside/Out (I/O) performance, but I didn't really do anything--the Chunky Move sound dude did all their sound (even though it was easy and I totally could have done it), and it was raining all day long. That meant I wasn't doing anything during the actual show, and we couldn't do any projects on the I/O space because we would have gotten all our equipment soaking wet.

So anyway, I just sat on my butt all day and read Harry Potter. I finished the sixth book, which is really depressing, and I was doubly depressed because I didn't like sitting around while everyone else was working. It's weird--even though I'm really busy here and am always glad for a break, it doesn't feel good to have a break when all my comrades-in-arms are still busily working.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little bit less relaxing. ;-)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/17/07

This week marks the halfway point for me; it is the sixth out of eleven festival weeks, and not only that, but this is my week to work on Inside/Out or I/O. I/O is our third stage--in addition to selling tickets at the Duke and Shawn theatres, we also provide free performances every night on the I/O stage, which is located outside in a natural amphitheatre. Working I/O is a completely different experience from working in the other two theatres, because a) it is outdoors and hence subject to weather and critters, b) there are only two of us running it, instead of a crew backstage and a bunch of ushers in the house, and c) you always get done by 8PM, because after that it's dark and you can't see.

The only weird part is that the guy in charge of I/O is named Derek. Yes, Derek. So when the first company shows up tomorrow, he'll say "Hi, my name's Derek, and this is my assistant for the week, Derek." That won't get confusing at all.

Anyway, Derek can sometimes be a taskmaster, but I know I impressed him today with my carpentry skills when he assigned me to make speaker stands for either side of the stage. Hopefully that'll cut me a little slack if I screw up any during the rest of the week, but I'm actually not too worried, since my responsibilities are mostly sound-related, and I'm good at sound.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/14/07

Today is photography day! I few days ago I sat down with Rose Eichenbaum, a professional dance photographer. We mainly chatted about composition, and today I took a bunch of photos of the Royal Danish Ballet to try and test out some of her tips. I apologize for the slight blurriness of most of these photos--a point-and-shoot camera, even a nice one, simply isn't made for shooting high-speed dance photos. Still, I think the composition of many of them is a big step up from what I have been doing with dance, so I hope you all can just take a step back and enjoy! This is top-notch ballet, by the way. You may find better photos, but you probably won't find better dancers anywhere, really.

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Note the stump.
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Not dance, but super cute. It's not just a red squirrel, it's a baby red squirrel.
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This is our stage manager/lighting designer Mårten (pronounced Morton). His superpower is that he can balance a chair on his chin.
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Hope you've liked the photos. By the way, there were two bear sightings today, but I managed to miss both.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/12/07

I spent today reading the entire fourth Harry Potter book, since I didn't have call until 6:30PM. It was pretty good; I'm going to be happy when the fifth arrives in the mail, although one of the people here inadvertently told me what happens at the end of it because she thought it was the fourth book. Oops.

Anyway, the Royal Danish Ballet is going well; the slang term here is "lights 'n tights", and that's pretty much all it involves. The dancers put on their tights, we turn on the lights, and off they go. It's nice and simple, which makes me glad, because when things get difficult, people get snippy, and I'm still kind of recovering from Aurelia, which, though it was a good show, had a very stressful setup period.

A couple of the Royal Danish Ballet's dances have stood out. There's a world premiere called "My Knees Are Cold" (the dancers are wearing shorts and not-quite-knee-high socks) which I really like. It certainly has a similar style to what Yuri choreographed for Gala: a little bit of a fusion of ballet, jazz, and modern styles, and upbeat, fun music.

There's also a more classical work about two horse jockeys having a race, which I always find hilarious, because the two dancers prance around carrying riding crops and wearing ridiculous striped jockey jerseys.

Those are probably my two favorite pieces, although a couple others are enjoyable. The really classical stuff just kind of puts me to sleep, although finding out that one of their tutus cost $10,000 was pretty interesting (and they don't even store it properly!).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/10/07

One of the things I love about theatre is the quirky things you are sometimes required to do; today's quirky activity started when the Royal Danish Ballet showed up and immediately asked us to procure a tree stump.

Yes, a tree stump. One of their shows is a pastoral piece about a guy dancing with pixies in the forest (kind of like Belladonna, except without him getting eaten at the end), and so in order to give a sense of the setting, they decided to put a tree stump on stage. Preparing that seemingly-simple piece of scenery actually required a lot of work.

First, we had to find a tree stump. A couple Operations interns went out to the bonfire wood pile and found a nice big one. Once they gave it to us, we first prepped it by cutting off a loose bit of wood on the bottom. Next, we covered the bottom with a felt-like fabric called duvetine so that the wood wouldn't scratch the marley floor. We cut the duvetine so that it approximately matched the contours of the wood, and then stapled it to the sides of the stump (not the bottom of the stump, or the staples would scratch, and not too high on the sides because we don't want the duvetine to be very visible). Next, we wrote on the staples with black Sharpie so that they would be black and not stand out against the duvetine, and finally, we brushed down the entire stump to get as many loose bits of bark and sawdust off before we took it on stage.

We had to talk to the dancers to find the appropriate position and orientation of the stump, and then we had to put spike tape on the floor and on the stump so that we can put it back into the same position every night. Once the stump was spiked, we carted it off stage right. During the show, at the appropriate time, Jason will wheel it onto the stage on a dolly. I will assist him in putting it onto the stage from the dolly, and I will bring with me a dustpan and a brush to sweep up any bits that fall off in the process of lifting the stump. Once we have the stump set, I will sweep up the loose bits of wood and store the dolly with me stage left. When we strike the stump after it has been used, Jason and I will put the stump back onto the dolly, and then Jason will cart it back to stage right, while I sweep up any more wood bits that have landed on the floor.

As you can see, a fair amount of thought goes into simply putting a tree stump on a dance stage, so if you ever see one, you'll know some of the things that had to be done to get it there.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/7/07

I had a long talk with Brian and Mark today about the state of computers in theatre, and it seems that the theatrical world is a strange mix of low and high tech. For instance, ETC, the dominant maker of lighting consoles, still produces and sells DOS-based lighting consoles, long after DOS has ceased to be even a remotely viable operating system. Not only that, but even though all consoles have the capability to store a show to a floppy (!) disk, there is no standardized format for storing shows, and no one has made a translation program.

This means that if you are a traveling show, and you want your show to run at a theatre, but that theatre has a different type of lighting console than you do, then you either bring your console along with you (there is a standard for how consoles control lights, thank goodness), or you have to print out all your lighting cues and have someone manually type them in once you get to the new place. There is another piece of annoyance in getting from design to execution. The design program that most lighting designers use is called VectorWorks, and it has pretty advanced lighting design and management capabilities when combined with a program called LightWright. It can deal with circuits, dimmers, channels, hanging positions, and instrument types. Unfortunately, there is no effective way to go directly from a VectorWorks plot to a lighting console and have it work.

These all sound like problems that could be solved with not very much trouble, given enough time and effort. I may make theatrical programming projects into a hobby of mine next year, to keep my hand in.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/6/07

We had to store the A-frame ladder outside tonight, and because it was wet and raining, when we brought it back in, it was crawling with slugs. Several people got slugs on their clothes, and we had to pick several of them off the floor. Yep, that's pretty much the only interesting thing that happened today.

Oh, and there was a bear sighting--but not by me, sadly.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/5/07

Guy, of Club Guy and Roni, made a really interesting comment last night during a question and answer session after the Inside/Out performance. An audience member asked what language they use when rehearsing, since they have company members from all over the world. The answer, unsurprisingly, was English, but then Guy commented that he found it interesting to be in the US—because everyone here speaks English as a first language. I imagine that after speaking in English almost exclusively with people who did not speak it growing up, and then finding oneself in the middle of a country where everyone spoke it growing up must be rather jarring. You no longer have to work as hard to communicate since everyone understands you nearly perfectly, and suddenly people are using new vocabulary words, new idioms, and talking twice as quickly as you're used to. They're probably feeling how a Classical Studies major might feel if he or she were suddenly dropped in the middle of the Roman Empire.

Tonight's performance went well, except for the fact that it has been pouring rain all evening. That didn't really affect us at all, although Rocky, our production coordinator, told us that in the event of a power outage, we were to immediately stick our flashlights out the windows of the booth in order to provide light for the audience to calmly use the nearest exit. Yay for being a technician; I'm tempted to keep wearing my gear once I get to law school, just so that I can be the one guy walking around with a wrench, gloves, flashlight, multi-tool and Sharpies in his pockets. I think that'd be pretty amusing, although I might run out of pockets; I don't carry my cell phone or wallet with me here, since they're essentially useless.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/4/07

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! My holiday was marked by lots and lots of rain, but at least I got to see a cool dance concert. Club Guy and Roni did an excerpt of their full piece for Inside/Out, our free outdoor performance (which was today Outside/In because it was raining a lot), and I ran lights.

I really liked the piece, at least from what I saw of it. It was humorous, it combined multiple forms of performance, including speaking and singing, and the choreography was powerful. We didn't do the full light cues tonight, but the dance didn't really need them; it stood on its own. One aspect of the dance that especially stood out for me was their jumps. The dancers leapt into the air from almost every conceivable position, and they jumped high. Seeing someone suddenly fly three feet into the air from what appeared to be a nearly prone position was incredible.

The piece also featured a stuffed pheasant wrapped in Christmas lights. When asked about the significance of the bird during the post-show discussion, Guy, the artistic co-director replied "Absolutely nothing." Plenty of other things in the dance had lots of significance, so it was nice to see that he had plenty of irreverence to go along with his message.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/3/07

Not much of interest happened today; we mainly just did changeover for Club Guy and Roni, which was just a lot of lighting work. We did lay a giant faux-wood floor, which was kind of cool, and apparently they're using a black light, so I'm excited to see that. Otherwise, the first three Harry Potter books arrived in the mail today, so I'm going to dive in and see if I can get all six finished by the time the seventh is released. I'm about halfway through the first book already, which is nice, but as we all know, they get much longer as the series progresses, so I'm not holding my breath that I'll finish. We'll see.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 7/1/07

Judging by the amount of crap in the Duke right now, I'm probably not going to make it to bed until some ungodly hour of the morning, so this is going to be a combination post for yesterday and today. It seems that Fridays and Saturdays are going to be the least interesting days of my week, since I will have already seen and written about the show at least a couple times by then, so don't necessarily expect a daily post if I don't have anything to say. You all probably don't want to hear a detailed account of how many pieces I added to the jigsaw puzzle currently in progress in the Campus Center.

How much crap is there in the Duke? Well, it would be tough to take a picture because it is spread all over the place, but I think an inventory list (only approximate, since it is only what I can remember) will get the message across:

  • Two lengths of truss spanning the entire stage
  • A big red curtain
  • Two red curtain legs which travel across the stage
  • Two more sets of two black curtain legs which remain fixed
  • A large chest of drawers
  • A flower vase, a round table, and a coat rack
  • A costume that makes the wearer look like she is walking on her hands
  • A toy train track
  • A costume that makes the wearer look like he is being carried by a coat
  • A small tap dance floor
  • Various articles of clothing suspended from the ceiling
  • A contraption that allows someone to look like they are turning into sand and falling through a funnel
  • A giant puppet stage, at least ten feet across by ten feet in depth
  • A small puppet stage, probably four by eight feet
  • A litter (as in, a chair carried by two people on their shoulders)
  • At least two or three ladders
  • A costume which makes the wearer look as if she had a hole in her torso
  • A lots of other stuff that I can't recall at the moment, but which we will nonetheless have to pack up tonight and put into a truck

It is next to impossible to walk through the wings of the Duke, the shop is full of their road cases, and even with that, we still had to truck some of the road cases out to one of the farther dance studios that no one uses and put them in there. We had to remove and/or reposition several of our side lighting booms to accommodate all the stuff in the wings.

Luckily, the guys coming next week (Club Guy and Roni) aren't using the side booms at all, so we'll have all week to get them back into working order. The reason Club Guy isn't using side booms is because they are going to turn the theatre into a giant room. That is, they will use big giant cloth flats (or something; I haven't seen exactly how it works yet) to cover the three onstage walls. This actually makes me pretty happy, since it will cut down on the lighting work quite a bit. They don't really seem to care about the lighting too much anyway; the plot they sent us made no sense, and in the words of our lighting coordinator, looked like it was "sketched out on a bar napkin." So I'm hoping Club Guy will be a little less crazy than this week was, although now that we've gotten to know each other, the Aurélia folks are actually pretty cool.

Thomas, the lighting guy, left us a note two days ago saying "See you to the pub?" and Nassir, the sound guy, wanted to show me a free sound program which you can use to play back cues just by using a "Go" button (currently, he is using three MiniDisc players, two of which have their two channels split into four). The program is called SeqCon, but he says he doesn't use it simply because of reliability issues--you always know that a MiniDisc player will work, but computers tend to crash, quit, and otherwise explode in ways that are unacceptable in a theatrical situation.

Well, I've wasted about as much time as I can in typing, so I'm going to post this and then try and think of something to do with the rest of my day; everyone partied hard last night, so I don't think people will be getting up for at least a few hours yet, and we don't have call until 3:30PM.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/30/07

Today was a bit slow; Fridays usually are, since we don't really have anything to do until the evening show. I finished Will in the World, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Shakespeare. I also watched the video of the State Ballet of Georgia, which I had never seen from the front. A nice old lady joined me in the archives to watch it, which was fun.

I took a picture that I'm proud of, although I wish I had a better camera so it could be bigger. It's a shot of the Barton Mumaw weathervane on top of the Ted Shawn Theater, silhouetted against the full moon. I think it's pretty cool, but I wish I had a better zoom lens so that it could be a bit bigger; this is as big as it gets.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/28/07, Post 2

I just found a New York Times review of Nina Anananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia, which summarizes their pieces better than I could. Enjoy! Check out if you don't want to register with the Times.

Pillow Posts -- 6/28/07

L'Oratorio d'Aurelia, which is the formal name of Aurélia Thierée's show, is absolutely wonderful. Imagine a circus with the aesthetic sensibilities of Amélie, and you're somewhere in the ballpark of L'Oratorio. It is full of impressive acrobatics drawn straight from a big tent performance, combined with the visual puns and creative twists on familiar activities that I am starting to expect from the French. In many cases, the "dancers" are actually pieces of furniture, curtains, or puppets.

Not only that, but we turned the Duke into a proscenium theatre in two days. Before:Library - 123.jpg
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Photos of L'Oratorio.

Things got very stressful this morning as the deadline for the dress rehearsal drew ever closer, while the list of things to be completed before then seemed to stay the same length or grow longer. However, we got enough done to run the dress, and everything was in great shape for the performance, which went very well. The sad part is, I have nothing to do with the actual performances; the sound and lights are just as much a part of the choreography as the props and performers, so they insisted on doing their own lights and sound. That's fine by me, since without a stage manager calling the show, there's no way I could have gotten it right after only one rehearsal, so the show would have suffered. I know my limits as a technician, and the sound is pretty intense.

Anyway, once we got the show running and two successful runs under our belts, their technicians were much happier. In fact, while we were doing a post-show debriefing, their lighting designer came into the theatre and yelled (in a great French accent) "Vhat are you doing? Eet eez beer o'clock!"

Pillow Posts -- 6/27/07

So, Aurelia is absolutely insane. Not the woman--she's nice. But her show is crazy complex. I have never seen a theatre more jam-packed with stuff than the Duke is right now. There are multiple additional legs, two extra travelers, a mirror ball, dresses, a trapeze, and a number of gizmos whose function I don't really understand, hanging from our grid right now. Not only that, but the floor is littered with furniture, toys, puppets, and the road cases that everything came in. We worked an extra hour today getting everything up, and we still have more work to do tomorrow morning before our dress rehearsal at noon, and then it's showtime tomorrow evening.

I'm going to take a few pictures tomorrow before call, because I want you all to be able to compare what the space looked like to what it looks like now--the change is astonishing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/26/07

Today we began to work on load-in for Aurélia Thiereé, and we have a huge amount of work to do; we're transforming our studio theatre into a proscenium space. We've hung a giant main rag in the front, and we're working on hanging a black curtain in back and several sets of legs.

The purpose of all this, as Aurélia's technicians so eloquently put it, is to "hide the magic." In other words, they're blocking off as much of the audience's view as they can so that the gizmos and gadgets they use aren't revealed. And boy, do they have a LOT of gizmos and gadgets. We were taking a break at one point today, and suddenly Aurélia comes in and asks us to help move a crate that was in the sun, because she was worried the contents would get too hot. We opened the road case, and inside were at least a dozen string puppets made in part out of plastic pop bottles. This is going to be an awesome show.

In less happy news, I'm not going to get to run sound for Aurélia; apparently their system is complex and it took their sound guy like a month to learn, so I don't get to operate the sound board during the show. It's too bad, but I still get to learn a lot, and I will get to be in the booth during shows.

Also on a less happy note, the intern who had heat exhaustion also had something more serious: he has a congenital heart defect which had gone undetected until now, and so he won't be able to continue working with us. We'll all be sad to see him go; it's not fun to lose a member of what has by now become a very close group.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/24/07

Today was the last performance of the State Ballet of Georgia, and I'm really going to be sad to see them go. I find their culture fascinating; they have an alphabet and language all to themselves, and they are incredibly family-oriented, as I already mentioned. We had a cookout-style dinner after their performance, and although I was shy at first, I finally summoned up enough courage to sit down with a group of them to eat dessert, and I'm really glad I did!

For my trouble, I learned some of their names, how to say "goodbye" in Georgian ("car-gat"), received compliments on my pronunciation of "Tbilisi", their capitol ("Tbee-lee-see"), which they also gave me a postcard of, on which Nina pointed out where her house is in it. She also gave me a hug, which was nice of her--as I said, they're very family-oriented; how many other companies do you think there are where you can sit down with a world-renowned ballerina and eat ice cream and play with a cute baby?

Nina's daughter Elena is the most adorable baby I've ever met in my life, and she's incredibly lucky to have more than 20 extra mothers and fathers. Sergei, the principal dancer, was playing with her last night, and he put a big foam makeup pad into his mouth and made growling sounds with it to try and get her to laugh. This was backstage, during the curtain call, and he was all decked out in sparkling sequins and rhinestones and dancer tights while he pretended to be a dog. Elena smiled, but I nearly died laughing.

Here are some photos of the company after the show today.
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The dancers from Balanchine's Mozartiana. The little girls in front are not actually Georgian; the company requested we find them girls, so these kids are imported from the School of American Ballet in NYC.

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A group shot of most of the company after Petipa's Don Quixote had finished. Nina is the woman in the lower left wearing the crazy red tutu.

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A few of the dancers from Trey McIntyre's Second Before Ground posing. Apologies for the goofy exposure; I had to take this quickly because it was in the middle of an intermission, and we needed to clean up all the confetti that you can see scattered on the ground.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/23/07

I'm really going to miss the Georgians after they leave tomorrow. This week started out tense, since neither we nor they were quite sure how to act around each other, but once we got the first few shows out of the way, everyone relaxed and we all began to do what people do best: connecting. They began showing us their newspapers and their money, and teaching us their language. There's something intensely human about meeting people from the opposite side of the globe and realizing that they're pretty much the same as you are.

I'll try and do a full wrap-up of the pieces they performed on Monday; right now it's late and I'm really cold, since the breakfast nook where I'm typing this has no heating (although, like most of the buildings around here, it does have mice).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/22/07

In each run of a show, there is always a night that just doesn't quite go right. Tonight's performance was that night.

To start off, the weather today has been capricious at best; without exaggerating, I can say that I have seen blinding sunshine and torrential downpours within 15 minutes of each other. About the only thing constant about the weather today was that it was cold and windy, which made for an unpleasant dancing environment inside of our barn, which has no heating and doors which do not latch shut.

While I sat outside holding the exterior doors of the theatre shut and trying to make sure that the tarps we use to cover our outdoor backstage crossover didn't blow away in the gale force winds, all kinds of drama was happening inside of the theatre. One of the dancers became dizzy and nauseous, and the state news network of Georgia was constantly trying to film onstage, which a) isn't allowed, and b) was preventing us from putting on the next portion of the show. Not only that, but there was a minor sound screw up, where the sound stopped and then restarted.

But hey, it's live theatre--these things happen. You just work through it and go on to the next show. Still, it's kind of a downer when everything seems to happen at once. On the other hand, I'd probably prefer one bad night with a bunch of issues to four good nights with one minor issue each.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/21/07

Theatrically, today was a slow day; the State Ballet of Georgia is very self-contained, so they don't require much effort from us in order to keep things going. However, today was a bit frightening in another way: as I was walking over to Inside/Out, I saw one of my fellow interns being wheeled into an ambulance. That was frightening; the verdict is that he was suffering from some sort of heat exhaustion, so that kind of hits home that we all need to stay hydrated (which I of course never do).

In other news, happy birthday Ehren!

I'm very happy to be in show mode--I don't have to be anywhere until 10:30AM tomorrow!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/20/07

As I mentioned before, the State Ballet of Georgia has a very different way of working, but now that I've gotten to watch the way they work for a while, I really like it. Theatre in America is very impersonal; authority is usually pretty strictly divided, and the emphasis is usually on efficiency. We joke around, but the measure of how good you are is how quickly and perfectly you can accomplish the task at hand.

State Ballet of Georgia, however, has kind of a My Big Fat Greek Wedding approach to theatre. I can't understand what they're saying, but most conversations usually involve two or three people talking simultaneously, all repeating the same thing over and over, and I assume that the last person to repeat their thing wins. They brought along a baby (the principal dancer's), family members, tons of crew of various types, and apparently a bicycle, since I don't know how else they could have possibly come up with one on the first day they were here.

The end result is that their dance company is more like a giant extended traveling family than what I would normally think of as a dance company. Yes, I'm sure that American dancers become very close to the people in their dance companies, but I don't think that they bring babies and their spouses along for the ride whenever they travel. It was very heartwarming to watch, because they would all celebrate after they finished each dance, whereas the professional American dancers I've seen so far simply throw on their street clothes and go home as fast as possible; it's a different attitude, certainly.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pillow Posts -- 6/18/07

Gala is finally over! We worked from 9AM Saturday to 2:30AM Sunday, and we still had a full day of cleanup to do once we all woke up again on Sunday. That should give you some idea of the magnitude of the event, so you can appreciate that we're all very glad to have made it to the (comparatively) stress-free regular festival season. Also, I am going to skip numbering the days of my posts since I can't for the life of me remember what day it is now, and I'm too lazy to calculate from previous posts, especially since the day of the post doesn't always correspond to the day it was posted.

This post is mainly going to be a wrap-up of the Gala event. The event was broken up into two major parts: an event which occurred outdoors and two events occurring indoors. The indoor event was a variety show in the Ted Shawn Theatre, for which I worked deck crew. I didn't really get to see much because I was in the wings backstage, but I could hear and see enough.

The first act was the premiere of a new work by Yuri Possokhov, performed by the Ballet School here at Jacob's Pillow. We bring in high-caliber dancers for 2-3 week school sessions taught by illustrious faculty all throughout the summer, and these particular students were lucky enough to get to perform in the Ted Shawn. I loved the piece--it was fast-paced, humorous, and creative; every time Yuri used a common choreographic element, he would follow it with a twist on that element that I usually hadn't seen anyone do before. The audience loved it too--the dancers received thunderous applause.

The second act was a duet by the State Ballet of Georgia (the country, not the state). It featured their two principal dancers, and it was absolutely stunning. The talent of the two dancers made the ballet school students, many of whom dance professionally, look nearly amateurish by comparison. The male dancer jumped high enough to dunk on an NBA basket, and you could feel the reverberations of his takeoffs and landings through the wooden floor, and probably throughout the theatre. The woman was also excellent; at one point in the dance she walks out on stage and proceeds to spin in circles at high speed for about a minute; all of the crew were totally floored.

The third act was supposed to be the video whose screen caused so much trouble, but after all that work, the video projector crapped out and we couldn't show it. A lot of folks were rather unhappy about that.

The third act was instead Rennie Harris, who is the father of hip-hop as a choreographed art form. I couldn't see his dance very well because it contained many small, quick movements that were best viewed from the front, but I heard that he and his dancers performed some amazing stunts with various parts of their bodies, including at one point, Rennie dancing with his jaw, which he was somehow able to isolate and move in ways that no one had ever seen a jaw move before. They also received thunderous applause.

The fourth act was Bill Irwin (look him up on Wikipedia if you don't know who he is), whose performed a piece that was part hip-hop, part clowning, and part ballet. Because of the clowning element, a lot of the piece was invisible to me because he worked with facial expressions and hand gestures, but I could tell the audience was enjoying it, because they kept on laughing. Bill Irwin, incidentally, is an incredibly nice man; he kept his dressing room clean, he was happy to chat with the stage crew after the performance, and he made a point of eating in the dining hall with the rest of us so that he could meet people.

The last act was the performance of two solos by dancers from the Alvin Ailey company. This piece was a little bit special: because Ailey went to school at the Pillow and because Revelations, one of the company's signature pieces, premiered at the Pillow, having the Ailey company perform at the 75th anniversary was an important event. Because the performance, was meant to emphasize the continuing importance of the Pillow, somebody decided it would be great to open the back doors of the Shawn theatre to show off the natural surroundings of the festival. However, getting those doors open is no easy task. We used lit backdrops for all the other pieces in the program, and because we are in a barn, and have no space to fly an entire backdrop into the air, we had to do something else. In order to solve the problem, we created a sequence that was nearly as choreographed as some of the dances.

First, we closed the main curtain so no one could see what we were doing; Judith Jamison, artistic director of Alvin Ailey, made a speech, which we used to cover our noise. Next, we dropped the two pieces of fabric which made up the backdrop onto the floor. Three people fed in the ropes to drop them, and two others made sure that the fabric folded nicely and didn't catch on anything. We used carabineers to attach the pipes the fabric was hanging on to our ropes. Once the fabric was on the ground, we quickly unclipped the carabineers and the people who fed in the rope pulled the dangling ropes out of sight of the audience. While this was happening, two people were unfolding a long piece of black fabric to cover the white fabric of the backdrop while it was on the ground, and two others had unlocked and were pushing open the giant barn doors. As people finished their various jobs, they then changed the colors in the side lights to the colors requested by the Ailey company.

We had only rehearsed the whole sequence once, but it went smoothly, and by the time Ms. Jamison finished her speech, the goods were dropped and the door was open. In fact, we had a minute to spare. The audience applauded the open doors when we pulled back the main curtain, and that was the best applause of the night, because it was all for the backstage crew. You don't see our performances, but you see the effects of them.

The Ailey pieces were both beautiful, and I would love to watch more shows by the company. That was my last job of the night, except for operating a confetti drop, which mainly involves pulling a string.

The outdoor events were more varied. There was a giant tent, of which you will see pictures soon, filled with lighting instruments and chandeliers. The banquet was held there, and there was a big band playing music, and a high-priced auction held by a Christie's auctioneer. There was also a drumming ensemble, and before the Ted Shawn show started, a woman named Nanine Linning did a performance which featured her hanging upside down from a chandelier, dancing and pouring bottles of champagne. Her show caused the most problems; she never received her foot straps from her homeland in the Netherlands, so we had to construct some for her to use. Then, we had a big afternoon thunderstorm, and the whole event had to be moved inside--quickly. No one was sure if it would even happen, but eventually they got her up in the air, and it sounds like she was well-received. I hear she was rather scantily-clad, so that probably helped.

Anyway, that ridiculously-long post covers most of what I know about the Gala. Now I'm just going to post a few pictures of the event so you can see the tent in all its glowing glory.

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This is what the tent looked like midway through the week. Library - 160.jpg
And this is a moth that was hanging out on a screen earlier this week. I thought it was cool, so I snapped a picture.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 25

If you know anything about me and theatre, you probably know that I hate projectors. Video projectors have a maddening tendency to be about ten times harder to get working than you anticipate they will be, and I have never worked in a theatre where they worked quickly and easily. The Gala show is no exception, except the thing causing problems was the screen, not the projector itself...

The first thing we did, naively, was to simply hang the projector screen from a pipe. That didn't really work, because with the weight of the screen and our 100-year-old fly system combined, it was impossible to move the screen with less than five people, and even when we did move it, it made a horrible grinding noise and you could hear lots of grunting and groaning from the people yanking on the ropes. Since it has to move quickly and silently in the middle of a show, that option was immediately disqualified.

Next, we tried rigging a fly system onto the fly system; we attached three pulleys to the pipe, and to them we attached the screen. So we had a screen on a pulley system on a pipe on a pulley system. That allowed us to move the screen more easily, but once we got the screen off the floor, the weight of the screen hanging off the side of the pipe caused the pipe to rotate inside the knots holding it up, which suddenly made it impossible to move once again.

We fixed that by attaching smaller pipes to the big pipe, which, when the big pipe tried to rotate, would smack into the ceiling and prevent said rotation. These smaller pipes, unfortunately, made it impossible to fit the big pipe in between several other pipes which were hanging on the ceiling. So then we got out two more pipes and used them as spacers to push the other pipes out of the way.

After all that work, we were finally able to get the screen all the way into the air, only to find out that it hung below the proscenium by about 1.5 feet, meaning it would be in full view of the audience. So we set about rigging a small curtain that would hang below the screen and block the audience's view when the screen was out. When we finally got that hung, it was too short, and wouldn't have blocked anyone's view.

That last setback happened today, after we had spent many hours over the past three days working on all those solutions to problems caused by prior solutions (I skipped a few, at that), so it was no surprise that Ben was about to jump off the top of the Shawn by this point. Finally, however, Jim French, our lighting designer and stage manager, suggested bringing in a smaller screen. This seemingly-obvious solution had apparently been vetoed by someone higher up early in the tech process, which is why we hadn't already done it. We brought the smaller screen in, assembled it, and had the whole thing done in under an hour, and it fit perfectly where the bigger screen had not. Beautiful.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 23

I spent nearly all of today focusing lights; that's pretty much it. Basically, it involves clambering around on really tall objects and pointing lighting fixtures in their proper directions. Either that or you sit on the bottom of the tall object and keep it from falling over (otherwise known as "footing" it).

The gimongous tent on the lawn is up; I took pictures, but I forgot to bring my camera with me to the Campus Center, which is the only place I get Internet access, so I'll upload them tomorrow. There was also a cool moth perched on one of the windows of the dining hall; I took pictures of it, too.

Lastly, the weather here is disgusting. It has been in the 50s and drizzling all day, and it doesn't appear that it will warm up any time soon. The forecast high for today was 64 degrees, but I don't think it came even close; I was freezing all day.

That's it; Gala is Saturday--the pressure is on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 22

Today was the first day of regular season--we're prepping for the Gala on Saturday, which is our giant (and I do mean giant) fundraising party to mark the opening of our season. I'm the crew chief in the Ted Shawn, which means I'm basically second in command. It'll be interesting being in that position for Gala, since there are so many more performers than normal.

To give you an overview of the Gala, it has three stages.

Stage one is happy hour. Some dancer/performance artist will hang upside down from a giant chandelier suspended above our Great Lawn on a truss and pour champagne for the guests as they walk underneath her.

Stage two is the Gala performance in the Shawn; that's my bit. There will be a video screening, performances by the Alvin Ailey company, a world premiere performance by the ballet school students here (they started learning the piece today--I don't envy them), a guy whose name I can't remember, and a surprise guest. The tough part about that will be doing all the quick changes between pieces; the projector screen is proving particularly troublesome, because we haven't yet found a way to gracefully get it onstage for the movie and then offstage for the next dance.

Stage three is the actual four-course dinner, which is held in a 170-foot by 60-foot enormous freaking tent with chandeliers. There will be a drumming group leading everyone toward the tents from the theatre (this is mostly a crowd-control aspect, not a performance aspect), followed by an auction which includes a $30,000 diamond necklace, and finally, dancing to music by a big jazz band.

As you can probably tell, it's going to be a huge deal. I'm excited, although I'm a little sad to miss the lady hanging upside-down from a chandelier. Further details as events warrant.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 20, Post 2

Today was a very short day; we only put in about seven hours of work, mainly because the staff were just as hungover as most of us were, so they didn't want to do much. However, they did tell us that they thought the party last night was the best they had seen, possibly the best in Jacob's Pillow history (the party has only been going on for ten years or so). All the other arts organizations were very impressed; one guy told me that he was afraid it was going to be in a log cabin, but that he was pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, all we had left to do to get into festival mode was put down marley on the Ted Shawn stage, and put up the hard flats. Starting Tuesday, it's festival time. But for tomorrow, I'm going to sleep in, and maybe read a book.

Pillow Posts -- Day 20

We had an awesome pirate-themed party last night, and we invited most of the other Berkshires arts organizations. Mark described it best when he said "You know you had a good party when half the staff are unable to help you clean up the next morning."
However, I think the best way to show you the party would be to post some photos.
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It's true--tech people throw the best parties.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 18

Since the forecast for tonight is not only dark, but also stormy, I think it's time for...a ghost story! WOOOOoooohhhhh!

One warm June afternoon, the first after a long cold snap, Derek, Ben, and Rachael were running Ethernet cable out to the sound booth in the Ted Shawn Theatre from backstage. Brad, the sound guy, had been playing music over the newly-installed sound system all afternoon, but by the time the trio arrived at the mezzanine in front of the booth, the CD had ended, and the theatre was silent. Suddenly, Rachael exclaimed

"Oh my gosh! For a second I thought there was someone in the sound booth!"

It was probably just the arrangement of the shelving, Derek thought to himself, and went back to trying to untangle the Ethernet cable, which had turned out to be quite stubbornly twisted. Soon after, however, the unmistakable sound of a speaker thump, like a gunshot and a bass drum combined, sounded in the otherwise quiet theatre, and afterward, a loud buzz could be heard coming from the onstage speakers.

"Ben to Brad," radioed Ben on the two-way Motorola radio that all staff members carried, "We just heard a pop from the speakers in the Shawn, and now they're buzzing."

"I'm on my way," Brad replied.

Brad soon arrived in the theatre, and after checking the onstage equipment, walked up the sloped floor of the theatre house toward the booth.

"I found the problem," he yelled out once he arrived, "The power cord to the sound board came unplugged." Power cords, however, don't just unplug themselves--Brad raised his own radio to his mouth.

"All call on channel 6--was anyone in the Ted Shawn booth a couple minutes ago?" But the replies came back negative; none of the Jacob's Pillow production staff or interns had been in the booth when the thump occurred, and no one had seen anyone there either. Except for Rachael.

This story is based on actual events, and in all actuality, the power cord probably did somehow unplug itself, because that can happen occasionally, and there really wasn't anyone in the booth at the time. Probably.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 17

I am proud to announce that we are the first intern crew to ever load sound equipment into both the Duke and the Ted Shawn theatres in a single day! Personally, I don't think that's such a tall order, since there wasn't a huge amount of work to do, but since it has never been done, I guess it's harder than it seems.

Jin wants a shout-out, so here it is--hi, Jin!

My main rant today is about effort; one of the main things that earns or loses my respect in any situation is how much effort you put in. I don't care if you manage to get the job done (much), but I do care that you make the best attempt you can at doing it. The problem today was that one person on my team was more interested in explaining not only why she couldn't accomplish the task at hand, but also how unpleasant she found the entire situation. It was demoralizing and frustrating for everyone she was working with, and it made the work go twice as slow, as we dutifully tried to turn her whining into a learning experience which she didn't want to have.

Even if she really was, as she claimed, too weak, too scared of heights, too incompetent, or too whatever to finish the job she was assigned (which she wasn't, because she managed to get it done after much prodding), she should have tried her best to do the job, rather than incessantly explaining why it wasn't possible after one half-hearted attempt. Complaining and stalling does nothing but slow you down and make other people feel bad, and it's the worst way to be unproductive. If you can't get the job done, fine, but give it your best shot, and then ask for help--don't just say "I can't."

One of the staff members made the point that in theatre, because everything is about your connections, you should view all jobs as never-ending interviews for future jobs. This girl would do well to remember that advice.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 16

Today was a lot of fun--we hung two freaking enormous speakers way super-high up in the air. As strange as this may sound, I really enjoy clambering around in really high places. My parents would probably have a double heart-attack if they saw how high I was without a harness, but I like it. It can be scary when you're up there, but once you get down, you feel a nice sense of accomplishment. The only high place I never did get used to was the Grandel Theatre; their grid is freakishly unsafe, and no one should ever work there.

Tomorrow is sound load-in, and I'm excited; I like playing with sound gizmos.

Pillow Posts -- Day 15

Yesterday was my day off from work, so I took a day off from posting as well. All we did was go to a laundromat and then eat dinner at a sushi place in Great Barrington.

Today we hung most of the lights in the Duke. We didn't quite finish them all, but we got close. I need to get to bed, so I'll be brief, but I learned that lighting a backdrop is much easier if you reflect the light off a second white backdrop behind the first. Then the light is more even because it has traveled farther and spread out more before getting to the backdrop.

Today also marked the first time that I have seen a lighting instrument fall from a great height (In this case about 15 feet). You're supposed to yell "Heads!" when that happens, but what I actually heard was "F**k!" followed immediately by a loud crash. It wasn't anyone's fault--the clamping device that was supposed to hold the light to the pipe snapped in half. I've never seen that happen, and I hope never to see it again. Luckily no one was hurt (except the light), but we're all very careful to safety cable the lights before we tighten them down now.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 13

One of the toughest things about working here is adjusting to the weekly work schedule. It's a Sunday night, and I'm looking forward to my day off on Monday. That's standard theatre scheduling, but it's certainly not what I'm used to coming straight out of college.

The other interesting piece of news is that we've been kind of screwed by our production company, Limelight Productions. They were supposed to deliver the lighting goods for the Duke two days ago, and we still don't have all the equipment. They've been sending it to us in bits and pieces as they get it. The bad news is, this has delayed our hang in the Duke by several days. The good news is, the Duke light hang had been moved forward because we, the production interns, were blowing through all of our assigned jobs so quickly. So we're behind schedule, but not really. The last couple of days have mostly been filled with odd jobs; I've organized gel, built shelves, and laid marley flooring.

That's really all I've got to write about today; we're having a birthday party for Hanna, one of the production interns, tonight, and tomorrow we'll celebrate our day off by doing laundry at the laundromat--exciting, I know. Oh, and it's also raining. A lot. The upsides to this are that thunderstorms are exciting, and that flashlights look really cool in fog at night. The downside is that everything is wet, wet, wet.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 12

The best part of today was probably the rigging class; we got to learn how to run a no-counterweight fly system. For those of you who don't know, there are three major ways to suspend things in a theatre, if you want to be able to adjust their heights above the stage: a simple pulley system, a counterweight system, and a motorized system.

Motorized systems are really easy to use--you plunk a giant motor above the stage, and then you just press a button and the motor takes care of all the lifting. Motors used to have the problems of being expensive, slow, noisy and stupid--if they hit something and you don't shut them off, they just keep going. However, a lot of that is being fixed with newer models, and Ben thinks that most new theatres will be entirely motorized within five to ten years.

Counterweight systems work by balancing the weight of whatever is above the stage with weight loaded onto a "weight arbor". In the simplest version, called a "single-purchase" system, if the item you're suspending above the stage weighs 50 pounds, then you put 50 pounds on the arbor. If the item weighs 500 pounds, you put 500 pounds on the arbor. Once the system is in balance, even a child can operate a well-maintained counterweight system alone (not that you'd really want to let a kid do that). If you have trouble with the concept of a counterweight system, imagine a seesaw with children of exactly the same weight on either end. Their weights will cancel out, and the seesaw won't move under the influence of gravity, but if you apply the slightest force to either side of the seesaw, it will start to move.

The most basic fly system uses no counterweights; the ropes are attached directly to the pipes, and the system operators have to carry that much weight. This, of course, is what we have. Each pipe in our theatre is suspended by either five or three ropes, and is raised and lowered by teams of five or three people, respectively. This means that if a pipe weighs 50 pounds, each of the five people operating it must lift 10 pounds each. Unfortunately, pipes weigh more like 120 pounds (with nothing else on them), which is 24 pounds per person (not including friction, which is significant) for just the pipe, and it just gets worse from there. Not only that, but the five operators have to be well-synchronized, or the pipe will slant because some ropes will move faster than others. Our first training session made it clear that raising and lowering pipes in our theatres is going to require a lot of practice and a lot of muscle.

I've said this before, but I'm going to say it again--I'm amazed at the caliber of theatre that you can put on using technology which is quite literally centuries old. I'm also excited that I'm getting the opportunity to learn how to do things in a way which is a bit less sophisticated; as I mentioned earlier, we're fast approaching the day when technicians might go years without manually operating a fly rail, and I think it's good for everyone to get back to basics now and then; you gain a better appreciation and understanding for the more advanced technology you get to use. Additionally, if there were a sudden nuclear holocaust and we were required to rebuild from scratch, it would be nice to know how to build simple theatres. Not that you'd really be building theatres right after a nuclear holocaust anyway, but you'd get around to it at some point.

The rest of rigging class was more fun--we got to climb into harnesses and dangle high up in the air in the Duke theatre. It was fun for me because I enjoy rock climbing and being high, but some people were a little freaked out.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 11

We've only been here 10 days, and some people are already starting to wear out. I heard some of the non-production interns talking at breakfast about how they have been so tired the past few days that they've taken to going to bed at 10PM or earlier. I absolutely cannot comprehend that--most of them are working standard 9-5 office jobs. I don't know how they expect to function after they graduate if they can't handle that.

The production interns are a bit different--we're all used to working extreme hours, so no one has hit the point of exhaustion yet, but most of us aren't used to tech week conditions (10-hour work days) for more than a week or two at a time. No one is worn out yet that I can tell, but I think the prospect of three full months of this schedule is daunting for many folks, and I have already heard some complaining about the hours. We're also a bit disdainful of the non-production interns; they're great folks, but they're not working anywhere near as hard as we are, by any measure, so it's a little aggravating to hear someone say "I was so tired, I went to bed at 10PM" when you didn't even get done working until that time, and you both started at 9AM.

Personally, I'm tired. I got a full eight hours of sleep last night, and I was exhausted when I woke up. I'm going to head to bed immediately after I finish writing this and see if I can manage to get in nine hours instead of eight. However, my exhaustion is the good kind--I feel like I'm learning a lot and accomplishing a lot, and since I don't really have any other concerns besides working in the theatre, I'm not feeling particularly stressed.

I'm not stressed because I know that I don't have any looming commitments; I don't have to worry about school or grades or problem sets or studying for tests or any of that. I'm able to throw myself completely and totally into tech work, and I function best when I can immerse myself in an activity like that. My entire method for coping with the stress of school for the past eight years has been to block out distraction and future commitments as much as possible to avoid being overwhelmed. Not having anything that I need to block out is blissful. Well, as blissful as 60-hour work weeks can be.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 10

The one thing I wanted to remember to say today is that I heard an unintentional chiasmus-ish thing. A couple of the staff were throwing a football near the tech break room, and at one point, the ball went astray, and I heard the phrase "that ball is headed where your head is", which I thought was a wonderful little play on words.

When we weren't spouting witticisms (and believe me, a tech crew does very little besides spout witticisms), we were hanging a ton of lights in the Shawn. I'm guessing I hung about 40 myself. They each weigh about 25 pounds, so I'm guessing I'll be pretty sore tomorrow from all the lifting. However, the Shawn finally looks like a theatre, because it has curtains and lights all over the place.

This is becoming a regular occurrence, but I'm going to gush about how awesome our tech crew is. Brian, our lighting guy, told us that they had budgeted until 4PM tomorrow to get everything finished--and we're 98% done already. Ben, the Shawn tech coordinator, told us that at least with regard to lighting, the staff think that we're at the level of a professional crew, and they're going to treat us as such, which is pretty cool.

Thunderstorms out here are wicked cool; we're high up, so we get lots of lighting strikes. That in itself isn't so interesting, but when you consider that all the buildings are basically wooden barns, with exposed wiring and piping, it gets much more interesting, because there are many metal objects, such as water pipes and support trusses, that could arc electricity in the event of a direct hit on a building. That's why when a storm is about to blow in, we can't just keep working--you don't want to be standing on a metal ladder, grabbing a metal pipe which is hanging from the ceiling with metal airplane cable, when lightning hits the roof. So we all went into the nearby Bakalar dance studio and sat in the middle of the wood floor. Even so, there was some minor arcing of electricity (I think just from random static buildup, not from lightning), into the building from outside near the gutters.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 9

I have very little to write about today; we spent the day cabling the Shawn, which is a fairly simple process repeated dozens of times. We have a dimmer room, where all the power for our lights comes from, and we basically run electrical cable from the dimmer room to the various points on stage where we need power for lights. It is very large, very heavy electrical cable which can carry a lot more power than your average Home Depot extension cord, but it's nothing complicated. That's pretty much it, but when you have around 300 electrical circuits, that's a lot of cable to lift and attach to things, and a lot of work to make sure it is organized. To give you an idea of the work involved, it took about 15 people nearly 11 hours to get almost finished, so that's roughly 150 hours of work time.

I was stuck in the dimmer room the whole time, organizing cable and plugging things in, so I didn't have to do much heavy lifting. That will change tomorrow when we hang lights; I have been informed that since I was in the dimmer room for this part of load-in, I'll be up on a ladder for the lights part. That's fine with me, since I love hanging lights.

Other interesting tidbits include the giant barn doors in the Shawn falling off their tracks (apparently this happens pretty regularly), the Mimulus truck nearly crushing our break area next to the loading dock (also regular), and the toilet in our cabin backing up (hopefully not regular).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 8

Strange as this may sound, I think that one of the things that is going to be most educational here at the Pillow is how low-tech everything is; we're running a world-renowned dance festival using, in several cases, 1930s theatrical technology. We have better lights, better sound, better electricity, and better lighting boards, but the stage, the rigging system, and the real guts of the theatre are almost exactly the same ones that Ted Shawn and the Men Dancers would have used 70 years ago. The stage is a bit bigger, and a lot of the equipment has been replaced (70-year-old curtains, anyone?), but our work is still, in essence, an exercise in putting on a world-class performance inside of a heavily-modified barn.

This situation allows me to get a really good look at the fundamentals of theatre tech; tomorrow, for instance, we are creating a lighting system from scratch, from the dimmers on up. We don't even have fixed circuit locations--we have to create them by running multi-cable from the dimmer room to various locations on pipes. We spent today labeling all of the cable that was shipped to us so that we will know where everything goes. In many theatres, cable is seen as semi-temporary and changeable, while dimmers and circuit locations are mostly permanent. In the Shawn, nothing is permanent, so we have to re-create everything anew at the start of the season. I'm confident that I'll be able to build a complete lighting system out of almost anything, in almost any space, by the end of the week.

I would also like to say that it is finally hitting home how important this festival is; we watched a video showing Alonzo King saying that he has always wanted to make a "pilgrimage" to Jacob's Pillow. I'm doing tech at the place that Alonzo King considers the dance equivalent of Mecca, and that is simply amazing to me.

Lastly, having a competent (and large) tech crew is a thing of beauty. We had a lighting class today, and the final project was to hang, cable and rough focus four lights. We have all worked extensively with lights before, and I would guess we had the lights up in a minute or two, and down in 30 seconds. That's much faster than anything I ever saw at WashU where it was just me and Sarah working most of the time. Even during strike, when we had lots of help (usually), everyone else was so slow that things still took a long time. Obviously not their fault--they're actors and dancers, not techs. Having a crew of entirely tech people is incredible and wonderful.

We have been absolutely tearing through the work they have assigned us, to the point where they started assigning us random odd jobs to do today because we finished all the major work they had planned. That's how I know we've got a quality crew. Beth (a fellow intern) commented a couple days ago that she wishes we could stay together as a crew, and I agree that we would make an awesome tech crew; we have a ton of knowledge, and I think this summer is going to be excellent because of that.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 7

I may not be able to play much frisbee this summer, but it sounds like I'll still end up in pretty good shape. Rocky, who was an intern two years ago, and who is now the technical director at the Duke, told us this morning that when she was an intern, she put on 25 pounds of muscle over the summer. If I follow in her footsteps, I'll end up at 160 pounds of pure beefiness. Of course, I never gain weight, so I'm not sure that the Pillow is going to be any different for me.

Today was our second day off; we went hiking this morning to an absolutely gorgeous mountain top, which overlooked Williamstown. Then we went to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which is apparently one of the biggest contemporary art museums in the country.

Two interesting things happened at Mass MoCA, as it's called. First, we deconstructed a sculpture which was made out of mostly blue gel; we pretty much agreed that a lavender-looking gel was probably Surprise Pink. We're total theatre nerds.

My favorite exhibit, however was a huge installation in a warehouse, which included a small house, a trailer, and a car, among other things. However, the artist was apparently horrible to work with, and he requested things that were way over budget such as a burned and bombed-out 747 fuselage. So the museum filed a lawsuit to be allowed to open the exhibit without the artist's approval, because in his mind, it wasn't finished without the 747. While they were waiting, they opened the exhibit anyway, but with tarps blocking your view. However, because it's a contemporary art museum, even an art piece covered by tarps could be considered art, and it's possible that the artist was intentionally being difficult, and that the real art piece was the museum's reaction to his work methods. It's a little bit mind-boggling.

Anyway, tomorrow I go back to work.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 6

I'm going to try and bang out a post in ten minutes before we head out to see Pirates of the Caribbean tonight. Today was the first of our two days off; I went shopping for some work gloves in the morning, hung a clothesline so I can air-dry my t-shirts, and hung around one of the nearby small towns for a bit. After that we worked on renovating the production break area for the rest of the day (and by "the rest of the day" I mean we sat around talking for a couple hours, worked until we finished, and then sat around talking for a few more hours). We tore apart a big wooden spool (it was rotting), and then constructed an umbrella stand / table out of remaining parts and some pieces of an old wooden chair.

Tomorrow we're taking a trip to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and then Brad, our sound guy, is going to have a barbecue at his house. And after that, it's back to our regular 9AM-10PM work schedule.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 5

We've done a ton of work in the past two days. Yesterday was our first major work day, and we did a bunch of rigging, cleaned out the Duke, and countless other miscellaneous projects. The production staff said they were very happy with the work we did, which I'm actually not too surprised about--it has been pretty clear since the first day that even the least experienced production intern has done plenty of tech theatre work; most of us are tech majors of some form, and several people have significant professional experience. In short, we have a top-notch tech team.

Today was "cleanup day," otherwise known as "get-the-festival-looking-like-a-festival-rather-than-a-farm-day." We washed windows, extracted chairs from the Pillow Pub, and vacuumed the Shawn lobby. Among other things. The place looks mostly ready for the general public now--it has been a pretty amazing transformation.

I don't really have anything else to write about today, except that I haven't yet decided whether I hate black flies or mosquitos more. Black flies are like little vampires--they puncture your skin and then crouch at the edge of the wound like little vampires, lapping up the blood. It's absolutely disgusting. Mosquitos, on the other hand, come in swarms, and their bites are itchier.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 4

Pillow Posts -- Day 4

Today is history day! We had a lot of history education yesterday, and I want to pass some of that history along to you all, because the significance of this place to dance is huge. I'm going to quote a few dates and figures--they may not all be precisely correct, but they'll be accurate to within five years or a decade or so.

Jacob's Pillow was originally a farm; it was bought by Ted Shawn in the late 1920s, and he used it to start the company of all male dancers which would become known as "Shawn and His Men Dancers." Dancers at that time were almost exclusively female, in the European tradition, and so having a troupe of male dancers was quite a sensation. The dancers were amateurs, many of them athletes from a college where Shawn taught.

The Men Dancers were working together at the worst time in the Great Depression, so they farmed their own food and worked together to erect buildings specifically for dance, including what is now the Bakalar Studio. In order to raise money for the company, they held parties in the Tea Garden, shown below, where the dancers would serve tea. Shawn would give lectures on his choreographic methods, after which the dancers would do a performance. The audience members were usually rich old dowagers, and the mens' costumes were rather scanty, so, according to one of the Men Dancers, it became a rather popular event quite quickly. A photo of the Tea Garden is below.
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The Ted Shawn Theatre, shown below, was built in 1930, and it is the Pillow's main performance space. It seats about 650, and over the years, it has seen performances by nearly every major name in dance. It is traditional for performers to sign their names on the walls of the dressing rooms, so you can see names like Merce Cunningham, Alonzo King, and Alvin Ailey on the walls, to name a few (I haven't actually found these names, but I know they've performed here, so I assume they're around). The weathervane on top is modeled after a pose struck by Barton Mumaw, one of the original Men Dancers, in a piece choreographed by Shawn.
Library - 120.jpg
Library - 119.jpg

For the techies among you, the Shawn, as we call it, has a fly system, but because the roof is shaped like a barn, we don't have any fly space to speak of, so we can't fly out large objects. Also, the rigging system is single purchase hemp rope, which is about as low-tech as you can get with a theatrical rigging system. This means that the people pulling the ropes carry the full weight of whatever is being flown. If what you are flying is 500 pounds of rice, they have to hold up 500 pounds. The rice story is not just a random example; several years ago, a Korean company wanted to drop 2,000 pounds of rice from overhead like snow, and they actually did it.

The reason the Shawn is low-tech is not for lack of money; it's actually deliberate. Not only does the Pillow staff deliberately cultivate a rustic feel, but since the entire campus has been named a National Historic Site, there are actually limitations to how much the existing buildings can be changed. It's kind of an interesting side effect of historical significance--you can't changed anything.

An interesting note about the Shawn is that because it is built entirely of wood, it is apparently a great venue for rhythmic dances such as clogging and tap because audience members can feel the vibrations of the dancers' footfalls in their seats. I say apparently, because I haven't seen any shows in there yet, obviously. There aren't any pure tap or clogging groups on the roster for this summer, but I think some of the companies will be percussive in part, so I hope I'll be able to report on the accuracy of that claim.

The Doris Duke Studio Theatre, shown below, was built in 1990, but as you can see, it closely matches the styling of the Ted Shawn Theatre. This is due to the low-tech atmosphere I mentioned above. Both the inside and the outside have bare wood paneling, and it even has giant barn doors, like the Shawn. However, it has a permanent grid, unlike the Shawn, and air conditioning, also unlike the Shawn. We'll be doing some interesting things in there this season, like flying people. The theatre was originally conceived as a flexible seating space, but apparently no one ever wanted to change the seating layout, so at some point they decided to simply make the seating arrangement permanent.
Library - 122.jpg
Library - 123.jpg

As a side note, one of the pianos on the stage is apparently an 1850s Steinway Grand. I'm very excited to hear it play.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 3

Pillow Posts -- Day 3

We didn't do very much today; we continued to have lots of orientation meetings and tours, but we did no actual work--that starts tomorrow. Apparently there will be bears on campus at some point, and I got bitten by a black fly, which leaves a really annoying red bite mark.

The adventure of today (well, last night, actually) was trying to figure out how the shower works. Most showers can be grokked by simply jiggling every knob you can find until it does what you want (this applies to most machinery in general, by the way). However, this faucet did not give up so easily. I could turn on the water, and I could change the temperature, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to get the water to come out of the shower head instead of the bathtub faucet. On the following pictures, I have marked all the different things which do not accomplish that goal.

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Library - 116.jpg
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So what does work? You have to grab the actual faucet head and pull down. You know, the faucet head, the part that is normally made out of solid metal and which doesn't move and which normal, intelligent people would never ever in a million years assume to be any sort of water control because it looks like it's a single piece of steel.

Library - 117_grn.jpg

That's pretty much all for today-- I have a lot to write about the history of Jacob's Pillow, because we learned a lot about that today, and it's really fascinating, but that's going to be a pretty long post, so I'm going to delay that one until I have a little more time, which may not happen for a couple weeks.

Our work schedule for the next few weeks looks something like this:
15 minute break
15 minute break

Sounds like fun to me!