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.