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.