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.
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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.
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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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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.

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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!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 2

Most of the rest of the interns arrived today, and they all seem to be a really cool bunch. There are people from all over, and everyone is very friendly and willing to introduce themselves. I've made a special effort to try and remember names, and I think I've got about 50% by now, which is excellent for me, since I usually only get one or two on the first day at a new place. Luckily, we'll have nametags starting tomorrow.

We had our first extensive tour of the Pillow today, and I'm pretty happy with the facilities. They're much different than you might expect for a world-renowned festival; everything is consciously kept to a very rustic feel, and the construction is almost exclusively bare wood. It makes the place feel a little less sophisticated than say, the Power Center in Ann Arbor or the Edison in St. Louis, but the spaces themselves are clearly quite capable of putting on just about any performance.

The main thing that is different from what I expected is that because this is a summer festival, absolutely everything has to be loaded in from scratch to the theatres at the beginning of each season. This includes marley flooring, curtains, lights, sound, and even dimmer racks. There are eleven tech interns and nearly as many tech staff, but even so, with two major indoor performance spaces, one outdoor performance space, and two indoor dance studios, getting this place ready for festival time in two weeks is going to be a huge undertaking. Everyone tells us we'll be working around the clock for that time, which I completely believe.

We were informed on the campus tour today that bears are quite common. If I see a bear, I'll be sure to take a picture before I run screaming into the woods.

A group of us went jogging this evening, and we were nearly run over by a giant dump truck whose driver somehow thought that driving with his lights off on a winding mountain road would be a good idea.

My observation for the day is that theatre is a small world. One girl I met goes to Western Michigan and knows Matt Baker and David Curwen. I knew Matt in high school, and I designed lights for David's dance at WUDT this year. Another girl went to Webster in St. Louis and knows Pat Vacek and Cecil Slaughter. Pat is my former roommate's younger brother, and Cecil is an instructor at WashU.

My second observation for the day is that people repeat themselves. I met one guy who I swear is the twin brother of Scott, a guy I knew at WashU. They don't look much alike, but their speaking patterns and physical movements are almost identical. Another girl could be the twin sister of Ayesha; it's uncanny. I'm sure that this is my pattern-seeking brain forcing people into bins (read On Intelligence for more about that), but for now, the resemblances seem uncanny.

My reading for my trip yesterday was Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham--it's a pretty good book if you're someone who wants to learn more about the minds of computer geeks, or if you're a computer geek who wants to learn more about the minds of other computer geeks. I finished that this morning, but luckily, Cameron (operations coordinator) informed me that there was a box of books for a book exchange. Unluckily, they were all mystery novels. Not that I have anything in particular against mystery novels, but I like having variety. I picked The Third Truth by Michael Bar-Zohar and started reading. It's decent; nothing too original, but nothing outright bad, either.

Picture for the day: the view from the back of the house at the Inside Out stage. This is where we will be holding free outdoor concerts.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pillow Posts -- Day 1

I am now broadcasting live from Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts! The trip here, despite being composed of a plane ride, followed by a bus ride from the airport to the regional bus depot, followed by a three-hour layover, followed by another bus ride, followed by a car ride to the actual site, was pretty stress-free.

I arrived by about 4:30, and I met a bunch of the staff, who all seem to be really friendly, including the tech folks, who have that same combination of laid-back joviality and quirkiness that I have come to associate with tech people everywhere.

The housing is one step above Interlochen (they have heat!), for those of you who have lived there, but it's not a hotel or anything. I'm in a double room, in a cabin with four double rooms. I count five intern cabins total, but there are only six or seven male interns (out of 31 total), so it's possible I may not have a roommate, assuming they don't have co-ed cabins.
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My big observation so far is that the East Coast is nothing like the Midwest. Everything is much more compact here. There seems to be a much sharper boundary between civilization and wilderness. In the Midwest, you have to drive through innumerable ultra-generic middle-class subdivisions with meaningless names like "Marmoset Valley Heights" before you can get away from the urban sprawl, and even once you manage that, you're really in farmland, not wilderness.

Here in the Berkshires, on the other hand, there are only buildings where there are roads, and there are only roads a) in towns and b) connecting towns. Everything else appears to be nothing but trees. Despite that, I'd be willing to bet that they have about the same overall population density on a statewide level that we have in the Midwest, because they cram more people into smaller areas. I kind of like it--urban sprawl bugs the heck out of me, and trees are pretty. I hope I'll have time for hiking.

I'm one of only two or three interns who arrived today--the rest are showing up tomorrow. Everyone has told me to get settled in and enjoy what they say will be my one and only quiet evening of the summer. I just read the orientation packet they gave me, and the last page was a list of tips for surviving the summer. The number 7 tip?
"Breath. Often. Deeply."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Broken pictures in old posts

I just realized that due to me canceling my .Mac subscription, many photos from my earlier posts have disappeared. If anyone makes a request, I will fix them, but not until after the summer is over. Sorry about that.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm heading to Jacob's Pillow tomorrow; my flight leaves at 10:18AM EST. I have been reading a brochure about their coming season, and here are some performances I am really looking forward to:
  • AurĂ©lia ThierrĂ©e of France, who works using techniques from acrobatics, clowning, and puppetry.
  • The U.S. premieres of two Netherlands-based companies, Nederlands Dans Theatre II, and Club Guy & Roni.
  • The U.S. premiere of Mimulus, a Brazilian group which combines tango, theater, and contemporary dance.
  • Hubbard Street Dance Chicago--I've heard these guys are great, and I'm excited to see them.
All the other stuff on the program looks great as well, and I will blog about as much of it as I possibly can. Pillow policy is that I may take photos for personal use, but that I may not post them to the Internet without permission. I plan to seek permission to post pictures here, but if it is denied (as I expect it will be), I will probably just send pictures to anyone who asks. Please subscribe to my RSS feed; I expect this summer will be an exciting one!