Monday, October 13, 2014

Hi Tech

Getting close. Previews of my play A OR B? begin Wednesday at the Falcon Theatre. This is my weekly report on the process of getting one of these bad boys mounted.

After three weeks in the rehearsal hall things shifted into high gear last week once the stage was ours. Construction began. As I said on my Facebook page -- I'm living every playwright's dream. They're building sets for my play and I don't have to pay for them.

Jason & Jules
The actors (Jules Willcox & Jason Dechert) have somehow memorized the script (which to me is a skill greater than tightroping over Niagara Falls.) and are now making it their own.

Tech rehearsal began last Thursday. This is the arduous part of the process. Literally twelve-hour days. All the logistic questions that have been tabled over the first three weeks now come to roost. How do props get on and off the stage between scenes? How long will costume changes actually take? That offstage sound we just assumed will sound great now gets put to the test.

Every light cue, every sound cue must be painstakingly locked in. There are a thousand decisions and problems that must be dealt with. What music? How loud? Will there be crowd noise? If so, how much and for how long? Where exactly will the props be backstage?

And as I’m sitting there watching this I’m thinking to myself, “Not my problem.”

Certain transitions from one scene to another are very complicated. One of the actors has to make a quick costume change, there are numerous sound and lighting cues, and it all has to happen in less than 30 seconds.

Not my problem.

The poor actors had to do the transition six or eight times until everybody got it right. It probably took a half hour. This is a 90-page script and at that rate tech would take a month. They only have so many hours over a few days.

Not my problem.

In television when we do multi-camera sitcoms in front of a studio audience we still have the luxury of stopping after every scene. You just say to the prop master one time that you need a coffee mug here or a statue of the Washington Monument in sugar cubes there and poof, they’re there. Not so in live thea-tuh.

So why am I even there?  Well, for one thing I got to see everyone in full wardrobe for the first time and a bright idea I had for one scene totally did not work.

Yes my problem.

Everyone continued to rehearse and I went off to rewrite the scene.

But the real reason I was there was to learn. It’s a treat to watch these highly professional technicians go about building a real theatre experience one sound cue and light adjustment at a time. I can’t imagine what tech is like on a Broadway musical. I have a cast of two and a play. What was LES MISERABLES like? They had to stage the entire French Revolution, not to mention all the sets, rotating stages, costumes, God knows how many actors, singers, and dancers, the orchestra, etc. In MISS SAIGON they also had to land a real helicopter on stage. Good luck when the Podunk Community Theatre does that one.

Not my problem.

Understudies Josh & Lori
Our understudies Josh Covitt and Lori Eve Marinacci were also on hand to help out. Why should they miss the fun of changing clothes in eight seconds and crashing into walls in the dark?

Late yesterday we had a full runthrough with all departments. As the saying goes: At some point the musicians all have to play together.  The problem scene is now way better (although I still have a couple things I'm going to change after I finish writing this).   Off day today, tomorrow a full runthrough and then a dress rehearsal for an invited audience.  Hopefully the play will be funny and touching.

Definitely my problem.

Fine tuning on Wednesday and then previews begin. Please come see the end result of all this mayhem.

Another difference between the theater and TV -- when our director, Andy decides to re-block something, it’s no big deal. As long as the actors aren’t upstaging each other and the moment works it’s done. When I direct television shows, if I re-block I always have to think of cameras. If my star walks around the other side of the couch then suddenly all four of my camera assignments need to be changed.  That gets very complicated.   I told this to Andy who gave me a smile that clearly said…

Not my problem.


Carol said...

Any chance this will be filmed and put on You Tube or something, so those of us not living in the area could see it?

Friday question - do you think the script for your play would translate well to the 'big screen'? Is that something you'd want to do? And how much do you think you'd need to change it to work if you did do it?

LouOCNY said...

So are you taking notes for when YOU want to direct a stage play, and it WILL be your problem?

Best wishes to you and the cast and crew - may many legs be broken, and their be no fatalities.

Mike Botula said...

Ken, you're making your audience feel like we are looking over your shoulder as the whole process of putting a play on it's feet is unfolding. Fascinating! I hope it's a smash hit!

By Ken Levine said...


There will be no YouTube video. Equity forbids taping a live performance. There will be one video for archival purposes only that will remain in the theatre. So I will not even have a copy for my own archives. These are union rules and I'm obliged to live by them.

Although the truth is, I wouldn't post it on YouTube anyway. My goal after this is to generate other live productions of the play.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I wasn't going to ask for a videotaping, but, I was going to ask, Ken, if you would consider making copies of the script available for us to read? You could even charge for it. :)

I would really like to read it.


404 said...

Even though living on the east coast means there's probably very little chance I will ever get to see this, I am really enjoying this play-by-play (ha ha, so many meanings of that) overview of the process. Maybe one day it'll make it somewhere closer to me.

Terrence Moss said...

I saw Jason Dechert in "Caught" at the Zephyr on Melrose. He's quite good.

Stephanie said...

Will be there Saturday night. Congratulations, Ken and best of luck to everyone involved.

Rebecca M said...

I worked as an Equity stage manager for just over a decade, it's fun to hear someone describe what tech is like to an observer from outside the world of theater but who still understands the power of the show.

I always enjoyed world premiere's with the author in residence, it's nice to have another set of eyes and ears on the show making it the best it can be. Of course, it's also a little crazy making when you think you're done but instead a scene has been rewritten, or a song has been cut.

PS. I think Les Mis teched for nearly two months on Broadway.

By Ken Levine said...

I am taking notes and would like to direct a play... when I'm ready. For now it's been great just learning from Andrew Barnicle.

I don't want to post the scrip but hopefully will get it published. You're welcome to read it then.

Thanks Stephanie and everyone else who plans on attending.

Cap'n Bob said...

I'd go, but the three-day drive is a bit much.

Belle said...

As someone living outside the 4,000 mile radius, I hope the play becomes an instant success, to the extent that it is instantly booked for a worldwide tour, starting with Australia.

Failing that, I look forward to reading the script when it's published :)

Carol said...

@ Ken - Philadelphia is a great city in which to mount a play. Just putting that out there...

Greg Ehrbar said...

Saturday the 25th. Remind me to turn off my phone.

D. McEwan said...

I was priviledged to see the final dress before a small invited live audience tonight, and let me assure everyone, this show is terrific fun. I was laughing much throughout. If you're in So Cal, grab a ticket. If you're not in So Cal, come here fast.

Nikki Hevesy said...

So fun to read you writing about tech and glad it's going so well. Now you can also appreciate the (albeit minimal) precision tech we pulled of at that other theatre with barely time to run the cues through once.
As soon as I see the show posted on the Ovation board, I'll get a ticket and be there. Looking forward to it. Congratulations!