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How to Guarantee a Smooth Tech.

May 26, 2011

First off, if the title is what caused you to read this post, stop now.  It is impossible to guarantee a smooth tech.  There are, however, a list of guidelines that can help the Production Stage Manager keep things under control in a clever guise as it will appear that things are working smoothly:

1.)  Stick to the job descriptions, even if you’re non-union.  Make sure that costumes is worrying about costumes and props is worrying about props (i.e. don’t send the Wardrobe Supervisor to pull costumes for “set dressing,” it’s not her job and she needs to be focusing on getting the actors in costume so you can start on time). If everyone starts “helping” out other departments, the job description line gets blurred, things get lost and forgotten, and you may have some upset techies who feel like they’re being taken advantage of – never a good way to start.

2.) Demand realistic timelines. You are going to fall behind on whatever schedule you wrote down.  Accept this from the start, but still try to get realistic ETAs from staff.  Remember that when actors hit the stage, the game changes.  Leave time enough to make the stage “actor safe” before you hit half-hour.  Half-hour needs to be set aside because your SMs and ASMs need to set the props, furniture, glow-tape and be prepared so that when the actors come up from the dressing room, the familiar face can confidently and calmly show them the props they will be using.

3.) Communication is the key.  No one needs to yell, no one needs to be stressed, but everyone does need to communicate.  I have seen upset electricians waste time going through gel inventory and griping over the fact that they can’t focus because the TD has the genie; meanwhile the TD is doing touch up paint to the railing because he’s waiting for the electricians to be done with the genie; and where’s the genie?  Still in storage because no one bothered to ask “hey, is anyone using the genie right now?”

4.) Don’t forget that this is tech for everyone Though electrics and sound may be what you most commonly ::hold:: for, you need to allow time to go back and do Quick Changes for Costumes; set changes for your deck crew; and transitions for your actors who’ve been suddenly blinded by bright lights, don’t recognize each other in outlandish costumes, and are walking in shoes 4″ higher than they anticipated.

5.) Keep your director on a leash. Remind them that this tech is only for the actors to get used to the technical elements of the production.  During a hold for lights, let them talk blocking with the actor, but if they’re “not getting the emotion that was there in rehearsal” save the note for if you don’t see it after a dress rehearsal.  The actors have enough to worry about right now (quick changes, going from blinding light to total darkness, finding props), they got the acting thing down: that’s why you cast them, focus on how the blocking goes with the tech and let actors experience what the play feels like with the added elements.

6.) “NO” is a perfectly acceptable answer.  This goes for everyone.  Production Managers, say “no” when someone’s demanding something that goes over budget or you ran out of time for; PSMs say “no” when someone expects a practical or a cue to be “actor driven” (i.e. if you have a practical lamp onstage, the actor should never actually control it or turn it off – make it a cue on the board and the actor merely touches the switch; this saves the panic if an actor actually turns it off and there’s no one to turn it back on for the next cue); SMs & ASMs say “no you can’t leave that cable on the floor there because of X, Y, and Z”  Say “no” and give an explanation if needed; but don’t “be the hero” if it seems like something shouldn’t be done or is unsafe, stick to your guns.  You know your job, be confident in your answers.

7.) Don’t Panic! Remain calm and plug along and keep on task.  If you’re in a festival situation where you have 4 hours to tech a musical and absolutely no dress time, work quickly and cut cues as necessary, but don’t panic.  If you are in a typical situation where you have a few days, remember the leeway you have, but don’t rely too heavily on “we’ll get to that tomorrow and if we don’t like it we have 2 days to change it.”  Set pieces need to be ordered and not everything is easy to find, it takes time.  Encourage your Director to make a decision and then make that decision work.

8.) When all else fails, baked goods make people smile. If you’re having a particularly difficult tech week, remember everyone likes cookies.  I know company management has probably the best packaged soft-bake chocolate chips around, but when a designer or techie takes the time to bake a cake, cookie, peanut butter bars – you name it – it reminds the crew that we’re all in this together.  Anything said under stress was not meant to be personal, and you can take the 2 minutes to enjoy a home-baked good before you get back to your duties.  This builds team unity, and well-planned arrival of baked goods can save a show’s morale.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 1, 2011 1:49 pm

    Yes! This is golden. I will never understand why people make tech harder for themselves. And cookies CAN solve world problems. 🙂

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