Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lessons from Both Sides of the Tech Table

Contributed by Morgan Zipf-Meister

 As an actor/lighting designer, I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time in Tech and/or preparing for Tech.  Some people thrive during that caffeine fueled stretch of time; it fills others with existential dread.  Depending on my role in any given production I've had both of those reactions.  But now with 15 years of Indie Theater under my belt, I’ve learned to appreciate and respect the Tech process.  As both a performer and technician, this is my arsenal of thoughts that stay with me from load-in until final dress and help get me through unscathed (along with my wrench and a roll of gaff tape.) 

Bonedive Scrounger  Photo by Ken Stein

Theater is not an exact science
No matter how well prepared you are going in, no matter if you've accounted for every detail, things will change during Tech.  Doesn't matter whether you’re an actor, a designer, director, or stage manager - something you thought was going to work one way will need to be changed entirely.  So just be ok with that.  Be flexible and . . .

You'll probably like your new choice more than what you planned
Some of my favorite moments from shows that I've worked on have been the result of changes that happened when planned moments crashed and burned.  Creative, elegant, and simple solutions will often present themselves in times when it feels like the walls are closing in and you've get minutes to make it out alive.  Don't be afraid of that.  That being said . . .    

Panic is your enemy
Execution Day  Photo by Ken Meister
Yes, opening night may be in a few hours and the paint is still wet and q's are still being written and that one cast member STILL doesn't know their lines.  Maybe all of your scenes are with that person.  Christ, maybe you are that person.  But panic doesn't help anyone.  Energy spent panicking is better spent actually working on the things you're worried about. So, pull yourself together, make a plan, and execute what you can with calm and grace.  But no matter what . . .


There will come a time when you want to punch another member of your team in the face
That's normal, but don't do it.  It won't accomplish anything.  Everyone is stressed out and running on fumes.  And honestly the worker's comp paperwork takes a long time and I'm sure you have other things you could be working on.

Seriously, you have to eat
Coffee and cigarettes are not food.  I don't care how much work is left.  Taking a break to eat a real meal is always worth it, because humans need food for life.  Fact. 

Bake for people... or something

I bake.  That's my thing.  It's not my job to do that - but there are lots of little tasks during tech that aren't any one's person job.  If you're going to the deli - see if anyone wants anything.  If you find yourself with a few extra moments - pick up a paintbrush or fold programs. These little acts of kindness benefit the show.   Because . . .
  Greencard Wedding  Photos by Kacey Stamats

It isn't all about you
Every show you work on, a specific group of artists were brought together because of what they bring to the table.  Tech is about the PRODUCTION, which is bigger than any one element.  So yes, bring up your concerns - if you're an actor who is uncomfortable in your costume, or a director who hates the gel color, don't sit on that information.  But also give your teammates the benefit of the doubt.  Something that isn't working for you could be a very key element in another way you're unaware of.  Work together to solve problems, and remember the whole is more than a sum of its parts.

It is possible to have fun

For me, there is nothing like seeing a moment come together during Tech, no matter what side of the table I'm on. It might just be the lack of sleep, but people drop their walls.  You get to know them as artists, and friends.  The thrill of watching many visions come together to tell one singular story, that's why I do theater.  What's more fun than that?  And lastly . . .

The Temple  Photo by Michael Markham
No matter what goes wrong, it could always be worse
I've been locked out of the theater when I'm supposed to be hanging lights.  I've written entire shows only to come in the next day to find that nothing actually recorded.  I've had to leave the state to deal with family issues.  I was stage managing a show during the 2003 blackout - and the entire cast was on route to the theater for final dress when the city lost power.  And even so, I will never be naive enough to believe I've seen the worst that can happen during Tech.  Because let's face it -this shit is unpredictable. 

After all, Theater is not an exact science.  


Morgan Zipf-Meister is an actress, director, IT Award nominated lighting designer, and general theater mensch depending on the day of the week. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but has found an artistic home in the New York Indie Theater scene. Over the years she has worked with companies such as Dreamscape, Piper McKenzie, Old Kent Road, Gemini Collisonworks, Boomerang, and Theatre of the Expendable among others.  Recent projects include directing and acting in 'Greencard Wedding' in the Detroit Fringe and at Dixon Place, as well as performing as the resident villain of Mildred Springs in It's Getting Tired Mildred, a monthly soap opera for the stage at the Brick Theater.  www.morganzipfmeister.com


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