Thanks for your patience over the last couple of months as we've built our ensemble for The Seeing Place Theater's 4th Season - which will be announced on October 29th at our Season Kickoff Party! Please join our mailing list to get the gritty details!
I'll begin with an analogy. Have you ever listened to an album, fallen in love with it, and then gone to see the band only to find that the musicians fall apart in performance? I know I have. And rather than addressing what is actually happening, most people feel like they've been duped - as though those musicians somehow faked it in the recording studio and cranked out songs that don't represent their actual level of skill. In reality, there is an artist on every album that is essential to the creation of the songs we have come to love and enjoy: The Producer. That's the person that drives the group to better their songs, to cut the fat, to pull out a metronome (if needed). And then they get mixed down to create something that is unified in sound. All the time, the Producer supervises the creation of the album.
In theater, that person is the Stage Manager, who lives behind the action and calls the show so that the design elements and acting elements create the unified package that is received afresh every night by an audience. In the Off-Off Broadway world, which can't afford mic systems galore, all of those responsibilities fall upon the Board Op - who can either make or break your show.
First of all, for those of you who have yet to experience Off-Off Broadway in all of its glitz and glamour, please understand that there is rarely have a perfect sound system, and even more rare is a computerized light board. More often than not, the lighting system is run on a Two-Scene Preset Light Board. It's a far cry from what most people have experienced in their colleges - and some high schools! Most of our schooling only prepares us for the state-of-the-art work going on, rather than the stark reality of what we normally deal with in most of our theatrical endeavors (before we get there).
Have you ever seen a production with beautiful acting work that is completely swallowed by problematic transitions? Or have you ever seen a play with sub-par acting, where the crispness of the technical flow actually impressed you into appreciating the show? We tend to point fingers at the Director or the Designers, but much of the time, these things are all within the power of the Board Op - especially in Off-Off Broadway, where there are limited budgets and very little time to get everything perfect in the theater.
A great Board Op doesn't just pull the lights down and hit the sound cue when the last line in the scene happens. The Board Op is every bit as important of an artist as the Director, the Designers, the Writer, and the Actors - and that person should strive to live the show with the cast (and audience!) every night. The Board Op is the person that directs and packages the show into the event that the audience witnesses. In most of my favorite projects as an actor, it's almost as if I could feel the artistic touch of the Board Op smoothing out the edges of our work as we're playing onstage. And when the technical elements pop, the audience is that much more engaged.
There's no better way to lose an audience than to forget to turn the work lights off, scramble to get the first cue up, or pull the music out too early - even to pull the lights up too high during transitions. And often times, it really isn't easy to make that everything go off without a hitch. It requires a lot of organization, and a lot of concentration. It sometimes requires a lot of improvisation. Lights often go out or ghost (come up unexpectedly), and speaker cables might need a little bit of TLC in order to work every time. Actors may skip pages of dialogue. The Board Op has to be just as attentive and responsive to the action and inevitable problems as the actors onstage. And the greatest ones often go completely unnoticed.
In some ways, it's a thankless job. In others, Board Operators really cradle the experience of the entire event in their hands. So, next time you are at a show and either you or the actors you're watching point to the booth and clap for the techies, consider all that has gone into creating the story that night and show your appreciation for our unsung heroes.
By the way, we're looking for a Board Op for our next production, so please let us know if you'd like to be involved. Please also share your thoughts and stories of shows where the Board Op either saved or broke the night.
Personally, when I was in high school, running a production of Open 24 Hours by my classmate and friend, Justin Hudnall, I accidentally pulled the lights down on a Two-Scene Preset Board to work on the scene after this scene (totally not thinking). And luckily for me, in the middle of this total blackout during a moonlit romance, actor Nico Pitney (who's character was on a date with actor Maya Baldwin) blurted out "Oh wow! An eclipse!" At which point, my head shot up and I fixed it. But just keep in mind that neither actors nor techies are perfect. Thankfully, there's usually a tomorrow night, so that the show can grow into something eternally better than the night before.
Your turn. :O)