Saturday, February 23, 2013

How To Make It Through TECH In One Piece

We all know the cliché.  Tech happens.  Everyone jumps off of every wagon they've ever been on.  All of a sudden, the whole cast is on a smoke break.  People drink themselves to sleep.  It's a mess.

It's particularly frustrating as a director.  We're in our final week of rehearsals for A LIE OF THE MIND (so this post is particularly relevant and timely).  Things are really coming together.  We're in an exciting spot.  But I am dreading tech week.  Why?  Not because the show isn't good.  It's in really great shape.  But the panic is just about to set in.  Everybody gets scared.  Everything goes wrong.  Everybody's egos are going to get the best of them.  And nobody wants to be at fault.  I am just about to become the whipping boy.  Anything goal that wasn't reached by any actor or designer, any moment of wasted time, any shortcoming in accommodation is now the director's fault.  The Director becomes the reason why the show isn't perfect. 

First of all, the show can't be perfect.  We are always striving for bigger and better things.  That is the goal in art - and in life.  Secondly, theatre is a communal experience.  It's a group of people doing something together.  And all that group has at any given point is their faith, hard work, and commitment to one another.  No one person can make anything fail or succeed.  The strength of the group is what creates a great ensemble - and a great production.  It's necessary to remind ourselves that the rehearsal period is the place to work through issues.  And all we can ask of every artist on any given project is that they take responsibility for their work and give their best effort.

It can always be better.  There is never enough time.  Things will never be 100% ready.  And even on closing night, we should always be searching for more.  After years of performing in AMERICAN BUFFALO (with great reviews in three productions), Al Pacino commented in an interview that he was just starting to understand Teach.  In an exasperated moment after a critique, David Gideon once asked Lee Strasberg, "When am I ever gonna get it right?"  Lee replied, "NEVER.  Isn't it exciting?" 

I just saw a picture of someone holding a glass with water at the half-way point on Facebook.  It was an illustration from a teacher, describing stress.  You can choose to see the glass half-empty - and focus on what wasn't accomplished.  You can choose to see it half-full - and focus on what is left to discover.  But MOST IMPORTANTLY, if you hold the glass for a minute, you'll be okay.  If you hold it for an hour, your arm will be very tired.  If you hold it throughout tech week, you're shooting yourself in the foot.  The glass represents stress.  And we all have to remind ourselves to remain creative and productive - even in the face of fear.

Come tech week, every artist seems to feel as though they are on a sinking ship.  And so you end up with a whole group of people running around the decks, screaming bloody murder, rather than working together to plug up the holes.  Perhaps, they don't do this out loud, but you can see the panic take hold.  And as soon as that happens, all of the wonderful work that most actors have taken weeks to create vanishes in a blink.  The concern becomes: Are people going to like me?  Art can't happen with that thought at the forefront. 

Tech can be a magical week - when the whole show comes together.  It's beautiful when that happens.  And it's important for everyone involved in a show to try and use their time wisely, rather than giving into their worries.  Many times, we mistake stressing out for hard work.  But all stress does is take us away from doing what we need to do to prepare ourselves. 

No matter how long of a rehearsal period you've had, when you hit tech, REMIND YOURSELF that you know the play, your work, your character, and your story 100 times more intimately than anyone coming to see it.  Your job is to share your knowledge - NOT to be impressive.  This lesson goes for me, the artists working on both A LIE OF THE MIND and MISS JULIE (both opening next week in rep at The Seeing Place) - and most importantly, it goes for any artist anywhere when the pressure is on to showcase your art.

Beyond all else, don't forget:  It's called a Play for a reason.

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  1. What more can be said? I think that beautifully covers it. Let's do this thing!

  2. This post could not have come at a better time. Thanks for reminding me that I have a choice to look at Tech as a positive instead of assuming it will be a negative experience. I'm looking forward to 'Miss Julie' even more now!

  3. I am bloody well gobsmacked.
    I am also – and I remind you for the twenty-seventh time – about as deep as a thimble.
    How does tech have this impact you describe?
    Yes, with tech some things may change. And? Guess what, it's discovery. It's part of rehearsal. It is, in fact, called a Tech Rehearsal. And no, it's not only for the tech people. The play isn't just actors moving about the stage, delivering their lines on cue. It's lighting. It's sound. It's scene changes. And…I'm sure, some other stuff. If the second step on the staircase wobbles, and won't stop wobbling no matter how much is done about it…deal with it. Not to be confused with a table you're supposed to sit on and, once you finally have the actual production table, proves to be less than supporting. That's going to call for some changes. Either get a supporting table or change the blocking. If the blocking has to be changed, deal with it. Unless it's absolutely imperative to the storytelling that the actor – I'm sorry, the character – must sit on said table…find a supporting table. During tech the shit actually becomes real. Work with it. Trust that everything else is there.
    Adapt or die.
    Yes! It is called a PLAY for a reason.

  4. Yep. I'm seeing that panic set in already as we prepare MISS JULIE for its week of tech as well. I wanted to add that even though we KNOW all of the things expressed in this email, there will still be times when the stress takes over. One of the toughest things to deal with when this happens is the fallout: the person who's stressed starts beating them up for being stressed, and then all of the sudden we're 3 steps removed from what the original stress was actually about. So, I want to add that every artist involved with tech week should give themselves a break.

    Love this post. :)

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  6. I have had surprisingly great tech week experiences where there has been lots of support and yes, tired and stressed moments, but mostly teamwork. And then there are those times that give it that famous title with major freak out and stress. I guess what I do to try to survive is to not settle and make a decision as to whether the glass if half full or half empty but turn it upside down and spill the contents which forces you to not think about it -- just to be active and respond to it. Listen, see who needs help, see whose way I should stay out of and then when ready to run it, just go for it. Hey, I said I "try." It works most of the time. I try to refrain from wanting to hold on to that glass for comfort. Or my teddy bear.

  7. I understand all of the comments about panic, fear and uncertainly. However, over the years and with more and more experience with tech week (commonly called hell week), I've come to add one more descriptive term -- faith. Not faith defined by some hocus-pocus blind religious belief. But rather faith in my fellow actors and the director who have put in so many hours learning the play inside out. Faith that by the night we open we will succeed because we have put in the time and the work and have been committed to creating a beautiful piece of theater. Keep the faith.

  8. In school at tech actors were constantly reminded that after weeks of rehearsal, it was finally time for the designers to have their fun. Simply put, it wasn't about us anymore - it was about that. That simple notion was so freeing as an actor, because I knew that no matter what I was doing on stage it wasn't be looked at like it had been in rehearsal. Suddenly I had a whole extra week to play and explore and make new choices. What fun.

    Though tech with TSP is a bit different, as we're not so focused on design elements as other shows I've done, I think the basic premise is the same. Tech week is the culmination of rehearsals and the calm before the proverbial storm of performance (storm in a good way!) What better time to play and explore?

  9. Great article, Brandon!

    I agree and appreciate all of the comments listed above, also.

    I have to say, the biggest thing to jump to my mind, is how to get through the always daunting 10 out of 12 tech rehearsal. My favorite pastime in that case- Card Games! As you mentioned earlier about the communal aspect, I found that with a card game. Plus what a way to stop thinking about what you're "supposed" to be thinking/worrying about and just let yourself be a part of something.

    Again, great article.

  10. David Arthur BachrachFebruary 27, 2013 at 11:55 AM


    Tech is the tide when things go wrong: a bulb blows out; a bit bites the bullet; the sofa is surfeit for the surface; windows are a pane; paint runs dry; patience thins.

    Tech is the time when designers reset, directors redirect, actors react.

    Tech is when perspiration pours, costumes pale, people pout, photos post.

    Tech is when the board shorts, the cable frays, coffee cools, time spools, and any empty space is a napping place.

    Tech is cutting against the grain, ready or knot, the driver is screwed, where’s the hardware…

    Tech respects no schedule – it lumbers – a leviathan of its own mien – and alas, nor mop nor broom nor all great Neptune’s ocean can wipe clean decades of accumulated detritus and dust.

    In Tech, the glass is neither half-empty nor half full – instead, Tech IS the glass, and the glass metastasizes.

    Tech is neither fish nor fowl; it knows no gender.

    Tech is the gauntlet to which we all surrender.


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