No matter how many times you go to Disney, you are always awed by the mystery and magic of how it all works. How can Mickey be in five different parks at the same time? How did Cinderella know you would be at the magic castle at noon? But more importantly, you never, ever see anyone working on the physical appearance of the Magic Kingdom. While I have never been to Disney myself, I can safely say that theatre works much in the same way. Which door will the actor come through next? How did they get to the other side of the set so quickly, and is that a new outfit!?
However, the one thing that has always mystified me was the intricate, detailed and complex sets. Some interior sets are like mini houses, with fully functioning kitchens, complete with running water, lights, stoves and fridges. Other, more abstract shows, have pieces that range anywhere from life size planes to landing helicopters on stage , to life size puppets of horses that breathe. It seems like one day you are rehearsal on a taped out stage, and overnight the stage is transformed to a fully functioning set. The average build time is 3-4 weeks prior to tech week. So how does a tech crew create a replica Victorian parlor or a 16th century throne room in that amount of time? Well I can tell you it takes some serious planning, and some serious crew members , and in most cases, some serious all-nighters.
7pm. Everyone has dispersed from our Saturday tech rehearsal, and my stomach is begging me to fill it with much anticipated nourishment. I figured this would be a good time for a break, considering the ten hours I had just spent working a dry tech. So I wouldn’t be lonely, I set out to look through my list of contacts, in hopes of finding that one pathetic soul who has nothing else better to do on a Saturday night than paint in a theatre. Oh wait shes already here. So I set out to find the next misfortunate soul. Luckily, one offers their services before I can even locate where I last set down my phone. The lovely stage manager, Maggie, has offered to return later on to help. Ah, now If only I could find one more, I might be able to survive this night.
Success! Now that I had secured my minions, I took my dinner break and some time to watch the new episode of a show I have been following. It was getting close to the time when my two helpers would be arriving, so I ran to the little girls room seeing as I could not remember the last time I had a bathroom break (there are just some things you forgo doing when teching). As I was washing up, I hear squabbling coming from the stage. I walked onto the stage to find Maggie flinging her shoes at the proscenium wall. You know how some people get out their frustrations by yelling and screaming? She throws shoes.
9:30pm. After some prep work, and BS-ing, the painting began. Soon, things began to fall into place. It always amazes me how a little paint goes along way to making something look authentic. I was pleased to find that the volunteers that I had outdid themselves in painting abilities. I might even go so far as to say that they surpassed those in the shop who have been there for years. Good job you two.
12:00 am. The midnight hunger attacks. We all decided that a trip to Sheetz was a much needed break. For those of you who do not live in Pennsylvania or within close proximity, Sheetz is one of the better things I have discovered since attending school here in western PA. That’s saying a lot since I grew up with 7-11 and Slurpee. We piled into Maggie’s car and headed to Sheetz. After getting our food, we went outside and sat on the hood of the car and enjoyed our late night meals, took some crazy pics, and got some funny looks for sitting on the car instead of in it. We headed back to the theatre to continue what seemed like the never ending paint adventure.
1:00 am. The painting resumes. The floor was now about half complete, and it almost resembled a wood floor. Almost. The three of us were beginning to get a little giddy, and little things would set us rolling on the floor laughing. Now this was my first time spending an entire night at the theatre. I had spent many a late night, one, two, three AM at the latest, but never a full night. It was a new experience, but one I was excited to experience. And I was very lucky to have two very entertaining, very hard work, very loyal friends to help me. Well one very hard working and one semi hard working (often times throughout the night Haley would just disappear).
3:30 am. The hysteria and delusion set it. Maggie and I have been working non-stop since 9am and who knows how long Haley had been awake for. While we were waiting for things to dry, Haley disappeared again. Soon I heard my name being called, and I looked around but I saw no Haley. Then I realized who I was dealing with, and looked up, and sure enough, there she was half way up the ladder to the cove. You see Haley is a certified free climber, and any chance she gets to climb, she will. I told her to come down, but she insisted that I show her what was up there. I figured, why not? We had to wait for the floor to dry to put the next step down, and neither her nor Maggie had a real tour of the theatre. So I guided them to the cove, and explained how we hung instruments and cabled things, and how not to walk on the ceiling, unless you wanted to fall to your death. Naturally, they wanted to see more, so I took them up higher, to our grid, and over to our loading rail. Both girls were in awe of how everything worked, and a little freaked out about walking 50 ft directly over our stage on just steel beams and plywood. After we finished our tour, we found ourselves outside for a quick breath of fresh air, and some crazy middle of the night photos.
4:30 am. Back to painting. There are only two more steps left, but they seem like the longest two steps. My feet ached, my shoulders hurt and my brain was functioning on its last bit of sanity. I think I had gone through at least 4 amp energy drinks, but I lost count somewhere around 3am. I just wanted to push through the last bit and drop right where I was standing. That hospital bed we use in the show was looking better and better each minute, but I told myself to keep going. When it is done I will be proud, and I will be able to look back and say, “hey, I did that”. I kept telling the girls the same thing. “just a bit more, and then we can all sleep. I promise.”
6:00 am. After rinsing our brushes, and making sure everything had a lid. We were finally finished. Haley went back to her room and Maggie and I chose our designated napping spots. We both had to be back in by 9am to start our second day of tech. I chose the hospital bed that I had my eye on since 4:30. Maggie went into the lobby and took our well seasoned couch.
As I laid down, my body began to hum with all the extra energy still running though my veins, yet I was exhausted. I laid awake, waiting for my brain and muscles to calm down enough for me to doze off. I began to think about how many hours I had spent awake in the theatre. 22. 22 hours awake and working. Well 23 if you count the hour it took me to fall asleep. Thinking about all those hours, and all the work that I got accomplished made me proud of what I do, but I realized it was not enough. In theatre, its not about the hours you put in, but the hours you don’t. The show will always open, deadlines cannot be pushed back, and every hour wasted is another element lost. But even now, as I sit here and write this blog, with the show in the background, I have never been so proud of something that I did. I did this. I created this. And yes there were times when I said, “uh yeah, that looks good there,” or, “just give me a second I need to think” when really I didn’t have a second to spare. Nevertheless, this is my set, and my design, and it was worth every hour, every minute and every second of every day that I put work into it.