Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

So... You wanna be a producer...

Well, the past couple of days have been a mix of frenetic energy and exhaustion. As anyone who follows David Millstone's Blog already knows, Thursday night was pretty hellish for The Front Page.

When I got to the theater Thursday night it was the typical routine - I put away my stuff, called the actors involved with fights onto the stage for "fight call" (for those of you not on our side of the curtain, we run all the physical violence in the show before the show starts to be sure we've got the moves "in our bodies..." skipping fight call is a good way for someone to get hurt!)... it was a typical Thursday night. Then I heard the news.

The light board wasn't working. We had no control of the stage lights at all - we couldn't even turn them on.

So much for "the usual routine." The next forty minutes were spent running back and forth from the light booth to the small "Stage Manager's Panel" backstage to the dimmers located underneath the stage and back. We were on the phone to everyone we could think of (coincidentally the head of the Mt. Hood Community College Theatre Arts Program was there to see the show that night, so even HE got into the act), we were trying everything we could think of... to no avail.

As the clock ticked closer and closer to 8:00, we had some decisions to make and fast. We found that we could bring some lights up and down from the stage manager's panel backstage, so we decided that all the fancy light cues we were used to would go out the window. The audience would get "lights up" at the top of the act, "lights down" at the end, and that was it.

We were a little late in starting, and there was a lot of nervous energy amongst the cast because the technical glitch. Once we actually got on stage, we got another bit of bad news... the "house lights" (the lights above the audience's head which usually go off when the play begins) wouldn't go off. We did the entire show with a fully lit audience... and sadly, it made a difference.

Many audience members don't know that there are three reasons for bringing the lights down at the start of a show. The first (and most obvious) reason is that light from the audience bleeds onto the stage, and many of the lighting effects lose their potency if the "house" isn't dark.

The second reason is the legendary "fourth wall." If you think about a standard "box set," you'll note that it has three walls (one to the right, one to the left, one in back). The "fourth wall" is an illusion agreed upon by the actors and the audience - we act as though there's a wall between you and us, and that we can't see through it (assuming it's that kind of show). You in the audience get the feeling of looking through that fourth wall, of observing events transpiring as if you weren't there. When the house lights are up and we can see the audience from the stage, however, it's much harder for us in the cast to believe in that "fourth wall," and sometimes our concentration can suffer for it.

And what about that third reason? The third reason we bring the lights down is so the audience can feel safe and anonymous. Sounds funny to say this out loud, but there's a certain feeling of security that comes from sitting in a group and knowing that no one can see you. You feel more at-ease, you laugh and react to the play better, because you're not worried that your neighbor or those weird people up on the stage will see you acting like a fool out in the audience. When the lights are up in the audience, people are more self-conscious. This was the effect on Thursday night... we could tell from the stage that the audience was enjoying the show, but they didn't feel "loose" enough to be vocal with their appreciation. The laughs weren't uproarious, the reactions weren't as strong... and since we weren't able to easily perceive the audience's reactions on the stage, the timing and energy of the show suffered.

In any case, we got through it... Friday is still kind of a blur to me. I was on the phone from the moment I got up with the Artistic Director, with our contact at the college, with the company that installed the lighting system, with the stage manager... as I flew down the road to an appointment (oh, yeah, I had a full day of work scheduled on top of everything else. You didn't think something like this was going to happen when I had time to deal with it, did you? HA!!!) with my head-set in my cel phone I found out that Hollywood Lights (who installed the system) couldn't send anyone out to help fix it. They suggested calling the 800 number for the light-board-maker's technical support line. I arranged for one of our student interns (the blessed Eamon Dixon) to meet up with our Artistic Director at the theatre that afternoon so that they could call Strand Century (the light board manufacturer) to work out the problem. Later that afternoon they called me back to tell me they were successful, and I was much relieved (I then had to contact about 12 other people to let them know that we had lighting control again).

Until I got to the theatre... and found out that they'd been only half successful - we had control of the lights hanging above the stage, but not the lights behind the stage or rigged up on the floor. Another tense 20 minutes or so passed by... but our lighting designer Phil McBeth was there, and he managed to get the beast tamed and back into its cage.

So... I'm kinda exhausted today. It was a heck of a lot easier just being an actor... and don't even get me started on how poorly the shows have been selling...