Monday, November 14, 2011

Week of November 14: What Did We Learn?

With a few hours of peace and solitude separating us from leaving the scene shop early Sunday morning, it's time for us to reflect upon what we accomplished, what we might have missed, what we would have liked to do, and so on.

What we usually discover - and it's usually verbalized as the curtain is going up on opening night - is that "if we just had a little more time ..." we could have done something better. Something more visual. Made a different choice.

So, what did we learn from our most recent production of The Wizard of Oz?

From the standpoint of the technical director, here are some of my observations:

1) I believed we accomplished one of the most challenging scene changes known to theater: "The Tornado." If you look in the script, it's only two pages. But it's two pages of stage direction, punctuated by a few lines. Stage directions like "the characters go into the storm cellar" and "the spotlight picks out a small house spinning above the stage." Seriously? But this is The Wizard of Oz, and most of our audience has seen the film, and there's a storm cellar, and a spinning house, and people flying through the air in the tornado. Certainly there are other scene changes that are challenging in theater, but to go through four differing scenes in such a short amount of time is hardly an easy task. Well done, crew!

2) Scenery can be funny. Hard to believe, but it's true. Of course, it can't be funny on it's own, but when we got the portal in the Gates of Emerald City to slide back and forth, it made me giggle. It's a good bit, even if it's only for a moment. A door that can snap open and shut for comedic affect? Priceless. (OK, maybe this one is just me.)

3) Signature moments and one-trick ponies. What moment is most memorable in the Wizard of Oz? The tornado? Glinda's appearance? The Witch's appearance? "I'm melting, I'm melting, oh, what a world?" Tough to pick, isn't it? And the problem with a show like this is that ask ten people that question, and your likely to get ten different answers. This means you need to give credence to each one. For some, we hit a home run: the melting scene if five seconds long, and everyone bought it. The flying house is five seconds, too. It actually got some applause. For some, we had to settle. I would have loved to do a great red smoke and fire effect for the witch's appearance. A CO2 fire extinguisher did the trick, and it worked. Our bubble had to be moved twice before we got it to work. We weren't fooling anyone as to how we got Glinda on stage. But, they were small parts of the show, and they served their purpose.

4. Talent may beat hard work, but we needed both for this show to be successful. And we had it. We needed smart people to learn how to run a digital sound board, and the physical labor that it took to get mics, speakers and cables set up. We needed bright people to learn and understand the new rigging system, and then run the ropes during the show. We needed stage and props managers who could organize the backstage area, and then pitch in and run stuff when needed. We needed observant light board and follow spot operators to be aware that just about every rehearsal and show needed something new and just a bit different, and then stayed attentive to make sure nothing got missed. We needed eager shift crew personnel who could count on scenery being added up until the first show, and making move quickly and quietly. We needed make-up and costume people to keep over sixty cast members organized, and then bring on some really quick changes that must have been a nightmare backstage. Everyone was talented, and everyone worked hard. Bingo.

So, what did you learn? Go ahead and post a comment. It doesn't have to be long or overly thoughtful - even small things count in something like this.

I am always humbled and amazed by the amount of work that we receive from our techies when we start throwing kitchen sinks at them. The Wizard of Oz is surely an audience favorite, but when it comes to the technical side of things, it is a seven-headed monster with sharp teeth and nasty claws. Thanks again to our fabulous crew who kept their heads about them and made a lot of stage magic happen!

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