In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to L.A. for the last week of rehearsals before my new play opens, a period customarily referred to as “tech week”. At my level, if I don’t actually live in the town that my play will be opening, I can usually only afford to be attendance for a weekend of auditions prior to rehearsals and then this week of tech, which usually breaks down something roughly like this:
D -7 Day: Paper Tech – The director, designers, and stage manager (and sometimes the light board operator and sound board operator) sit down and map out on paper every single sound, light and effects cue to be executed during the show. It’s a tedious process, aptly named “dry”. Playwrights don’t often sit through these, though I think remember doing so when it was a particularly technical show. I don’t think I contributed much, and believe I snuck out early. Actors, obviously, are not present. Some times they’re sent off with an assistant director or something to do a speed-through of the play; and the playwright is better off attending this to make sure they're saying his lines and not those of their own invention, intentional or otherwise.
D -6 Day: Cue-to-cue – (Also often referred to as a “10 out of 12” since Actor’s Equity allows for actors to work ten hours out of a twelve hour day in this special circumstance.) Easily the most arduous and dull days of the rehearsal process. The show is run through, skipping all the meat of the scenes and only hitting the lines that lead up to and follow light and/or sound cues. Experienced actors know that they’re not really supposed to “act” during a cue-to-cue, though they are supposed to give a fairly accurate line reading so that the tech folks can mark cue books appropriately, and get a feel for how and when to execute. Mostly actors are expected to keep their mouths shut and stay focused while the tech folks try to figure out ways to make them look good. Often rookie actors forget this and flaunt their impatience, but usually they’ll be taught a strong enough lesson early enough in their careers to convince them that this is never wise.
D -5 Day: Cue-to-Cue. – More of the same. Usually a director will try and get a run in toward the end of this time, though often this is wishful thinking.
D -4 Day: Night off. – (Ideally., though often the booth crew uses this as another opportunity for a dry tech.)
D -3 Day: First Full-Tech Run – Just what it sounds like, and usually the most frightening night of the entire week.
D -2 Day: Full Dress Rehearsal – This is when the whole show should come together. Traditional superstition has it that an awful dress rehearsal means it’s going to be a great show. Obviously this horse shit only gets trotted out when the dress rehearsal tanked and the director or somebody is trying to buck up the cast. My preference in this all-too-common instance is to go the other way and drive the living fear of God into them about how much they sucked.
D -1 Day: Invited Dress Rehearsal – In a larger house, this might be some sort of paid preview. In any case, it’s the chance to put a good kind of pressure on the cast and crew by having folks in the house that haven’t yet seen the show. Hopefully the performers will use this opportunity to start learning how the show “plays”: where the laughs are, how the pacing susses out, etc. It’s nearly impossible to accurately gauge how a play actually works until you have some butts in seats.
D Day: Opening Night – Almost always an insane evening. It’s pretty much a lousy way to gauge a show’s success or failure since the actors and crew are usually so pumped and sleep deprived that they’re apt to make stupid mistakes, and alternatively give it more energy than they otherwise might. It’s a good night for the playwright to get drunk, but don't over do it before the show. One opening after having too much scotch I had to pee so bad, that suffering through the first act, I went back the next day and cut 10 minutes out of it. (So maybe not a bad thing after all.) Another opening I feel asleep after too many martini’s at dinner. Save the binging till after the final blackout, or at least intermission.
D +1 Day: Second night – The best time for a playwright to gauge a show before getting the hell out of dodge.
By my count this will be the fifteenth or sixteenth production of one of my plays, so I know at least something about bringing original work to the stage. That said, however, I openly admit that my experience has been mostly limited to what I would call the Alternative Theatre circuit, so the process may be significantly different in the larger regional theatres. (Contrary to popular assumption, plays never actually premiere on Broadway; they always open in smaller houses, either downtown or out of town, so they can be tested and tinkered with.)
For all I know, August Wilson issues dramaturgical fiats from his hotel room while watching the stage business on closed circuit television. For me, the action happens much more down in the trenches. In addition to taking down notes on the rehearsals, many of which are more directorial than dramaturgical, I’ve helped build and paint sets, hang lights, work the box office, clean the house, clean the lobby, sew costumes, eject drunk audience members, walk skittish actors to their cars in bad neighborhoods, etcetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
I’m going to try and keep a journal of my upcoming tech week and post it in the daylogs, but knowing how hectic these things can get, itmay not happen. We’ll see.
Wish me broken legs!
I subsequently journalized my experiences as a playwright in tech on my play The Good Ship Manhattan in the following day logs:
February 28, 2003
March 1, 2003
March 3, 2003
March 6, 2003
March 11, 2003