Backstage Rhythm

There’s another kind of orchestration happening in the backstage area. It has a rhythm of its own, conducted by the Stage Manager, and one never heard out front.

I sit waiting in the wings during tech rehearsals and listen to the sounds around me – music and sound effects, the gentle rumble of stage machinery, whoosh and click of scrim drops, motion of the actor’s feet, onstage voices, and the cue calls orchestrated by our Stage Manager, Peter Sutherland.

Pete’s resonant voice is calm, focused, and in tune with the show’s momentum. I swear he is timing his standby and go cue calls to the beat of Tony Brumpton‘s (and Giuseppe Verdi‘s) music and the play’s ambient sound effects. It is wonderfully reassuring.

Entering the stage world

Today begins the final part of the journey as we enter technical and dress rehearsal time. We’ll work through two days of technical rehearsals where lighting, sound and media are integrated into the live action and become part of the story-telling, and of the mise-en-scene of the production.

Tech rehearsals can be a trying time for all involved; cues need to be finalised, scene changes and quick costume changes smoothed, and calling by the stage-manager (in the corner) timed to perfection. The actors generally do not wear costume or makeup, although shoes are required for safety reasons. In this production, a musical, the principals and some of the chorus are radio-miked and the voice/orchestra balance is EQ’d by the sound engineer.

On completion of the tech runs, we commence dress-rehearsals. The difference between a tech and a dress? Techs are stop-start, fix up, and run in fragments. To save time, a director may decide to top and tail a scene in which there are no cues plotted. This is when for the actor stage work becomes a little like work on film, where scenes are re-shot again and again, and often out of sequence.

Dress rehearsals, on the other hand, are straight runs with all the production elements running at full-tilt. To all intents and purposes, dress rehearsals are performances; this is where the actors enter the home straight and start the gallop to the line. All that’s missing is an audience, and there are sometimes invited guests at a final dress rehearsal to add this final touch for the actors … before the paying customers arrive at the start of the season … often the next day.

From today, there’s a sense of urgency, and mounting excitement as the stage world around us comes to life as was always intended. Senses are refreshed, imaginations fired anew and the adrenalin flows!