Week 6: Tech, dress, and finger tingles

Where do I begin …

So much has happened since the time, earlier this week, when I wrote about leaving the safety and comfort of our rehearsal room. It’s involved the scary but necessary transitioning of an organism – the living, breathing, moving play – into a new space. In fact, it’s an evolution of sorts. And it’s involved not just the artefact of the rehearsed action of the play, but the evolution of all of of us involved in the making of this thing which is in the throes of becoming ‘a production.’

For me, part of the whole transitioning has been simply getting used to the new building in which our performances will occur – the Queensland Performing Arts Complex (QPAC for short), and complex it is. It’s a gigantic cultural site that houses the Playhouse – our venue – along with three other performing spaces. Backstage at QPACWe share the building, located in Brisbane’s South Bank cultural precinct, with several other shows, including the Australian touring production of CATS. It took me several days to learn the path from stage-door to my dressing room – very nice too, and with a view of the Brisbane River. If I stop following the ‘pink for Playhouse’ signs and take a wrong turn along the winding corridors I could end up doing a CATS cameo.

The cast moved in on Wednesday but the crew had been engaged for days before we arrived in the bump-in (or get-in) of the set and the rigging of lights. Since mid-week the focus has been on tech, tech, and more tech – 4 sessions in fact. Part of Stage Management’s challenge since mid-week has been about bringing actors to the stage, and integrating action and all aspects of the production within the created world of Bruce McKinven‘s set – and in getting us on and off and everything around us to run safely, smoothly, efficiently, and at the right time!

For the cast, it’s about testing acoustics and the vocal ‘size’ needed to avoid compromising truthfulness of playing and clarity of speech. Melissa Agnew is out there listening to our speech; there are notes and checks on dialect accuracy and diction. We have line runs to check text accuracy, and to fix cue timing and pick ups. We practise business with props. Whatever needs it gets attention; we’re aware time is precious now.

Wardrobe and design personnel are ever-present in the production room by the dressing rooms, helping with hair and makeup and adjusting costumes if necessary.  Upstairs at the desk in the auditorium lighting designer David Walters, uses tech runs to calibrate and fine tune his lighting states. The same attention to nuance is in sound designer Tony Brumpton‘s compositions; he sits at the desk too.  Peter Sutherland works during the show from ‘Prompt Corner’ at his own desk; he now has a real stage to manage. Pete has overall charge of getting his ‘line teams’ working together. Overlooking the entirety of this creation, is director Andrea Moor assisted by Catarina Hubbard; their scrupulous finessing of  everything is awe-inspiring. Their support matters a great deal, and we look forward to getting our own ‘notes’ after each run. It’s at times like this that it really becomes apparent how enormous the scale of a production can be, and how challenging it is for a director. Do directors have the same anxiety dreams we actors have, I wonder? If she does, Andrea doesn’t show it.

We meet Queensland Theatre Company subscribers for a play-briefing just before we commence our first tech on Wednesday. We chat about the work and answer their questions; they are warm and interested. It’s lovely to look out there and see bodies in the seats of this big auditorium (800 or so seats, I believe). I get the first tingles in my finger-tips (a sure sign of adrenaline-fuelled excitement for performance).

The week rolls through tech in to the Dress Rehearsal phase with no stop-starts now but two complete real-time runs, including timing of interval and how long it takes to make and drink a cup of tea, touch up hair and makeup, and re-focus. And at some stage in the last day or so, the whole thing went ‘click’ somehow. At least that’s what it felt like – just an awareness thing that’s hard to explain. We can sense now when something is not quite right; in the wings or dressing-room (we can listen and watch on the monitor) heads lift, ears cock, noses (almost) sniff the air. We’re in sync as a team; we have a show. It feels good.

And Saturday – last night – was Preview 1 when the audience, the last team member entered the room.  We hear Pete call, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the QUARTET company, the house is open, and the stage is live.’ The finger-tingles go off!

And afterwards – notes, always notes – maddening, enlightening, comforting, and challenging notes. We have three more days to work, and three more performances with our Preview audiences to polish this lovely gem of a play – our play – to be the best it can be.