Unsolicited Advice

Progress on my short play Basic Cable Method Acting, which is set to be presented in the upcoming Queens Short Play Festival, is coming at a nice and steady pace.  This weekend, the show held its technical rehearsal at the venue where it’ll be performing, the Secret Theatre in Woodside Queens.  It’s a very simple show – only a few chairs for a set, no internal lighting or sound cues, just lights up and lights down – but it’s still crucial to hammer out those technical details, and make sure the intended blocking works in the performance space.  So after already trekking from South Brooklyn to Manhattan for my other commitments that day, I travelled into a third of our five boroughs, to be available for the tech rehearsal if necessary.

It might not have been necessary.  It was definitely boring.

Tech is always boring.  It always takes a long time to put all of the elements together, no matter how simple any individual one of them might scene.  It always runs longer than you’ve scheduled; this is especially true when you’re the last show in a program of six short pieces, and five entire plays had to tech before you did.  But if you’re a writer, or the director, or are involved on the production end, you’re actively doing something.  You’re performing, you’re setting lighting levels, you’re adjusting the position of props, you’re active.  True, you’re only active for a few moments at a time, and then are sitting around waiting for a nice long interval waiting for the next few moments.  But if you’re the playwright?  Your moments all occurred months, possibly years ago as you banged out the first rough draft.  You might have an obligation to watch the tech, you might be keeping your eyes out for any final changes that need to be made, you might simply have a morbid curiosity – but you have precious little to do.

So, with all that in mind, here is my completely unsolicited advice for all you scribes out there, as to how a playwright can survive the tech.  Classicist that I am, I’ve boiled it down to three crucial points:

  1. Bring snacks

I wasn’t kidding about techs running late.  Basic Cable Method Acting is a ten minute play.  We had a half hour budgeted for a tech rehearsal with only two light cues and two sound cues.  We wound up leaving the theater about an hour after the tech started, after waiting an hour and a half past our original call time thanks to those aforementioned other five shows.  This is normal.  The process takes as much time as it needs to, regardless of your normal meal schedule.  If it’s a large show on an Equity contract, then sure, there’s some meal breaks built in.  But for down and dirty guerilla theater in a festival setting?  Grab something from the nearest bodega whenever you have a chance, find a safe place in the theater to eat, and settle in.

2. Make friends

Remember that while the other people in that tech with you have jobs to do, and would like to do them as expeditiously as possible, you are all in this together.  So go to town with the small talk.  Whatever movie everybody’s seen that weekend?  Unleash all the opinions you’ve got.  It so happened that there was a checkerboard set up in the lobby outside the theater; I lost to everybody.  (Turns out I’m bad at checkers.  Alas.) You’re going to have a lot of time to pass and you might as well enjoy as much of it as you can, with as many of your colleagues and collaborators as possible.

3. Remember that at this stage of the process, you’re just a stenographer

That piece of advice is no doubt the biggest blow to the ego you’ll find here; it’s also the most important advice I have to give.  You see, if you are a playwright attending the tech rehearsal of your show – especially if it’s the premiere production – you actually do have a job to do.  And it’s not to write any changes – nobody is going to spend another few hours rewriting light cues for a scene you’ve only just decided needs to be a different spot.  No, at this point in the life of your script, you are not the primary creator.  It’s in the hands of your actors, and the director overseeing the production.  And if there are a few lines that are constant being tripped over, if there’s a particular moment you’d envisioned that doesn’t fit with the blocking, if a choice bon mot has been replaced in rehearsals by a shrug or other gesture, now is the time to record that.  It doesn’t matter if it’s what you originally had in mind, it’s the script now.  Did it feel like the characters were somehow always there, and speaking through you, as you sat at the keyboard writing that original draft?  Well now they’re speaking through the actors.  They’re speaking through the process.  The time has come to swallow your pride, listen to how the story is being told, and make the necessary notes for posterity.

Anyway, they keep telling us that “theatre is back!” so maybe this advice will come in handy to more and more of us over time!  I hope you get to swallow your pride and eat some unhealthy takeout food yourself in the next few months.  As for myself, I’m going to bed – I had to go to work early in the morning the day after the tech, and I need to make up those lost hours of sleep somewhere.  Gotta be well rested for opening night!

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