A Week in the Grim North

Post length: 2,456 words, almost 11 minutes.

It all went off pretty well really, all in all.  And, as I said in a slightly drunken state at the time, “New friends, that’s what it’s all about. There was a play in there somewhere too, but that’s what I’ll come away with in the end.”

That inspired tweet came as I was on my way home from the closing party of ‘Stranded’ and, while I might have had quite a lot to drink (it started off as Southern Comfort and Lemonade but there wasn’t much of that and quite a few people drinking it, so it soon became Archers Peach Schnapps, and when the Lemonade ran out the mixer became tonic water) I really kind of mean it.  It’s been quite a long time since I made new friends like that.  Of course I make new friends down here, but it takes quite a long time simply because of the way I meet people and the chances I get to interact with them — mostly it’s work related, and obviosuly work has to come first — and the other friendship groups they already have.  With this group it was different.

As a company, Grim North Theatre have been together for something like 3 years.  While some of the company members are the same now as they were when they started, each year they lose some people and gain some others.  I guess it helps that I’m old friends with the company’s artistic director and that I know quite well a number of people involved behind the scenes, but this year I found it really easy to get to know the people who I met for the first time.  Maybe it’s because I was there for longer this year — usually it’s just a flying visit, while this year I was there for a week — or maybe I’ve just changed.  Where once I would have sat quietly in the corner, done my work thing, and then gone away again, this year I felt like I was much more outgoing and that’s got to be a good thing.  I do think I’ve gone that way in the last few years — I think I’m much less shy than I was. Although maybe this time it was just the drink.

The play went suprisingly well too.  From being really worried at the start of the week that we didn’t have any time booked into the theatre to do any tech, to really getting into the stride of it by the end of the week, I’m pleased with how it went.  Another few hours to plot and program and another couple of nights for performance and the show would have been technically pretty sharp.

I nagged the person who booked the theatre over and over about getting into the venue before the final dress on Friday night, and kind of got what I was after.  We went in on the Tuesday night to rig.  While this was interesting, given I’d not seen the play by this stage, it went very well.  It helped that I knew the theatre this time around — I had a rough idea of their stock and how things worked which really helped.  I met with the director on Monday night and we talked through the script.  He gave me an idea of what he wanted where, and anything special he had in mind.  From those notes I spent Tuesday daytime working up a design and rigging plot.  I designed the grid in a three stages — the key lighting (ie. stuff we couldn’t do without), effects and things which would be great, but we could miss out if we didn’t have time.  All in all it came to a 28 fixture design.

I’d based the stock on what we’d had the previous year, and assumed that fixtures would mostly be in the same places.  I assumed they wouldn’t often move much, expecially from the front of house bars, as the access is a bit of a nightmare, and last year’s setup seemed to offer pretty standard coverage.  This assumption was wrong; a lot had been moved FOH.  A quick rethink of the fixtures we could use to light the stage as we needed it later, and we got on with it.  Starting on the FOH bars and finishing on the stage we completed the rig almost completely, bar a few on-stage effects, in just over 3 hours.  I was very pleased.

Wednesday was spent working up a patch design (the Hebden Bridge Little Theatre was kitted out in 1993, and rather than have hard-wired dimmers patched on the desk, they have traditional hard patch dimmers up on a balcony beside the stage).  Thanks to the planning the day before and the notes I took during the fit up this was remarkably easy, as was actually carrying out the patch on the Friday night.  (One thing which irritates me a little about the patch bay at HBLT is the mess people leave it in.  It was the same last year — there’s a rack for the bar tails, but no one seems to put anything back in it when they are finished.  When you’re pressed for time, as we always are, sorting through the rats-nest of cables is a bit waste of resources.  I suppose it doesn’t dawn on them as much as they have much more time to sort things out, but a bit of consideration would be really appreciated.  I sorted it all out before starting my patch, and left their cable rack tidy when we left both this year and last year.  I’ve no doubt it’ll be a mess again next time we’re in there.)  Wednesday night I sat in on a rehearsal with my notes.  I was pleased that pretty much everything was as I’d expected it to be.  They didn’t quite make it through the final act.  We went to the pub afterwards.

The pub was interesting.  I went last year, but didn’t really talk to anyone.  Last time I went I was just getting over a very nasty bout of gastroenteritis I’d picked up off my parents and wasn’t feeling great.  Added to that I didn’t really know anyone, and it wasn’t much fun.  This time around was different.  When we got there I met someone I used to go to school with.  We were never really good friends, but he seemed to want to talk to me all evening and catch up.  I was quite happy to oblige (although when it came to going for a curry with him, another semi-friend and the karaoke man at the end of the night, I bailed).  After a while he suggested we did a karaoke song together. I’m not really one for doing that (now I say that, but I do sometimes wish I did do things like that more often), but after about 45 minutes of him keeping on at me I agreed to join him to sing Sting’s Englishman In New York.  The whole event was filmed on a phone camera, but thankfully doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere on the internet.

Thursday was the only non-theatre day I had in the week, and so I agree to meet an old School / University friend.  The plan was to go to a reasonably quiet bar and just have a chat.  After looking around for a while to see if there was anywhere suitable open, we settled on a small bar not far from my parents house.  The clientele were generally older, but that didn’t matter.  We sat in the corner with our bar-style fruit juices (Appletizer and an Orange and Pomegranate juice) and had a good catch up.  It was good to find out how he was doing.  We suggested meeting up again at the weekend, but that didn’t work out for one reason and another.

I spent most of Friday in bed — I’d moved into my parent’s room for the week while they were away as it’s slightly more made-up than my old room / their spare room, especially as they’d had the electricians in to re-wire the house for the last few weeks and everything was covered in dust — just relaxing, watching things on iPlayer and generally being lazy.  It was nice to have a day with nothing really to do, knowing that everything was reasonably well on track for the evening.  We were in the theatre 6 – 10 that night, so I set off to get the train which would get me there about half past 5.  While the theatre is only a few minutes walk from the station, the next train would have got there too late.  Tiffany rang while I was on my way to the station and we had a catch up while I walked.  Once I got to the station I met up with Scott and his girlfriend (now fiancee) Jessie.  Jessie was in the play and Scott had agreed to help out with whatever I needed doing backstage.  Once we arrived at the theatre we got going with the remaining backstage tasks, hindered only mildly by the control room being locked and no one being around with a key for about half an hour.  I asked Scott and a few others to mark out the set location with glowtape and fix the tabs while I set to doing my patch.

Once the rehearsal was underway things went relativly well.  There was one slipup nearish the beging when I missed a blackout because the pen I wrote my initial notes in couldn’t be seen under the light of the control room (this was intentional in fact — I wrote my initial notes in pink so I didn’t get distracted by them and translated most of them into black before the tech run, this one I forgot), but other than that it went pretty well.  I was happy with the general design and control which meant any time we had after that could be spent  improving on what I’d already done.  After rehearsal I joined people for a quick drink then headed home.

So came Saturday and the night of the first performance.  The show was due to go up and 7.30 and we couldn’t get into the theatre until 6, so I’d arranged to go and visit the Artistic Director of my old theatre school for a catch up.  I headed for Hebden in the early afternoon and gave her a call on the way to make sure she was available (thinking about it, I’m not sure what I would have done for a few hours if she’d not been available, but thankfully I didn’t need to worry about that).  I spent a few hours sitting in her kitchen (which has a remarkably low ceiling!), and chatting about a whole load of different things.  One thing which did come out of it was the possibility of shooting the ISTA festival they are hosting in October.  I probably aught to chase that up.  So the afternoon came and went, and was very pleasent.  Then was time to get over to the theatre.

I set off leaving myself plenty of time.  I wanted to make sure I got there early just in case the place was open before we had been told.  On my way to the theatre I passed the same pub I’d been to with the rest of the company the night before.  Outside were a couple of members of the cast eating chips.  I didn’t see them and would have walked straight past if they hadn’t shouted out.  The rest of the company were inside — apparently they’d arranged to meet for a pub lunch — and were just finishing off.  We all headed to the theatre together.

The show went ok but for one missed entrance.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, but someone who should have been there, wasn’t there.  As lighting op these things cause a problem: you bring the scene up, one person is on stage, the other doesn’t turn up.  What do you do?  Everyone knows something’s wrong, but if you leave the scene up then you’re just re-inforcing the point, and if you take it down again all hell breaks loose because the cast don’t know what to do, and there’s potential for everyone to get out of step.  This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if we had an SM on cans of course, it would be her call, but we didn’t.  I have no idea where she was.  The girl with me in the control box on sound was a co-director of the piece, and apparently didn’t have much experience working FoH.  She went ballistic shouting down the comms which seemed a little pointless to me as there was clearly no one on the other end.  Everyone in the audience could hear.  Now normally I’d be upset by this, but in this instance it didn’t do me much harm — as long as she was shouting, and everyone could hear it, it got me off the hook: it clearly wasn’t my fault.  In the end the missing actor appeared and the show went on.

After the success of Saturday night I was confident for Sunday’s performance.  I knew I didn’t need to change anything for my side of things to work all right, and anything I did change would be an improvement.  I didn’t set out on Sunday with any specific plans, but managed to slip in one or two improvements.  The biggest of which was the use of the house tab, which I found almost totally accidentally.  There are a set of unlabeled buttons in the control box which I’d never pressed before and I decided now would be a good time to see what happened if I did press them.  It turned out they opened, closed and stopped the house curtain.  After quick consultation with the director, we decided we’d use them.  I set up a quick preset including the house lights and a couple of soft red profiles on the curtain which looked great (it’s not the nicest blue tab, but with a touch of red it looked much better), I also threw in a light on stage so the cast could see what they were doing (in fact adding this to the preset was a mistake — when I brought the house lights back up at the interval this light came back up too, and caused a little confusion — I removed it from the preset during the break).  I kind of wish we hadn’t used the tab at the end, there wasn’t much need for it and it seemed a little amateur, but all in all it was a good addition to the piece.

Posted on Monday 12th April, 2010 at 12:52 pm in People, Theatre.
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