The Trenches of Tech Week

July 31, 2014 / by Lavina Jadhwani, Classical Directing Fellow


I have a confession: I love tech week.

I know it's stressful and involves a lot of long hours and tough decisions, but it's also basically Christmas for directors. It's that time where all the cool toys we've been dreaming about for weeks finally arrive and we get to play with them with a bunch of our best friends! This production of Henry IV has a lot of tricks -- a uniquely configured thrust stage (pictured above -- note the "trench" down center), moving scenery, rope climbing, gunfire, a gorgeous mix of live and recorded music, etc. It's been slow-going, but this extraordinary company has reminded me of why I love tech: it stimulates innovation and generosity.
When new elements arrive during tech, we often encounter problems we hadn't anticipated; however, the most surprising solutions also occur during this time. It reminds me of the adrenaline I used to get from pulling all nighters to finish projects during my undergrad days. I was a scenic designer in my previous life, and my classmates and I would find the strangest, most surprising solutions to our late night model building problems. Similarly, I'm always amazed at theatre practitioners' ability to repurpose ordinary household objects for creative purposes.
Yesterday, I walked past our ASMs as they were unwrapping several boxes of contact lens cases. When I asked what they were doing, they explained that the cast had requested earplugs due to the gunfire onstage. The props department came up with the idea of packaging reusable earplugs in colored contact lens cases. The cases keep the plugs clean and contained, and the variety of colors helps the actors quickly identify which case belongs to them. Pretty clever!
Today, I walked past Kevin Coleman (who's playing Northumberland and Shallow) wearing a sweatshirt over his costume and a towel wrapped around his waist, secured with a binder clip. When I asked him why he was dressed so strangely, he dryly replied, "It turns out they won't let you smoke in costume." (I asked if I could take a picture of his getup for this blog, but he declined). A very different (and admittedly self-created) problem, with an equally innovative solution.
But where Shakespeare & Company truly excels is in generosity -- the spirit of it pervades the whole campus. On Monday, the company's committee of volunteers served dinner to the tech staff on a break from dry tech; they will do the same for the entire cast and crew on Saturday prior to our first preview. On Tuesday, during the meal break of our first 10 out of 12, the stage manager of Julius Caesar pulled together a barbecue for our stage management staff (and one very appreciative AD!). Apparently that's a new tradition here -- the stage management team of one show will cook for another during their first day of tech. Foodstuffs and compliments are common tech week fare, but here the feeling of "we're all in this together" includes the entire community. It's quite moving to see such widespread support, as we are one of the last productions to open this summer. As itinerant, freelance artists, we have to be resilient, self-sufficient, and low-maintenance; this week, I've been in a place where I can allow myself to be cared for by other artists, and that has made all of the difference.
Pictured above: opening look for Henry IV during our first day of dry tech.