Saturday, May 23, 2009

What You Don't See ... Kinda.

The dark and shadowy figures appearing onstage during blackouts clear entire sets of tables, chairs and whatnots only to replace them with even more necessary whatnots needed for the next scene.

All in the time it takes to say: "Wasn't Christian absolutely brilliant in that last scene?"

In reality, scene changes are integral parts of each production where actors and crew members work as a team in precisely choreographed frenzied events. The goal is to set the stage for the next scene as quickly as possible without killing yourself or maiming any cast members.

This is important for a couple of reasons. If you maim a cast member, you're rarely given the opportunity to maim again, plus, audiences don't pay to watch darkened theaters and it's easy to lose the momentum of the last scene with an unduly extended blackout.

Actors, directors and writers create make believe worlds with a purpose and long scene changes can possibly lead to patrons thinking about overdue water bills.

That's only desirable if an overdue water bill is a central theme to the production.

A "shift plot" details who's responsible for what during scene changes and they are drilled and drilled and drilled and drilled. After that, you drill some more.

But, the payoff is worth the effort and I find shift plots highly challenging. To help actors see in the dark, glow tape is placed on stairs and other objects. On stage, strips of glow tape or paper are known as "spike marks" and represent correct spots for props.

Why not just set them in the general area and be done with it? Because stage lights don't move and they are set specifically to light each scene.

It's all part of a teamwork philosophy that's crucial to success in small theaters. I guess Broadway directors pay highly trained monkeys to rid sets of unnecessary cutlery, but I wouldn't really know because I've never traveled to New York.

As for me, carrying a table full of pots while walking backward down stairs in light dim enough to make a cat spark a match can be as mildly rewarding as executing a flawless soliloquy.

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