“Grilling a Burger on a Source 4,” or, the life of a theatre technician.
By admin | Date: November 26, 2015
The important thing to remember is that it takes twenty-six minutes – from frozen – to cook a hamburger on your standard theatre spotlight.
This is the story of the space. It’s not the same standing on the outside of thousands of tonnes of concrete, looking at this giant box with the red doors and the odd angles and wondering “What’s going on in that big warehouse?” This story hides in dark rooms, in wing-space, in the folds of great black drapes. You must learn that the light you see creates the shadows that hides the things you cannot.
While you are not watching, busy at work or Starbucks or surfing channels, an everyday truck backs up to the tall red doors. Scruffy looking people in black garb unload the constructs of a fairy tale and transform this simple black box into another world, another time or your own bedroom.
Nothing grows in a black box. Things sort of mutate. As a roundhouse, host to touring companies and a gaggle of one night stands, only the faces change and even then, not so much. The story is the story is the story. The only difference now is that we tell more of them.
I have been here ten years. In January of 1997 I came to the first volunteer orientation for the Evergreen Cultural Centre. Roger Lantz was the Technical Operations Manager then and he took the group of us on a tour of the building that eventually led to the theatre catwalk. I remember standing at the railing, staring down into the space thirty feet below and thinking: “If I jumped right now, I would fly. I would soar over the seating, above the stage, land with both feet on the black floor.” That’s the feeling I get when I see something beautiful, when I fall in love.
Roger and Wilson hired me. I had been volunteering for three years, skipping shifts at Save-On every time Arts Club rolled into town. On my first day of real work, Roger gave me a pen, a piece of paper and a master key and said: “Go, explore, come back with questions.”
This place is bigger than it looks. There are secret rooms and hidden hallways. I explored, jotting down the unusual components of the building as I came across them. Every theatre has it quirks. At the Clarke, in the front row the stage sits level with your forehead. At the ACT, they are wired to the gills with four channels of Clear Com – even in the bathrooms.
The Evergreen dealt with most of its issues during construction. The mezzanine railings being too high for the audience to see over, having to cut every single one of them down and re-weld. The orchestra pit having to be dug out and installed after the floor had been finished. But one architectural misprint that still exists today is a regular electrical outlet, the kind you plug your toaster into, that is embedded in the wall about 15 feet above the floor. Obviously a blueprint error. The part I don’t get is why nobody said anything when they had to get an extension ladder to put the faceplate on.
It drives me crazy me crazy when I tell people I work in a theatre and they ask me if we’re still showing Pirates of the Caribbean. The fourth wall is not a SCREEN! When you come to a theatre the show you are seeing is live – its A-live. Alive is its energy, alive in its ecosystem of actors and stage managers and technicians, props, costumes and set changes all spinning with the perfect synchronism of a microcosmic world. At least that’s what we try for.
The best green room stories arise from the worst screw-ups that the audience never notices. I once, in a moment of cockiness, accidentally blacked out the stage in the middle of a scene. When the lights came back on, the actor on stage said, “Damn the wiring in these old houses…” That was Stage 43’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Despite the chronic disorganization of amateur groups, I believe the people who create theatre after working their day job are the pinnacle of dedication. Their methods can be clumsy and they are the incestuous little bunch, swapping roles as directors and performers and crew with varied results, but I can’t help but respect their eagerness, their pure desire to put on a show.
Some of the best shows are one-offs – performers on tour who stop on our stage for just one night. The people are usually more fun to work with and the show is more entertaining. The incomparable Edith Wallace, the Mud Bay Jugglers, the ladies from the Sound of Moosic, Taiko drummers and dear Max-i-mime, the hearing impared artist who gave me this name sign: (two fingers wiggling).
So, it’s a hot day in July with nothing to do but test the theory that the heat generated by a 575 watt bulb reaches temperatures over 300 degrees. Roger and I are sitting on the walkway just outside the stage door. We have pilfered a frozen burger left over from the volunteer barbecue. We take one of our theatre lights, a Source Four par with a narrow lens – smooth and round like a bowl to catch the grease, and mount it on a floor stand, pointing it up to the sky. It’s the perfect size for one beef patty. After a few minutes the frozen burger melts and sinks into the shape of the lens.
I am the wrong person to ask about progress at the Evergreen. I could tell you about equipment but nobody cares about your gear except technicians. You shake hands and you say “Hey, we picked up a couple of VL1000s; holds a CYM mixer and five gobos with no shift on the focus.” Sweet! I don’t know what we need them for but it’s going to make the next preschool dance recital look snazzy.
Technicians live in the dark, live on coffee and leftover catering, take pride in setting things perfectly on fire. Even as the number of shows increases, their quality and how the audience receives them is still a crapshoot. Ticket sales aren’t our concern but it is frustrating to work all day then play to an empty house. And audiences are finicky. Friday nights especially, after they’ve been at work all week and wish they were on their third glass of wine, to the best shows they say, “Impress Me.”
The hamburger is almost done. We are hunkered down like two kids staring at an anthill. Roger flips the sizzling burger with a fork and just as I am laying a slice of cheese across the lens-grilled meat, up walks our boss. Doh!
So we were wasting a little time, letting off some steam and feeding our curiosity. How can you not in a place like this? You can’t really attach business to creativity. Sure it’s easy to calculate the production costs of building a set, paying your performers and crew, marketing, venue rental, various and assorted holes in the wallet.
But what is the value of creative opportunity and creativity expressed? It may not matter to investors or auditors, but it matters to the eleven year old girl in the ballet slippers who steps into the light and is rewarded with thunderous applause. That applause may be expensive by it is also priceless.
It matters that the Evergreen is a COMMUNITY space. It is full of the creative potential of everyone who enters it: performers, artists, amateur and professional. It is a place to educate and encourage. It is a neighourhood, a livelihood. It is a showcase, a space.
There is nothing better than this space, quiet at night after a good show, the audience gone home, the set struck and the stage bare, soothing the floor with a warm mop. Everything is its place and a job well done.
But what do I know? I’m just a techie, living in the dark, eating catering leftovers.
Contributed by Evergreen’s Technical Operations Manager, Krista, and adapted from her monologue written in 2007.