Saturday was a quiet day in To Begin With land, as Jeffrey once more was away in Arizona, so there was never going to be a large rehearsal. However our lighting designer Michael Klaers had just returned from his few days in Los Angeles so our job would be to let him get all of his cues sorted out.
As my call was not until 2pm I could spend the morning following what has become a well-grooved routine: I had breakfast, did a complete mini performance of the show in my apartment and the went to the gym for my every-other-day-run-and-swim. As I pounded the treadmill I was listening to the greatest hits of Paul Simon, but the television in front of me was showing an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine with subtitles, so I was able to enjoy the adventures from the Isle of Sodor accompanied by Me and Juilo. I don’t know if there is an America narrator for Thomas here, but in my mind it was dear old Ringo Starr doing the voices.
The rehearsal itself was a good session, and even though it was very much a technical run of the show, with lots of stops and re-tweakings of effects, it didn’t seem nearly as frustrating as previous days. I suppose that this was always slated to be a technical rehearsal, so it was in that frame of mind that I went into it.
There are not that many lighting effects for Michael to use in this version of the show, in that there are not many lights! The Old Wesley Center is short on electricity, so we are confined to 4 LED lanterns in the balcony and 4 strips of footlights on the stage itself. The balcony lights are of the sort than can be swung around and controlled remotely, and as Michael was setting them it was as if we were in London during the blitz, with searchlights sweeping across the skies.
The whole technical process is so amazing now. In my day (I may as well say ‘in the old days’), the lighting designer would be sat behind a huge desk of sliding dimmers, each one controlling one light, or maybe a preset collection of lights. Some would have lamps would have had coloured gels in to create different atmospheres on stage – steel for cold and eerie, amber or rose for warmth. Some very flashy theatres may have had lights with auto change gels, so the colour could be changed from the desk. The lighting man would have a script and at the correct cue he would trigger the light changes.
Next to the lighting man would be the sound effects guy, with his own large desk filled with what seemed to be an impossible number of little knobs to twiddle. He too would have a script and make sure that the effects were triggered at the right moment. Hopefully light and sound would get on well together, and present a unified technical operation for the audiences.
Nowadays all of the cues (light and sound) are built into a single computer programme created specifically for the show. Over the past few days Ben and Michael Croswell (our composer) have been building up the soundscape, which has proved to be an incredibly complicated but impressive operation. Each effect is made up of many layers of recording, any one of which can be enhanced or softened in relation to all of the others, until the mix is exactly what is required. Some effects are purely ambient sound, for instance the washing of the waves on the shore, or a busy ferry port, whilst others are much more specific to the action – a door knock or a donkey bray maybe. The programme allows for the former to be playing under the spoken words whilst the latter can be triggered on the exact vocal cue, which has the happy result that I don’t have to be a robot.
Now Michael The Light went through the show and carefully programmed all of his cues too. The great advantage of the LED lights is that can be automatically changed to any colour we need, without the complicated and fiddly changing of gels: warm glow – hit a button and it is there. Cold, chilly night exterior – click, and we are shivering. As Michael created each scene he was able to link them precisely into Ben and Michael’s master programme. All of this means that when the show is actually being performed everything can be controlled by Ben from his MacBook.
The original idea was just to hop from cue to cue, so I didn’t bother to get into costume (although I did use the various waistcoats and jackets for some of the quick changes), however as it turned out we practically did a complete run through, as between sound and light there are very few moments in the show that nothing is happening. We stopped a few times and went back over some complicated moments, but it actually felt a very useful and productive session.
Bob, our production designer was also there, and as I was getting ready to leave he very kindly gave me a bag of choc-chip cookies made by his wife Mary so that I would have something homely and comforting in my apartment, which was incredibly generous and thoughtful of them both. Bob has been a great asset to the show, he sits quietly watching and when any issue with props or costume comes up he quietly solves it, or suggests a way in which it might be solved.
One example of Bob’s attention to detail was the case of the shoulder-pads: during one scene I have to change into a new waistcoat and jacket, the latter of which had shoulder pads sewn in. On a couple of occasions as I tried to slide my arm in, whilst continuing with the lines, my hand got caught in the pads meaning I was fighting with the garment. No fuss. No great hoo-hah. In yesterday’s rehearsal I came to the change and discovered that the pads had been removed, and that it was easy to slip the coat on. Bob is a true pro and, as with all of the others involved in this project, is a complete pleasure to work with.
And now we are in the final stages of our rehearsals: we open on Tuesday evening, so we just have Sunday and Monday left to bring it to perfection. It is very very exciting!