I’m kind of superstitious about Hell Week.
For you non-theatre friends, Hell Week refers to the week leading up to the opening night of a show, also more officially and appropriately known as Technical Rehearsal Week.
Tech weeks are tedious, boring, and all about well…the details. The technical details. Actors don’t like technical details. They like the emotion, the feeling, the flow of a scene. For me, technical details are the little things I like to glaze over for the better part of a 6-8 week rehearsal period, until it becomes inevitable that…I’m going to have to fine tune the technical…details.
My list for the show, “Crimes of the Heart,” consists of the following technical details, the things I personally have to worry about, including the translation of what these details mean to me.
-a saxophone (big object I could break or hurt someone with)
-lemons (acidic, bouncy fruit)
-sugar (Messy. very. messy)
-ice cubes (use your imagination)
-a very sharp knife (See previous blogs. ACCIDENT PRONE MUCH?)
-three costumes and a raincoat (not a big deal, but I suppose it technically counts)
-a suitcase, scissors, newspaper, photo album
Now, we all have to deal with things like cups and plates and water onstage, but to me that’s not a big deal. To me, things like oh you know, LIGHTING CANDLES and cutting lemons with a knife, scissors in general, those are technical details for my character. I mean let’s be real: These are the technical details of LIFE that I tend to have issues with.
If any of you know me even somewhat, you know that I am a klutz. I need things mapped out in LIFE, and definitely for the stage. I know things are going to go wrong in life, but on stage I need to KNOW what could go wrong. I need to be able to walk out on that stage and think, “OK. Worst case scenario. Doesn’t matter. I’m prepared.” I need to know that if there aren’t enough lemons, or if I cut my finger and bleed all over the table, or trip and break the saxophone, I need to know that it’s gonna be okay.
This brings me to my superstitions. To me, it does not feel like a superstition. Instead, it feels like an ingrained fact of life that is a part of the stream of my creative actor blood that flows forth from my orange chakra in brilliant waves of light.
Shit needs to be messed up the week before opening night.
I LIVE and WAIT on Bated Breath (I had to capitalize it, it’s a reference to the theatre group I co-founded 3 years ago www.batedbreaththeatre.org) for the first misshap.
-We forget an entire chunk 2 page of dialogue (This one can be checked off. That totally already happened yesterday)
-Light cues get messed up
-sound cues get messed up
-props aren’t in the right place
You get the idea. Now, I’m not saying I WANT things to go wrong and I’m not saying it needs to happen every single tech week for every show. But what I’m saying is, when things get jammed up, people rise to the occasion. It “raises the stakes” (Thank you Kristin Wold) and makes you go “CRAP!! This went wrong! It will NEVER GO WRONG AGAIN during the run of this show!” And then you woman up or man up and you sharpen yo’ skillz. You pay attention. You become a better actor, or stage manager, or director.
Let’s really zoom in on one of my examples. Last night onstage, as we were all adjusting to a nearly-fully decorated stage, and working in costumes for the first time, we reached a scene where we just jumped over a good 1/3 of a page of diaologue. I wasn’t sure we’d recover, but we all jumped ahead and life was okay. Afterwards, I spoke with one of the actors and she said, “I can’t believe I forgot the line, we missed the page…(etc). Now I’m worried it will happen every time!”
I quickly cut her off (as best I could. We were having this discussion in the bathroom and it’s hard to be uplifting and inspirational while standing in your underwear, changing your clothing in a stall) and said “NO! That is EXCELLENT. Because now, you have forgotten lines in a spot you never have before, and NOW you will make sure you never do it again. You’ll be so much more aware of what’s going on.” I then went on to explain how things just need to go wrong before a show opens. If it doesn’t…I get real suspicious.
I was once in a show in the middle of the summer where the lights went out. They just…went out. We hadn’t had this trouble before the opening of the show. See what I mean?
I need to face at least a few battles with theatre demons before the show opens. Because then I can put on my war paint (ok..stage makeup) and march out and face the lights, other actors, and audience with my lion-like prowess, fear dissipated like a slow fade black out follwing the climax of an emotional scene.
And just so you all know…I get to practice with the lemons tonight. I think the director was a little taken aback about how relieved I was over such a small detail.
BRING IT HELL WEEK.