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Let’s get technical

Earlier this week I posted about suspension of disbelief and my absurd willingness to push reality aside for the sake of theatre. Some people may even argue that I push reality aside in my day-to-day life as well, but that’s a completely different article. This doesn’t mean though, that I don’t, won’t or can’t watch a show in my own (actual) reality.

I love watching a show (preferably one that I have seen before so I don’t have to follow the plot so much) with a critical eye to how it is run. Having an opportunity to watch a show from an operational standpoint is fascinating to me. It is amazing how many moving parts and people are involved in putting together one show. If you watch closely, and from the right angle, you can see a whole different show going on.

Last month I saw a show and was lucky enough to sit next to the soundboard. The soundboard is located in the back of the theatre, usually up by the back row of the seats. The person who runs it is in charge of all sound-related aspects of a theatrical performance. They sit at the board at every performance and maintain all the sound cues, systems and making sure that everything is working correctly. If an actor changes volume they have to be able to react to make sure that it doesn’t come blasting across to the audience. This means that they have to be so familiar with the board that they know which button to push as they watch the stage. Like an accomplished pianist they don’t need to look at the keys to play the sonata.

To me, this is fascinating. Here is a person who has sat through this show goodness knows how many times, they hear the words but they are listening to the sound, pitch and volume instead of the words. Have you ever seen a soundboard? They can be amazingly simple or complex depending on the size of the theatre, how many actors have microphones, and hat sound cues need to be played and when.

At one point the soundboard operator stepped away and an usher asked me to keep an eye on the board so no one would push the buttons, I said yes but then I wondered who was going to stop me from pushing them 🙂 (I love buttons)

Then there is the backstage crew. At another show I sat at the perfect angle to see into the backstage from the audience. As the actors exited you could just make out the crew members there to take a prop, add a headpiece, set a chair or whatever needed to be done at the precise moment to make the next scene blend seamlessly into the one preceding it. The moment the actors stepped over that line from the stage to the back their posture changes as they leave their character so they can slip into another one and return to stage. There are the costumers who make sure that each actor is turned out perfectly for the character(s) they are playing. Sometimes this means the actors have to change with the help of someone as they make their way. Or just tilt your head back and see a whole world of lighting, spotlights, catwalks and curtains. There are so many moving parts and so many people moving them.

So if you are ever lucky enough to be at a show and you can see any of the backstage people, enjoy the show behind the show.

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