I’ve been feeling old lately.
Well, to be honest I’ve been physically feeling like an old croc for about the last 2 years but this is more specific than that.
This is about theatre. We’re doing a surprise show for the kids at school and I am more than happy to be running the lights and sound. Despite the fact that I have officially retired from all things theatre and hated lights and sound with a passion during training.
You see, it’s all changed now…back in the time of dinosaurs I trained at LAMDA and got my diploma in Stage Management and Technical Theatre. What I’ve realised is that 98.5% of the technical theatre that I learnt now belongs in a museum…literally!
When I was at college we did lighting, sound, costume, stage management etc etc. The basics of props and costume haven’t really changed much over the years. Obviously there’s been some advancements but props are still mostly made in the same way and costumes are still sewn by machine for instance.
I was a DSM for most of my career and that is the little gnome who sits at the side of the stage, tucked in a corner, telling lights, sound, flys etc when to do their magic. My cue board was covered in buttons and lights and they’re still the same nowadays – with a few extra buttons and lights for good measure.
But over the last week or so I’ve realised that lights and sound have moved on since I trained.
When I did my sound training (which was enough to put me off it for life!) we used reel to reel machines. This involved that tricky process of cutting actual tape with an actual razor blade and re-attaching it where you needed it with other actual tape. I think it was called ‘splicing’. I called it ‘life’s too short for this shit’. It was like something the devil thought up to keep you occupied while he allocated you your special level of hell! If you got it wrong you ended up surrounded by brown curls of tape with fingers that looked like Kevin Spacey in ‘Se7en’. Actually that’s pretty much how it looked if you got it right too.
It was shit. I hated it. I’ve moved on. Mostly.
Lighting involved ladders and my personal favourite – the tallescope. I’m not a fan of heights, or falling, or any of that shenanigans and it was an integral part of lighting in those days. Your rigging day consisted of flying in the bars, putting the lights on and plugging them in, flying them out again and then doing ‘rock/paper’scissors’ to find out who was going up the tallescope.
A tallescope is a big, big vertical ladder with a tiny platform on top. On wheels. Pushed around by theatre crew who are probably still half drunk from the pub the night before. And your head is 2 inches from lots of very hot stage lights with pointy edges. Imagine one of those cherry pickers you see around for the guys to fix street lights. Without the stability and health and safety aspects.
No matter how many times anyone told me ‘you’ll be fine once you’re up there’ it never got any easier. The whole thing shook when they moved it, shook when I climbed up and shook when my legs would wobble uncontrollably. So all the time, in other words.
And lightning technicians had their own language. They spoke in numbers and were obsessed with gels. Gels are the small squares of c-thru material that you slotted into frames at the front of the lights to make them pretty colours. We used to steal them to put over our lights at home when we had a party. They had different numbers for their colours and the best technicians would just know that 125 was light green and 123 was dark green**
But now it’s like something out of Star Trek!!
The sound all runs through a computer and you can click and drag as much as you like – no razor blades required! And if you get it wrong you can go back and do it again. Easy fricking peasy!
And lighting technicians can now programme whole shows without even putting down their beer/crisps/FHM magazine (true fact). You can scroll through about 50 different shades of green with the push of a button and if you want the lights to pivot/spin/turn/wiggle/or do the floss then they can and will. And you can spot the old-school lighting guys because they mutter gel numbers under their breath like some kind of incantation!
So I am Technical Theatre Queen of Buttons. I can quite happily reach out and tap the space bar on a computer or the ‘Go’ button on the lighting board. As long as I don’t get over-excited and press it twice by accident I can look like I know what I’m doing.
It’s taken me over 10 years but I got there in the end. Go me!
**Dear LX Technician Geeks, please, don’t tell me those numbers are wrong! I just plucked them out of thin air. Although if they’re correct then it was intentional. OK?