UATD tech weeks always a balancing act

Laura Testino

Behind every stage performance is a sequence of decisions, cooperating to create a specific atmosphere for the audience to enter. Each of these decisions, which often come down to the specific angle of a light or arm movement, are rehearsed and controlled until they become second nature for the cast and crew.

These countless hours of rehearsal often culminate with tech week, the week before the show opens, which is used to perfect every action of every person involved in the performance.

Clay Duncan, a junior majoring in theater, said he sees tech week as a vital piece of the rehearsal process that helps to transform the show from an idea to an entire production. As a stage manager, his greatest responsibility is communicating between the director, designers, producers and the cast and crew in order to ensure the show runs smoothly as the artistic vision is delivered to the audience.

“[Tech week] is incredibly important,” he said. “There are so many different facets to the theater, so many different artists coming together and being collaborative, that you have to have that time to make sure that everything fits together and that there are not issues. It’s a way to fine tune everything.”

(See also “Tuscaloosa theater group to perform classic comedy“)

Duncan said he has been involved in theater since his childhood and made the transition to working behind the scenes as a teenager. He has been a stage manager and an assistant stage manager for both theater and dance shows at the University. He said experience has taught him being prepared is the best route to success.

“I don’t think of things that happen during tech week as being catastrophes,” he said. “You’re always going to have issues that pop up during tech week. If you’re prepared for them properly, then they never become catastrophes. I’m expecting things to go wrong during tech week; that’s why we have tech week.”

Tech week presents its fair share of challenges as a performer and as a stage manager for Emily Higginbotham, a junior majoring in dance. Higginbotham has performed in every Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre and Dance Alabama! concert since her freshman year and stage managed Dance Collection last fall.

“I definitely think tech week is the most stressful,” she said. “That’s when you realize, ‘Okay, this isn’t going to work.’ You have to pick the order of the show, and they don’t want dancers dancing back to back, so there’s a huge dilemma with being in multiple pieces.”

As a stage manager, Higginbotham’s performance experience has helped her to avoid problems with calling cues for lights and sound.

“Sometimes the cues that the choreographers give me are difficult to read on paper, but they’re not difficult to feel,” she said. “So being able to feel the music like a performer helps me call the cues more successfully, not always perfect.”

(See also “Student theater group performs to educate“)

McKenzie Pope, a senior majoring in dance, has performed in multiple UATD dance concerts. She said she believes the time-consuming aspect of tech weeks contribute to making them the most stressful weeks of the semester.

Pope typically arrives for rehearsal around 4:30 p.m. and may have to stay as late as 10 p.m. This leads her to work on academics late into the night, which can be especially difficult when tech and show weeks fall around midterms. However, she said the final result is worth the nights of little sleep.

“I love putting the show together,” she said. “Production is actually one of my favorite parts about performing, seeing it all come together on stage with costumes and lighting. I think it’s just the idea that you’re here for such a long period of time [that becomes stressful].”

Time management has been a key aspect of transitioning to collegiate life for Matt Gabbard, a freshman majoring in musical theater. Gabbard has been involved in four UATD theater productions this school year, once as a soundboard operator and three times as an actor, affording him different tech week experiences.

“When you’re in a show, you’re just running the show every night, and you’re pretty much just doing the same thing you’ve been doing the whole time through the rehearsal process, but with the lights and the sound added in,” Gabbard said. “When you’re a soundboard operator, during tech week you’re learning what you need to do.”

Natalie Nichols, a junior majoring in theater, said she believes preparation through the rehearsal process makes learning cues over tech week a much less daunting task. Nichols has worked as an assistant stage manager for previous UATD shows and was a stage manager for three shows this year.

“The more that you prepare, and the more that everything else is put together, and the more that everything else is ready, the more prepared that you will be to get all of those cues and to start integrating all of that into your process,” she said. “You just have to be calm, and you have to just know that this week is your week. This week is your week to make sure that you have everything under control and everything is right. And if something goes wrong, you call ‘hold’ and you go back and fix it.”

Lyndell T. McDonald, a technical supervisor at the University, has been working behind the scenes for nearly 20 years and has worked on multiple UATD shows, specifically many dance concerts, since 2005. In addition to preparation, McDonald said the cooperation between everyone involved in the show dampens the stresses of tech week.

“The most important thing is just great collaboration as a whole, and then people being allowed to have their own vision for the work themselves,” McDonald said.

He said he applies this principle when he acts as the light designer for a show.

“I’m trying to make [the performers] look better or enhance the choreographer’s vision, and making sure they are always in their light is extremely important,” he said.

Bringing together these multiple artistic visions presents the opportunity for more error, and stress levels have the potential to skyrocket as these ideas come together during tech week. Duncan and Nichols said they believe that preparation and trust can aid in debunking the conception that tech week has to be intimidating.

“I think it’s all a balancing act of trust in the theater,” Nichols said. “We all have to make sure that we’re all doing our jobs.”

(See also “‘Glee’ made musical theater performance popular in high school“)