This week’s post comes from Christopher Y.M. Marks ’15, who has been a tech powerhouse in the HRG&SP community, as well as the larger theater community at Harvard.
Written by Chris Marks
As spring break comes to a close and opening night draws near, the final touches are being put onto all of the tech elements for Iolanthe. Construction is nearly finished, the final set pieces are being painted, the last light cues are being programmed, and final alterations and repairs are being made to the costumes. The final product will be the culmination of the work of over thirty undergraduate designers and technicians who have been working for the past several months to bring everything to life.
The tech process starts during the break between semesters, when the stage director begins working with designers to translate the director’s overall vision for the show into practical ideas and concepts. All of the designers need to balance several things when coming up with their plans; the director’s vision for the show, the budget, the features and quirks (oh so many quirks) of Agassiz theater, and more. By a couple of weeks into the semester, the designers create detailed plans that get presented to the entire staff and are approved by the producers, directors, and OFA staff.
Then, it is time to turn those plans into reality. This is my favorite part of the process; all of the planning and organization begins to pay off, and we have the chance to do what we do best: create things. Carpenters and painters begin to spend long nights in the Ag woodshop and the Horner Room constructing and painting set pieces (while eating cookies and jamming out to eclectic build and paint playlists). Costumers begin to inhabit the costume shop, sewing and fitting everything from dresses and suits to fairy wings while singing along to Disney soundtracks. Props mistresses start hunting down some props online (leading to some really strange Amazon.com recommendations in the aftermath of the show) and creating others from scratch. Lighting designers hang, cable, and gel light fixtures while spending a lot of quality time on the rolling scaffolding. All of these activities pick up steam in the days after Load In, the day we get to begin putting things on the stage in earnest. This is the time when the broad strokes of the tech elements rapidly take shape and assume substance.
Now, we are at the stage of adding finishing touches to everything. While all of the big things are done, there is a seemingly never-ending list of small finishing touches (or, as I like to call them, fiddly-bits) to accomplish: masking sight lines, paint touch ups, costume fixes, and more. The list always frustrates me; no matter how many items you can check off, there’s always more to do, and it doesn’t seem like any progress is being made… until you reach the moment when you look up and realize, “Oh my goodness, it actually looks FINISHED!” If this moment comes before the day of opening, then that is a bonus.
There is a certain joy to seeing a project come together, watching as piles of lumber, cans of paint, rolls of fabric, and sheets of lighting gel become the fairies’ forest and the streets of London. I’ve been involved with many productions over the years, and no matter the show, the people I’m working with, or the challenges the crew faces, this sense of accomplishment always makes it worthwhile. It always takes a lot of effort, many late nights in the theater, and a truly ridiculous number of emails to make it happen, but at the end of the day we will have transformed the stage into a different universe. And that is ultimately what technical theater is all about: creating a new world on the stage for the cast to inhabit, and giving context to the story that the performers will tell.