The Green Room: Do you enjoy technical rehearsals?

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Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…

Alice Mitchell, a 20-something West End sound engineer, has opened several productions as a number two as well as freelancing as an engineer. 

Susie Bussell is in her 50s. She started as a performer before moving into stage management. She is now a company stage manager

Lizzy Weber, 31, has spent the last nine years working in producing houses in the South East, often masquerading as a multi-skilled technician.

Rob Victor is 30 and trained in production and technical theatre. He is a freelance lighting designer, production manager and event technician

Erica McCauley, 31, worked as a stage manager and producer before becoming a freelance production manager a few years ago.

Lizzy I most certainly do! (Although maybe don’t remind me I said that next time I’m in the middle of one.)

Alice I do enjoy tech.

Rob It’s not about ‘enjoyment’, it’s about pulling together all of the disparate strands, from lighting to stage to sound to AV to automation and on – and then somehow, at the end of the process, having a successful overall show from all these separate departments.

Thomas You’re right, it isn’t about enjoyment – that isn’t the main purpose of a tech (of course!) – but it is one of those parts of the process that divides people. Some love it, some don’t.

Erica Depending of the show, tech is either my favourite or least favourite part. It’s always nerve-racking, because it’s the first time that the thing you’ve been working on the past few days, and planning for months, actually gets put to the test.

Rob As a lighting designer, it’s the only opportunity I have to do my bit.

Lizzy Working as a programmer can be a double-edged sword in tech. On a personal level, you’re right in the middle of the creative process, which is immensely rewarding. However, you regularly find yourself on the receiving end of the stage manager’s “just waiting for lighting…”, which certainly piles on the pressure. Sitting beside the LD and translating their requests into cues and effects is the best bit, though – even when you get the odd one who seems to think as soon as it’s out their mouth it’s in the desk and done.

Rob What can ruin a technical rehearsal is a restless cast or a director who seeks to address acting issues in a technical rehearsal. Unless it’s specifically a technical issue it should wait. The cast members may have had weeks to rehearse and nail down everything about their performance in a particular scene, we may get a couple of hours on that same scene if we’re very lucky. So, while I appreciate actors are bored in techs, we really need them to knuckle down and get through it.

Thomas I don’t think it’s about being bored, Rob. Actors often enjoy tech, and do tend to “knuckle down”. Well, they do when I’m directing! But the move from rehearsal room to stage causes as many knock-on issues for the actors. If a scene needs re-blocking, for example, it is sometimes best to bite the bullet and get it done in tech – not least because it will have an impact on how a scene is lit. That said, I do agree with you that acting notes can’t take precedent over technical notes.

Rob Yes, re-blocking may effect LX. I’ve worked with directors with a technical background who are very sympathetic and knowledgeable about the process.

Alice Like most things in a theatre, I think that a tech is what you make of it. If you can find a way to be friendly and communicative through the hours and strain of a tech, you will have a much better experience of the rest of the run. Techs are about sharing what you have prepared and being prepared to compromise. The occasions I have found tech frustrating is when any one person or department believes it to be their rehearsal.

Susie The success or failure of tech lies so much in good communication. Much of my job as a company manager at this point is about checking in with people and ensuring good communication.

Lizzy It’s easy to feel detached from the work happening on stage, and this detachment all too easily morphs into frustration at the hours required by our industry.

Erica The bottom line is always that if it doesn’t work for the show, then it changes or goes, but that can be a little bit heart-breaking when it’s something that’s been a pet project for months. I remember once staying in the theatre overnight to install a rain system. When it came to tech it worked beautifully, but the director decided that it was too much for the scene. So it went, because the most important thing is always what’s right for the show. You’re providing options, the best options you can, and then you need to trust the creative team.

Thomas That takes loads of trust, and, as Susie said, great communication. As long as people understand why things they’ve spent weeks working on get cut, they’re okay, but people need to understand the reasoning.

Erica I can usually tell in that first session whether it’s going to be an easy or hard tech period. It’s the one when you find out how well you’ve been able to realise all these ideas, and whether they’ll actually work for the show, or if the next week is likely to be spent making changes in any second available.

Rob They’re knackering. But if you’re happy with the work, they can be incredibly satisfying.