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Rob Halliday: Enjoy the calm in the eye of the technical rehearsal storm

The Play That Goes Wrong: all productions need technical rehearsals to ensure the show runs without a hitch. Photo: Alastair Muir
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As a kid, I was fascinated with the eye of the storm, the calm at the very centre of a raging hurricane. Being British, I’d never actually experienced this natural phenomenon – you can complain all you want about our weather, but the flipside is a life without the perilous threat of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, deadly spiders or poisonous snakes.

The fascination was purely hypothetical, as it came from a school essay we’d had to write on the subject. But it really grabbed me: imagine making it through the howling winds into the calm, but still knowing you were only halfway through.

No one’s life was at risk – so it wasn’t that similar to an act of extreme weather – but in the past week, I have been in the eye of the storm that always happens at a certain point when putting together a production.

Getting a show on, particularly a big production, can really be divided into two parts. First, there’s the the planning phase, when the creative team, together and separately, figures out what the show should be and how to realise that vision fully.

That never happens in the same way twice. But it’s almost always a disjointed, overlapping sequence of discussions, phone calls, emails, meetings, sketches, models, more meetings, disagreements and, hopefully, at least one moment of inspiration.

In lighting, at some point, it comes down to studying the script well enough to have an idea that helps you tell the story, then drawing a plan that puts the right lights in the right place to achieve that (usually with a few editing cycles to get it down to budget). Eventually, you reach a point where the plan can go to the show’s electricians and they can figure out making it all work for real.

Then there’s the hard work of the making phase, the technical rehearsals where everyone takes all the things they’ve imagined, designed, plotted and planned, and make them all happen for real: tech, dress, possibly previews and opening.

Phil Willmott: A technical rehearsal through the eyes of a director

But in between those two phases comes a brief moment of calm – the eye of the storm. You’ve handed the information over. For a few brief, glorious moments, there’s nothing you can do (except perhaps enjoy watching the cast’s rehearsals).

As I imagine a real storm’s eye, it doesn’t end abruptly. It tapers as the storm ramps back up. A question in an email. A follow-up phone call. Then the load-in’s started, things aren’t quite as drawn and more things need attention. It’s focus time. From there to opening, you’re right back in it.

Also like the real thing, the size of the eye depends on the size of the show. On a little show, it may be so small you miss it. On a bigger show, if you spot it, enjoy it.

Battling through a storm – even the storm of a tech that you’re loving every minute of – is hard work. If the eye gives you a moment to pause, to breathe and to be still for a second, take it.

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