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Designer Grace Smart: How to prepare for the onslaught of tech week

Was that noise the revolve breaking? Photo: Shutterstock Was that noise the revolve breaking? Photo: Shutterstock
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I’m trying to write this over the snoring of my sofa-ridden partner. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and he has been out cold for about three hours.

He’s pale, and a little smelly, and has a thoroughly furrowed brow. Why? Because he’s currently in ‘tech week mode’.

This is the most stressful period in any theatre practitioner’s process; tech week is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.

So as the newly self-appointed Carrie Bradshaw of set design, I couldn’t help but wonder: are there any rules I can set myself for my next tech?

1. Be prepared. Stage to backstage, to front of house, to grab a coffee, up to the circle, check every sight line, down to costume then back to the stage. Don’t underestimate the amount of running involved in theatre design. I also like to have a base camp in the auditorium, occasionally behind a production desk, so I can feel important like a global leader at a UN summit, or a reality TV show judge. Establishing a base camp helps your co-workers too, as you’re much easier to find. Plus, it means you don’t have to retrace every step you’ve made looking for all the pens and notebooks you’ve scattered around the theatre.

2. Eat better. Smarties are not a breakfast food. Box office peanuts do not make a dinner. And fast food is only made worse by eating it in a bleak hotel room. I’ve had particularly stressful tech periods where I’ve managed to gain half a stone, and even more stressful ones where I’ve managed to lose it. When I’m stressed during the design period, I have no qualms about taking 30 minutes to eat a proper meal, so why should tech week be any different?

3. Get more sleep. One of the worst tech weeks of my career involved working with the costume supervisor in my hotel room, with two sewing machines running from 11pm to 4am, in a deranged attempt to reconcile the fact the producer refused to hire more hands. To be fair, we had actually been driven mad – but it turns out not sleeping only drives you there faster.

Ever try drinking four coffees and then safety-pinning a costume while someone’s in it?

4. Limit the caffeine. Ever try drinking four coffees and then safety-pinning a costume while someone’s in it? Trust me, a working relationship never truly recovers after your shaking, buzzed, anxiety-filled hands mistakenly stab the clothes horse. And if you’re reading this, Nigel: really sorry, mate.

5. Relax more. Make sure you explain to all your friends, family, and house plants the significance of a tech week. You read the script a year ago, since when you’ve been revising. The costume drawings, the model box, the rehearsal period; you and the team have been preparing for this, the final exam. Is it crap? Will this work? Was that noise the revolve breaking? Time to find out. It’s intense. So I would also impress upon friends and family the significance of dozing on the sofa for hours on a Sunday afternoon.

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