Preparing for a Role: Production Week

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In a stage production, the final week before opening night is generally referred to as “Production Week.” It’s the home stretch when all of the various elements of the show must come together before that first performance. My previous posts have been about my role as an actor, but much of what makes the actors look good on stage is dependent on an invisible army of people who work long, hard hours preparing things like:

  • Lights
  • Curtains
  • Audio/Sound Effects
  • Set
  • Flies (Set pieces that can be “flown” in and out via pulleys)
  • Scene changes
  • Costumes
  • Make-up
  • Hair styling
  • Props (all of the things people handle on stage)

A good stage production is a symphony of various individuals and teams all playing their part for the good of the whole. Production week often starts with a rehearsal called “Cue-to-Cue.” In this rehearsal, the actors take a back seat so that all of the lighting, sound effects, scene changes, and curtain cues can be rehearsed and set. A Stage Manager is typically the person tasked to “call the show” which means they have their headset on and are connected to all of the crew members around the theatre. They follow the script, the action on stage, and all of the outlined cues to make sure that everything happens exactly when it’s supposed to happen.

Our Cue-to-Cue rehearsal for Ah, Wilderness took place this past Saturday. Actors reported for a 9:00 a.m. “call” to be ready and on-stage. Actors were instructed to bring homework or something to read because there is a lot of sitting around quietly waiting for the technical crew as they adjust lights, sounds, flies, and sets. In stead of running entire scenes, in a Cue-to-Cue you run “cues.” I had to leave the rehearsal at 4:00 p.m. for a previously scheduled engagement, but the rehearsal went on for a few more hours and I’m sure some crew were there late into the night making adjustments.

Let me give you an example of the types of things you work in a Cue-to-Cue.  In the first act of Ah, Wilderness! there are a number of sound cues that call for exploding firecrackers. The sound effects are a combination of recorded sounds and live blank rounds fired backstage. To practice these cues, the actors will start with a line or two ahead of where a sound cue is to take place in the script. The person responsible for making the sound will practice their timing. Typically we will run the same couple of lines over and over again until the director is satisfied that the crew has it right and the cue is “set.” The director then announces “Moving on!” You then skip to the next cue in the script which might be several pages of dialogue later.

Cue-to-Cue can be a booger of a rehearsal to get through, especially for actors who do a lot of sitting around. The rehearsal is critical, however. The last thing you want is for technical problems to disrupt the flow of a performance. You don’t want a cue for a trolly bell to be a marching band instead. A dropped cue for a firecracker shot means the actors line about the firecracker (which the audience didn’t hear) suddenly doesn’t make sense. A long scene change can wear an audience’s patience thin. You get the picture.

Production week continues with Dress Rehearsals in which you run the show exactly as you would during a performance. Our first Dress Rehearsal was yesterday afternoon and it was the first time for actors to be in (almost) full costume and make-up. Dress Rehearsals are the last chance for everyone to get their lines and cues right and to polish up scenes which need some touching up before an audience sees it. Typically the director will not stop a Dress Rehearsal for anything less than an emergency. Then, after the rehearsal and after the cast get out of their costumes, the cast and crew gather for “notes.” The director, legal pad and pencil in hand, will go through and try to decipher all of the notes they took down to give to actors and crew.

Production week is also a good time to blow off some steam. Everyone has been working long, hard hours and a little fun before performance can help keep everyone loose. So, Wendy and I invited the cast, Stage Managers, and the Theatre Profs from Central over for a little pizza and Oscars party at our house. Wendy whipped up a cheesecake and some cupcakes and we packed our little house with twenty-some guests. A good time was had by all. If it’s one thing theatre people know how to do – it’s have fun (and eat).

Two more Dress Rehearsals. We open on Wednesday. Here we go!

Production & Ticket information for Ah, Wilderness!

 

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