Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gospel Madness

June 13 2006

(These are only getting posted now – I only had time to take notes while on the road…)

A few mornings ago I was standing by a river at 5 AM doing a bird survey and couldn’t imagine in a few days I’d be in a different part of the world working in another life as a Sound Engineer.
Now here in Vienna, sleep-deprived, late at night in the middle of rehearsing for the Gospel at Colonus, I can’t imagine being by the side of a river in California doing bird surveys.

I had a lucky 7 hours of sleep my first night in Vienna (after being awake for about 24 hours) and it’s been downhill ever since. I’ve been trying to cram into my head the mysteries of this digital sound board, (I have never seen one, let alone touched one), the signal paths and layers of submasters, VCAs, matrices, so I know how to use it. My sound designer Ron and the 3 wonderful wonderful Vienna sound guys are putting the system together and fine-tuning it while I am running the board for rehearsals and trying to remember all the changes that are happening on stage. All my sound equipment would fill the back of a pickup truck to the height of the cab. I don’t understand much of it – it’s like rocket science to me – there’s acres of cables, racks of distribution centers, wireless microphone systems – and all the technical technicalities that go with each, and putting each system together so they are compatible. How do people learn this stuff??

It’s the usual tech madness – never enough time to get the set built, get the sound system set up and tested and fine-tuned, get the lights programmed correctly, and rehearse the entire show. In fact, I don’t think we have EVER had a complete runthrough of the show before the first night’s preview. It might be a little easier if we did the same show every venue, but oh no, that would not be the Gospel at Colonus.

Lee the director is always adding a little bit here, changing a little bit there. In this run we have a group of Africans who carry the dead Oedipus (Clarence of the Blind Boys) out of the church (this eats up 2 hours of rehearsal time). And, since we are doing the show for the first time ever in a church, everything has to be re-blocked: where will the actors stand and walk? On the ‘stage’ (where the pulpit is), upstairs (which was built for this show), in the side balconies upstairs or down, in the aisles, in the upstairs balcony? Every lighting cue must be changed – when their positions are decided on. The stage manager must then figure out when to call the light cues.

Then here’s where my fun comes in: here in Vienna, one musician/singer is not able to come, another – at the last minute - is not coming, and Fred is returning to the show for the first time since 1995. Who will be singing what now? While Lee is always adding a few lines here, Bob the composer is always adding a bit of singing there, and who’s singing what always changes.

We don’t even get through the first act the first day, and on the second day, we don’t even get through the second act, and we have our first preview that evening. This is the night I get nervous. I am using notes for the first time ever, although I rarely have time to even glance at them during the show. I just rely on instinct to know which microphone to bring up – I have the Michigan version of the show in my head, and I hope that one time we briefly ran through the new versions of the songs here that I will remember who is singing them this time.
I am just blown away every time we do this show, with how it comes together. The first day you arrive, producing a show out of this pandemonium looks impossible. It looks like the stage will never be finished being built; during the very short rehearsal times, the sound sounds iffy, the lights are way behind on re-writing cues, and the actors are stumbling over their lines, and the singers aren’t singing at full volume so you really have NO idea what they’ll sound like in a show. You just can’t imagine that all these pieces of the puzzle will actually grow and join together to make a beautiful picture. I’ve always felt that way about theatre – it’s magic watching this process, and more so for the Gospel because I so love this show and the people.
Tuesday night, right before our first show starts, Kevin, one of the actors, comes on stage and announces that this is a ‘rehearsal,’ and that we will stop it to go over something again if we need to, as we haven’t had a full run-through of the show. I am nervous, as usual during the first preview, either that some of the microphones suddenly won’t work (even though I have checked them a dozen times the half hour before the show), or I’ll forget who is saying what line and forget to bring the mics up. My fingers are shaking at the very beginning, and when I have a big sequence of actors speaking and different singers singing, my fingers shake again, but I got everything right.

In fact, we never had to stop the show at all – we pulled off the whole show without any noticeable hitches, the singers were all on fire, and the Vienna audience seemed to absolutely love it.

Us techies upstairs were so thrilled we pulled it off, we were cheering just as loud as the audience!

Now, maybe I can catch up on a little sleep…

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