Three good reasons an actor should know about tech theater.
This article is geared to newbie actors, but if you’re intermediate or a veteran, all the better. It never hurts to review. To be a strong actor, you have to be knowledgeable about theater as a whole, not just acting. There are many different areas of theater such as design, playwriting, dramaturgy, and of course tech theater. You don’t need to be an expert in all these areas but if you’re educated and/or experienced in them, it’ll open up a lot of doors in the future, or if nothing else, make things go a lot smoother for you. And tech theater is one of the most important areas an actor should know about. Not only will you benefit from it, but you’ll have a respect for tech people and thus develop strong team work. Theater is a COLLABORATIVE field. There’s a bad stereotype that actors can be prima donnas about tech, and maybe sometimes that’s true. (If you’re one of these people… stop that!) So with that, here are three good reasons and actor should know about tech theater!
#1: You’ll be able to anticipate things
There are a number of things one can anticipate and be prepared for when you know about tech theater. In rehearsal actors often experiment with different things such as moving to different parts of the stage. What if you wanted to go to a place that won’t be able to be lit well, or where it may be difficult for audience members to see you? A director will usually catch that, but if an actor can anticipate it, they’ll now that they need to avoid it and hence, won’t get attached to moving there. Once you have your heart set on doing a certain thing, you’ll be disappointed when you find out you can’t. Sometimes even the smallest thing can throw off a creative process. This is just one example, but there are a number of other things you may be able to anticipate. Such as estimation of how long it’ll take a set to be built, knowing if a building will have good acoustics (since many amateur theater companies perform in places other than theaters), and more.
#2: You’ll know what to expect on tech day.
In theater you’ll hear the phrase “hurry up and wait” a lot, especially on tech day. You arrive at your call time, and you may or may not be needed for an hour… or longer. Maybe there’s an issue with the software, or a sound cue didn’t get input, etc. Someone may or may not say “I need you to stand at that part of the stage” so you better be available. But meanwhile, you and several others are there for a long time, and people get bored… and cranky. Maybe some asshole showed up hungover or something and it pissed off the director. Maybe a light got rigged incorrectly and it’s taking forever to fix it. Whatever.
Bottom line is, your time for creative stuff is over—it’s the tech people’s turn. No talking about your character, no talking about the beats of the scene, no abruptly changing blocking or a costume unless there’s a damn good reason—and you would not make that choice. If you’ve procrastinated in your creativity process and wanna do some of that stuff on tech day, tough shit! Be good. Be ready to move where someone tells you to. Say your lines when you’re told. When the tech guy says “actors hold” you stop. Basically, look alive.
Knowing what to expect on tech day also means you’ll be aware of safety issues. Do you know what to do when someone yells out “going dark!”? Have you ever heard someone day “bucket coming down”? That means someone is lowing a bucket from above with a rope. So don’t hit your head! Do you know what glow tape is?
Here’s the point: Imagine coming to tech day, not knowing about any of this. Not being mentally prepared for it, and thus ready.
#3: If you ever want to create your own project, you absolutely need to know about tech theater.
It’s not uncommon for actors to eventually have an interest in producing a show, or directing, or even starting your own theater company—or all of the above! Or perhaps you want to design a set, or lighting, or costumes. What would be the best type of set in the theater you’re going to be in? What if there’s no lighting grid? What color will that costume be if it’s lit with a specific color of light? And are you OK with that? If you have some background and/or knowledge of tech theater, even if you’ve only dipped your toe in, you’ll be prepared for these hurdles. Also, if you have a history of working well with techies and knowing about their job, chances are they’ll remember you and you’ll have a better chance of recruiting them for your gig. This is just one of the reasons why you should always conduct yourself well in any show, otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities.
Is your job as an actor important in theater? You’re damn right it is. But no more than any other person working on a show, no matter what their title. Bottom line is, knowledge is power. If you know about tech theater, or better yet if you have experience in the field, your job will run a lot smoother, you’ll know the craft of theater better, and you’ll have a huge amount of respect for a techie’s job. Believe me, that last part is very important.
PS, I’ve only written about tech theater once in this blog, but I hope to write about it more. It is an endlessly vibrant field. And while I’m no expert, I do enjoy the subject, and I had a blast in my tech theater classes at Portland State University. Hi Bruce!