What do the “Phantom of the Opera”, “Miss Saigon”, and Teddy Roosevelt have in common?
You can start with theatrical infinity. One hides, one cries, and the other rides on stages to never ending audiences everywhere at warp speed. However, I’m more interested in another commonality which is their use of technology and special effects in the theatre. Specifically, they all share a stage which is dependent upon technology and special effects to the success of their respective plays and/or productions. Well, maybe not so much from our deranged masked friend and tragic Kim (dare shall I say it after all these years – the chandelier and helicopter are just gimmicks people)! There I said it, now I’m in trouble.
Give me Teddy and his other Commander in Chiefs in 45 Plays for 45 Presidents. This IS a play dependent on technology for it all to come together. I saw this first hand at a recent tech staging which focused on the technical crew putting it all together.
As I entered the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre in Liberty Hall, things were already underway. Upon sitting in the balcony, I felt as if I was a passenger on a space ship. It was dark but there were flashes of light at the controls too. For example, there was light on the stage. Hmm, maybe I should say stages; 45 stages that is. With the ongoing toys that bestow the stage(s) and which scream snap, crackle, and pop – kudos to the designers and creators on the continuous set design. All I’m going to add on this one is that I want one of those lighted “Quote” thingies for my nightie lamp to reside on.
Moving back ten rows or so and seated from the illuminated stage were three technical crew people. Here is where I could see the stars before me (or should I say the five actors) being led or manipulated into the 45 Plays for 45 Presidents solar system by the tech crew. Two of them had laptops which were constantly flashing as if a hurricane followed by a rainbow had hit their machines and caused a viral thermonuclear blast. A few rows back from the three were two other technicians. Please forgive me as I don’t know the names of these talented technicians. Due to this oversight on my part, I must provide substitute names for them as I don’t want to refer to them as Technician 1, Technician 2, etc. out of respect to them and their profession.
Captain Kirk (oops, I mean Director Sean Daniels) is the space ship’s PAC leader of the group. He oversees the Precision, Accuracy, and Communication (PAC) that are all things technical. We’ll focus on three of these PAC members and call them Lieutenant Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov (again, just to give them and you a respectable label along with a point of reference). For the three seated ten rows back, Sulu sat in the middle and drove the space ship’s sound effects from the firestorm that lived on his laptop. On his right was Chekov who drove the space ship’s lighting (again, from his laptop; the marvel of technology). He communicated with others around him by phone so as not to scream his direction of constant lighting changes (by my observation). Sulu and Chekov impressed me not only with their obvious tech skills in sound and lighting but the way they could edit a quick change at the request of Sean or other member of the PAC team. Moreover, they provided logic to their precision like-work that spoke of a theatrical surgeon. For example, a quick transition from the sound of a gunshot to the actor’s response followed by a lighting change occurred one after another in a matter of seconds. For that, I should rename them Bones and Spock but I’ll only confuse myself. To the left of Sulu and Chekov sat Lieutenant Uhura. She was the Communicator Officer in the space ship to the five stars. What impressed me most about her was her cool demeanor. With microphone in hand, she’s got Captain Kirk (I mean Sean, sorry I did it again) instructing her in one ear to tell the stars to “take it from the top” and Sulu and Chekov in her other ear with any sound or lighting changes. Talk about multi-tasking in the final frontier, this Lieutenant is one to teach the ultimate class.
How many times have you heard someone say “great special effects” when questioned about a blockbuster movie or technical laden theatre production (I always wondered what they thought about the story but I digress)? The use of technology is something special in the theatre when the play is dependent on it as part of its lifeline. Furthermore, a movie has time to edit the process. In live theatre, there is limited or no time to edit that computer graphic. No time to edit that quick lighting transition. No time to edit that explosive sound. Everything has to come together with no mistakes – timing and technology working together as one in marital bliss. This has never been so true for something like 45 Plays for 45 Presidents.
Don’t look past the real names or at least the resume of this talented group of techies like I did. Check out your playbill before the show and read the technical crew’s background and contribution to the play. More importantly, without these guys and gals, there are no plays and no presidents. There’s only a ticket refund and a return home to a special effects snoozer on the tube with no story to speak of. On that note, please tell Teddy that I said hello when you see the play and tell the Trust Buster to ride on. Just shy away from any falling chandeliers or helicopters in warp speed. Time for the show to begin, beam me up Scotty.
-Paul Galinis, Cohort