There are many times when a musician or stage manager makes a request,
and the response is less than enthusiastic. Why is it so difficult
to communicate ideas between technicians and crew? Here are just
a few, courtesy of a national customer service training program:
1.Day Dreaming - Do you ever notice a stagehand day dreaming during
a rehearsal or performance? You give a lighting cue- "Take
the house to half, please." Nothing happens, and you begin
to get annoyed. "Hello, board operator? Are you awake? I need
the house lights dimmed now!" Finally, you hear a mumbled response
on the headset and the lights go down. Problem? Yes, because the
electrician was thinking about his new Honda Goldwing motorcycle,
and what it would feel like to be traveling on the open road with
the wind at your back instead of being stuck in the lighting booth
at a boring show. How do you keep this from occurring? Best bet
is to conduct a roll call pre-show, in order to assure that at least
for the first cue of the evening that you have a live body at the
2.Mind Reading - Is one of your stage crew a mind reader, hearing
only the first cue or song of the show, and ignoring the rest? Knowing
what the band or actor is going to do next? "Oh gee- there's
that dumb keyboard solo again. That guy sure loves to show off.
I won't have another cue for at least ten minutes." Sure, that
may work in a scripted performance when the same lines and the same
songs are performed every night. But in live music, anything can
happen and the crew needs to be alert throughout the show. The stage
manager needs to emphasize that the performer is depending on the
crew to change lights, sound, sets and other support in a split
second. Unless Commander Spock is one of your technicians, anticipation
doesn't work here!
3.Scripting - Are your stagehands so focused on the next cue in
the prompt book that they miss what is actually happening on stage?
This is a common problem with audio-visual operators, as they change
slides in Power Point or run a video based entirely on a pre-arranged
script. When the speaker says, "Next slide, please,”
they press the button and the presentation moves on. However, veteran
stage managers and technicians will tell you that subtle changes
in movement, voice or music can mean radical changes in the lighting,
sound and set cues. If an actor forgets a line, do you skip the
next fade-in? Singers are constantly making hand signals to the
monitor engineer and the crew chief based on their needs. Stay alert
and maintain visual contact!
4.Challenging- Have you ever worked with a technician who enjoys
debate and ends-up in a jousting match with the stage manager or
artist? "I need that drum riser moved back a foot so we can
get the amps lined up the right way." The reply is "Nope-won't
work-I already nailed the footing to the stage floor, and it looks
good from here." Yes, with all due respect to house crews in
any large venue there are some subtle problems with every stage
and every stage layout idea. But the stage manager or the artist
are responsible for the big picture, and they should have the final
say. Yes, this leads to grumbling and an extra cocktail during crew
break, but unless there is a safety issue or the change will really
not be feasible the buck has to stop somewhere!
4.The Jumper - Have you had the pleasure of having a "coiled
spring" on your stage crew? Despite the departments such as
electrics, carpentry, sound or running crew in a union house or
the divisions of labor assigned to the technicians in other venues;
there is always someone like Maverick on the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
"I need that truck unloaded, since we have two more behind
it." The enthusiastic answer is "Ok-I can do that."
Ten minutes later, you have a need for running DMX control cable
from the truss to the dimmer packs. Guess who raises his hand? "Yeah-that's
me. I'm the cable grip." Twenty minutes after that, you ask
for help with the wardrobe case which needs to go into a third floor
dressing room. Hello-who's that in the front of the road case walking
backwards up the stairs? Yes-the same guy again. Gee-you could save
the producer a ton of money with this show and just ask for a one
"Super Tech" person call!
5.Placating - Does your crew ever sound like 'yes- people', always
answering each request with the song from "Chorus Line"
that says "I can do that, that I can do." What is really
happening is the staff have found an easy way to put the stage manager
or artist at ease by never speaking the truth or providing any feedback.
Each cue, each work assignment, and each task is met with a "Big
10-4, Little Buddy". If asked if the lighting levels look good,
or the sound is rocking the house, the answer is impartial and vague.
"Looks good to me." You need to create a bond with the
technicians that welcomes input, both good and bad based on the
needs of the show.
As the TV shows Naked City and Dragnet used to say, "There
are many stories in the world of entertainment. These are just a
few sketches that you have seen today. The names have been changed
to protect the innocent." If you recognized some of the behavior
described in these five scenarios, then you have learned that co-operation
is the key.
Your thoughts on the Message Board.