I just survived day one of tech week. So, what is tech week, and why is it sometimes called hell week?
First, when is tech week? For BAT it is the last week before a show opens. Ben Butler
opens on Friday, September 29, 2017. So, tech week started Saturday, September 23.
About 5 weeks before tech week the actors start rehearsing. They do what it takes to find their character, learn lines, and blocking. (That is a whole other blog post. In fact, BAT’s BALL has a number of books written just on the actors’ process.)
The creative team has also been working for a number of weeks: set design and building, light design and hang, prop design, building and securing, costume design, building and gathering, and sound, building, finding, writing, recording and editing have all been taking place. Hopefully, all of that is done, or nearly so, by the beginning of tech week. But there are many things that cannot be completed until the actors take the stage. Some things have to do with timing, distance, and personality quirks of the director and actors. Nevertheless, as much is done as possible before tech week.
Tech week is when all of the work done before comes together. Actors take the stage. Timing is worked out. Props are put to the test. Sound is tried out in the space. The set is challenged by the unforeseen needs of the show and actors (not everything can be anticipated). Costumes get final fittings and tried out in the real world. Can the actor move enough, will the quick-changes work? The solutions to all of the problems the creative team saw coming are tied. Did they work? If not, what has to be done? Oh, and by the way, we open in 6 days.
Tech week is also where the running crew meets the show for the first time. Stagehands, light and sound board operators, special effects folks all get to try out the solution the creative team came up with. Can they get the quick change to work? Is there enough room in the wings for everything? (BAT does not have fly space.) Do the sound cues work? What it the right level? Do any of the lights need re-focused or re-gelled? Are all the cues in the light and soundboard? Oh, and by the way, we open in 6 days.
Assuming most everything is ready or will be ready soon, tech week is when the timing of all of the cues is worked out. That light comes on when the actor gets to the first stair step. That cure takes place on the line, “Dogs are my friends,” on the word “my.” Not before, not after. When this actor walks off stage they have 4 lines before they enter as a new character, in completely different clothes. Let’s make that happen. Oh, and by the way, we open in 6 days.
Then, for the next six days, the problems are solved, around rehearsals, that last until 10 or 11 pm. Most tech problems cannot be solved while the actors are on stage, so all of the work has to be around the actor-stage time. It is also the only time the running crew can rehearse without an audience. So, where an actor may get to practice a trip or setting down a cup for most of 5 weeks, the running crew gets 5 or 6 tries to work everything out, and then there is an audience.
So, what is tech week? It is where the mundane and the impossible come together and learn to work together in unison. It is the last time any and all problems must be solved or a workaround found. It is the mother of all stress. It is done with little to no sleep. And it is the big reason why those in theater all become family.