As almost everyone in this industry knows, and as I have said multiple times, this work is a thankless job. You do ridiculous hours, sometimes no guarantee of pay because companies are trying to take advantage of everything they can including free labour, hardly any time to rest/prep/have personal time, and the list goes on. But occasionally, you get something that makes it worth it. Occasionally you get a reaction from a young audience member and you know that is the moment they fall in love with the arts. Or a chance encounter with someone you have idolised. Or just after a really long strenuous and stressful week, you get the rare occurrence of a thank you.
A recent day while on tour, there was a particularly bad day. It had been a rough few days leading up to this day for various reasons. Mostly admin paperwork and things that were generally out of my control and out of my pay grade. But of course, these things were still factors in making a show happen so as the day approached for the show, and things still weren’t complete, the stress levels rose and a question began to be prevalent on everyone’s mind. Can we even put the show on without this paperwork done? For those who don’t understand why I was stressing about something that was out of my control, it’s simply because I was worried for two main reasons. The first being that the blame would be put on us technicians for the show not being able to be put on (even though the admin paperwork needed was not our responsibility). The second being that at the time it was unclear to me if a show was cancelled whether or not we would still be paid. So, hopefully, this lets you see why I was a bit stressed. Us techies were not the only ones stressed about this either. The performers were dying to know whether they were going to get to perform or not, and if not would it mean we would premiere the show later or would they also not get paid for months of hard work? Obviously, on the day the performance was supposed to be opening, tensions were more than a little high.
We get into the venue and it takes us a while to get the rig working. Once that was finally done, the lighting plan was still not given to us so we had very little information to go off of but we tried to make it work. The paperwork still hasn’t been finished and signed off on. We have less than 8 hours before the curtain goes up by the time we have finished with the lighting. We skip ahead to rehearsals where the performers are practically ignoring us techies and we’re trying not to yell at them to pay attention to where their damn spots are marked. The sound keeps cutting in and out during rehearsals, so we do a hard reset of the system. That seems to fix the problem and we have less than 6 hours before the curtain goes up. After rehearsals, we’re frantically trying to see what anyone can do about the paperwork and the legalities of what might happen if it doesn’t get finished in time. The head honcho finally comes up to the Technical Director, less than 3 hours before the curtain goes up, and he gives us the news that would determine the rest of our weekend, potentially the rest of the tour. The paperwork has just been signed off and given approval. There’s almost a collective breath of relief. Now we just face one other problem… The performers don’t feel ready for the show because they have been practising for other shows for the tour in case the paperwork didn’t pan out. So now we’ve finally been given the green light, with an unprepared cast.
Amazingly, they pull it together and make the show happen anyway. As the saying always says “The show must go on.” It was after the show and once the audience left that one performer, in particular, made a point to come up to the tech booth as we were finishing shutting everything down and prepping for the show the next day. This performer, I’ll call him R, is the senior performer on tour. He’s been with the company for a while and is the one who tries to get the other performers comfortable with us techies. What he said to us that day I will never forget. He said,
“I know today was rough. Rougher than most of us would have liked it to be. I know a lot of the others didn’t notice how stressed you guys were, but I did, and some of the others who have been with us a while noticed as I’m sure you noticed we’ve been stressed too and some of them took it out on you guys which wasn’t cool. So I’m sorry for them. I always wanted to say thank you because you guys did amazing with all that was going on.”
We techies just kind of looked at each other. R was always nice but this was something entirely unexpected. We congratulated him on making the show happen and for a great performance. The relief came over his face as he was clearly happy to hear that the audience couldn’t see the nerves bundling underneath. We as technicians often forget the performers are just as stressed about a show as we are. Just like performers often don’t understand why we’re stressed about a show. It was nearly an industry miracle getting an apology as well as a thank you. So I just wanted to remind everyone that it does happen, even if as rarely as spotting a unicorn.