Monday, March 28, 2011

The Big Leap

Contributed by Rogelio Martinez

He says, “We are sexually ready.”

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and two actors are in the wings having sex.

Well, not really. It’s pretend sex. And they’re only doing it, so that our sound designer can get it down on tape. The idea of simulating sex six times a week, twice on Saturdays is less appealing than one might imagine.

In celebration of World Theatre Day I’ve decided to write about one of the more grueling aspects of theater: tech. It’s grueling but also magical. Tech is the time when the playwright’s vision makes the big leap -- sound, sets, and costumes come charging!

Wanamaker’s Pursuit
was commissioned a year and a half ago by the Arden Theatre Company along with the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. The one and a half year journey from page to stage has been very fast. It’s rare nowadays when a commission actually leads to production, it’s even rarer when a play moves from page to stage this quickly.

I sit in the dark while a curtain is added realizing just how lucky I am to be here.


The debate now happening on stage is whether to use both sound and lights to create the effect of fireworks. The fear being that lights will read as just a wash on the back curtain. We decide to use just sound. Suddenly, the director catches the set designer sneering at the idea. Apparently, he doesn’t want any fireworks. We work on the idea for five more minutes before Terry Nolen, the director, orders to table the fireworks. Tech is thinking on your feet and ideas get tabled just as quickly as they’re introduced. It helps that the collaborators on the play (myself included) have all worked together before. In other words, sneering at one another’s work is socially acceptable.

Later in the day.

“Hold please,” exclaims Terry. “Holding” comes the response from the stage.

We’re working on one cue involving lights, sound, and set. Six months ago I used one of my favorite stage directions: lights shift. Those words always work for me during the writing process. I seldom use blackouts or fade to black. Instead, I write “lights shift.” But what does that really mean? Six months after writing that stage direction down, we’re in tech figuring it out.

I think about this a moment. A scene transition written on the page and one on the stage are two very different things. As I reflect on World Theatre Day, I mourn the few resources available to writers to learn this. Working with a mentor can teach the playwright a great deal, but eventually what writers need most is a production to complete their education. In a time that sees less and less funding and fewer new plays being produced, I am grateful to sit in the dark continuing my education.

“Ah. Look at that! It makes me happy,” says Terry. Lights shift finally works.

Dinner break. Costumes next.



Rogelio Martinez
is an award winning playwright whose work has been developed, and produced by some of the largest regional theaters across the country. Plays include Wanamaker’s Pursuit (Arden Theater Co.), When Tang Met Laika (Sloan Grant/ Denver Center Theatre Co.), All Eyes and Ears (INTAR @ Theater Row), Fizz (NEA/ TCG Grant/ Besch Solinger Productions at the Ohio Theatre, New Theater, Miami), Arrivals and Departures (Summer Play Festival). Martinez’s play I Regret She’s Made of Sugar won the prestigious Princess Grace Award and will be published by Broadway Play Publishing later this year. He has received commissions from the Mark Taper Forum, the Atlantic Theater Company, the Arden Theater Company, and South Coast Repertory to list a few. Martinez teaches playwriting at Goddard College, Montclair University, and Primary stages.

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