Boston is a great city with a thriving theater scene and many great places to see a show. The Shubert theater is one of those venues. At 1500 seats, it is much smaller than a typical road house and makes for a great experience. Kind of like seeing a game at Fenway or Wrigley instead of one of the domes or multipurpose stadiums built in the 70s. This comes at a price for the road crew, however.
The Shubert was a red flag from the day we got our itineraries. “How the ____ do they think we’re going to fit in there?” “What’s wrong with The Wang right across the street?” “Have you played the Shubert? You? Hell, I’ve never even heard of a tour this size playing there.” Countless emails, photos, cad drawings, and phone calls later we arrived to find that it was just as small as we thought. There were still a couple unanswered questions until we walked in the door. Thankfully the answers all worked in our favor.
We’ve all heard “Good, Fast, and Cheap. Pick two.” I feel like touring stagehands are being asked to do all three a lot these days. Now, of course, “cheap” is a relative term and my thoughts on that stem from ongoing contractual issues not appropriate for this post. Loading into a theater like the Shubert with this much gear is really nothing new. The space is very similar to many Broadway venues. The difference is that a Broadway show will take two or three weeks to load in at the very minimum. We had 14 hours.
We were unable to block the street behind the theater so the trucks had to be brought in one at a time. We dump the trucks one at a time anyway so, for the load-in, this really only costs the amount of time it takes to switch out a trailer. The audio truck is the first in. On a typical load-in we send everything to the stage except FOH gear. Even the pit gear typically goes to the stage and rides down when the pit is lowered. In Boston there was no room on deck so ampland and much or our support gear had to go in the basement. Did I mention there is no elevator? All of the boxes had to be lowered through a trap door, one at a time, on a chain motor. Nearly everything else was sent to the lobby. The lobby may not be the most convenient place to work from but it has the distinct advantage of being out of the way. We would bring in a cable box, run the bundles, and take the box back out. Even the center cluster was brought through the house and rigged from the aisle in front of the first row. Our towers were built from the stage as usual, but even that couldn’t be easy. We had custom “pit plugs” built so that they could be far enough downstage to clear the fire curtain. Then a safety had to be snaked downstage of the fire curtain so that we could remove the build motor.
None of what we did is revolutionary or reinventing the wheel. My point is that when you throw that many variables into a situation you really have to stay focused and be thinking three steps ahead in order to avoid making a mistake. That, to me, is what was most exhausting about the process. Even though you are making things up as you go you want to make sure not to have to redo things or you will lose the confidence of your local crew. Local 11 did a good job of sticking with us through a very atypical load-in and we made it on time. Just barely.
Part of me wishes I had another shot at the system tuning in Boston. The space was drastically different from any other venue on the tour. The fact that you could hear a lot from the actors acoustically made any delay discrepancies very obvious. Quite frankly, I have way too much PA for the room and I think if I had more time I would have gone for a slightly more natural sound. But since I only have an hour or so to tune I didn’t want to stray too far and end up with intelligibility issues.
We had a lot of visitors in Boston. The week started with the director coming in again. The sound designer was in for a couple days as well. And then some SFN peeps made appearances. Mike Russell, David Karol, and Bennett Prescott all made it out to a show. It’s always nice to have people in the audience who “get it” on a different level than the average attendee. Admittedly, I spend most of the show wondering what it sounds like in those seats and whether I would be mortified to know that is what they are listening too. At the very least they probably heard our best band to date. They were fantastic.
Boston was a two week stop. Just long enough to forget the pain of the load-in and it was time to take it out of there. We got out in six hours. About 90 minutes longer than normal but pretty much what we expected. With Hartford, CT as the next stop trucking was not an issue.