After two weeks of loading in and getting everything ready, it is finally time to get down to the business we came here to do. Much has been written about the struggles of The Addams Family Musical in getting to this point. This isn’t the place to get into all of that but a quick Google search will provide plenty of reading material for anyone interested. Suffice it to say, this production was being referred to as “Addams 3.0” and much has been changed from the Chicago tryout and Broadway versions. The importance of that to this post is that not only was the show changed, it was changing.
With a completely redesigned set (the Broadway set, while amazing, would have been much too cumbersome for this type of tour), new plot lines, cut songs, and new songs, the producers and creatives knew we would need a little extra time. We had three full weeks of rehearsals including 7 previews and an official opening in New Orleans. Typically the process would be a week with one or two audiences and then moving on to the next city for an official opening.
Technical rehearsals are a long, grueling process. The actors’ union (Actors’ Equity Association – AEA) dictates that they can be available for “10 out of 12” hours during tech. This means that they arrive at 12:30pm for notes, start tech at 1pm, work until 6pm, take dinner until 8pm and then work to midnight with a little extra time on the back end to get out of costume, etc. As stagehands, we have no such limitation and, while we are compensated for our overtime, we work many more hours than the actors. A typical “10 out of 12” day for us involves all of the time the actors are there plus we come in at 8am to take care of any notes are complete any changes necessary from the day before.
For those who have never taken part in something like this, it usually involves a lot of “hurry up and wait” followed by short bursts of terrifying white-knuckle activity. The first time through we look at a scene in tiny fragments. Each time a light cue changes we will probably have to stop and tweak the focus. Each time the blocking isn’t quite right on the full stage we have to stop and fix it. Automated set pieces and transitions have to be timed and programmed to fit the action. Costumes get tripped over in dance numbers and have to be altered. Microphone placements slip and have to be rerigged. The list is almost unending. It takes a few days to get through the whole show at this pace. The second time through things are a little more real time. We will still stop and fix whatever needs to be fixed but, with any luck, all of the things that were fixed the first time through are still “fixed” and there are fewer things that need tweaking. This is also when we start roughing in the scene transitions and trying to make sure set changes and costume quick changes can happen in real time. This process will take us well into the second week. At the end of these cue-to-cue and stumble through sessions we will go back and look at particular scenes that a given creative department needs to see. This is primarily driven by the director but lighting and sound design will undoubtedly add things to the hit list for these days. Often, from our perspective, it is just to run a particular number without stopping so I get a shot at mixing it in real time and have a chance to make sure the programming works.
On this particular show, I was constantly getting new script pages. While the associate director would be working a scene on stage with technical elements, the director would be in a rehearsal space with other actors making tweaks and modifications. I would estimate, without exaggeration, that I received more replacement pages than the script had to begin with. Several pages were changed multiple times. This made for constant reprogramming of VCA assignments in the desk and a lot more writing, erasing, and shuffling pages than normal. It was a frustrating process for the actors, I know, but in the end I think everyone agrees that we came out with a much stronger product than had been offered in previous incarnations.
At the end of the second week and all through the third week, the evening session becomes a preview instead of rehearsal. We still arrive at 8am, still rehearse in the afternoon but instead of coming back for more rehearsal we clear the house of all tech tables and bring in an audience. This process is used to see what works and what doesn’t with a live audience. Does a joke fall flat? Is a transition too long? Is there extra time because of laughs or applause? All of these things become pretty apparent with an audience. Plus it’s a nice reward for everyone to see all the work start to pay off. Speaking of all the work, we’re back at 8am to put all of those tech tables out again.
At the end of the technical process come these magic words: “The show is frozen.” Although in some later posts you’ll see why this was more of a “soft freeze” on this show. But for the purposes of this post, a frozen show is a show that is complete. No more tech elements to look at, no more changes, this is the show. At this point in New Orleans we had a nice opening night show complete with after party in a fancy hotel ballroom.
The next day we had two performances. After the long tech process two shows only would have seemed like a vacation. There was just one little catch:
Remember all of that stuff you’ve strung out all over this theater over the last five weeks? The stuff that you aren’t even sure where some of it is and certainly can’t find the right box easily? The stuff that you’ve never actually packed on a truck before? It all has to be in St. Louis in 18 hours.