Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: December 2010 (Page 2 of 2)

Church Tech Weekly Episode 25: A Very Special Christmas

Mike is joined by Van Metschke, Duke Dejong and Dave Stagl. Being creative with the Christmas story is a main topic of conversation, along with some really good picks of the week.

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The Tech Rehearsal

This week is production week for us at Coast Hills. And it’s quite a production; Gunch! is an (almost) all-original musical-style stage play with an 80+ member cast, 13 person pit band and five performances over the weekend with an expected attendance of 4500+. It’s quite an undertaking. Tonight is opening nigh and we have over 200 lighting cues, 80 audio snapshots (plus several dozen manual cues), aero technics and a Kabuki drop. How do we make it all work? A lot of planning, of course, and a tech rehearsal.

A tech rehearsal is an oft-ignored and underutilized night of rehearsal in most churches. In fact, this is one of the few that I’ve actually gotten to do; most churches I’ve been a part of haven’t valued tech enough to do one, at our own peril. The tech rehearsal is vital to a successful production if said production involves more than about 6 cues. How does a tech rehearsal differ from a regular rehearsal? Read on…

Tech Rehearsal Defined

Most rehearsals are for the band and or actors to learn their parts, blocking, entrances, exits and generally work out the stage craft. Those are necessary and valuable. The tech team often sits in on those and even supports them with tech, and can sometimes make valuable progress in getting cueing and notes worked out.

A tech rehearsal, in contrast, is all about the tech. The tech team is in complete control and can stop the rehearsal at any time. As shows get more complex, requiring the writing of cues for lighting, audio, video and presentation, the rehearsal has to start and stop to give the tech team time to write those cues. Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes it takes a few minutes. In a tech rehearsal, the tech director can call Stop and everyone on the stage is supposed to freeze. The team writes cues, updates lighting positions, works on audio levels or whatever they need to do.

Rather than rushing and scrambling to build a cuelist on the fly, the tech rehearsal gives the tech team the time they need to get a solid draft of the show. Sometimes major changes need to be made (lights may need to be re-hung, videos may need to be re-edited, additional mics or monitors added), and those changes can be noted and worked on at a later time.

Why Most Churches Don’t Do Tech Rehearsals

They’re not fun. Tech rehearsals are long, slow and tedious for everyone except for the half-dozen people in the tech booth. Sometimes, everyone has to hold their position for 5 minutes or more while the tech team works something out. However, the alternative is not getting that worked out and having a disaster come show night.

Tech is undervalued. Many churches will spend weeks or months rehearsing the actors and band, then give the tech team one rehearsal to learn/program/perfect the entire show, then expect it to all come off perfectly on show night (usually the next night). This doesn’t work. As FOH engineer for Gunch!, I have more cues than any single actor on the stage. It takes time to get those written, dialed in and ready to hit perfectly. We need that time to get this right.

Making Tech Rehearsals Successful

For a tech rehearsal to be successful, the tech team must be prepared. The night of the rehearsal is not the time to start counting up how many wireless mics you should have available. Or figure out where the lights should be hung. Ideally, you’ve already gone through the show and roughed in a lot of the programming. Scenes should be written close to what they should be. Audio levels will need to be set, but the entire audio system should be patched and ready to go.

The tech team should have already read through the script (there is a script, right?) and made notes. There needs to be an easy way for the tech team to communicate to the actors and band, as well as the director. The director needs to be completely supportive of the tech rehearsal for it to work. Our director went so far as to say to the entire cast before we started, “Tonight is all about tech. We may have to stand around for 5 minutes to give them time to do their thing. Relax and deal with it. They get to drive the pace tonight, not us.”

If you have the manpower, it’s helpful to have a few extra people in the booth just to take notes. My ATD Isaiah is TD for this show and he frantically scribbled notes throughout the night. Next time, I will appoint someone else to take notes for audio, and I may even find another person or two to help with presentation and lighting. The workload is high for those few hours, having extra hands on deck is helpful.

Last night, our dress rehearsal was 95% of an actual performance; in large part to the long tech rehearsal two nights earlier. Tonight at opening night, I think we’ll nail it as we only have a few things to tweak. I hope this will provide inspiration and encouragement for your church to consider doing a real tech rehearsal for you upcoming productions.

Church Tech Weekly Takes A Break

Due to the incredibly intense production schedule I’ve been maintaining, CTW is going to be taking a break this week. But fear not, next week, we’ll be doing a special live post-production recap episode with me, Van and some special guests. It will surely be a lot of fun, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, might I suggest perusing through a few previous episodes?

They’re Just Tools

The other day, I was going through my show file for our upcoming Christmas production. It’s a massive show and we’re doing all kinds of tricks with the SD8. And I got to thinking how blessed we are at Coast Hills to have these great tools at our disposal. We have an amazing facility, the SD8, a deep mic locker (though I still want a few more…), a decent lighting rig and some super-bright projectors

I realized not all of you have this arsenal at your disposal, and that this could create a little bit of  “gear envy.” But the truth of the matter is I was making great mixes back when I had nothing but an SR32 and a single outboard effects unit. That’s not because I’m so great, it’s because it’s what we do.

Really good tech people can make a great experience happen regardless of the equipment at their disposal. Sure, it’s a lot more fun to mix (and put together a huge show) on an SD8 than it would be on an SR32, but I’ve done plenty of big shows on a small mixer (usually supplemented by other small mixers).

As recently as a few years ago, I myself had gear envy. In taking with some of my friends who were mixing on Profiles and Venues, I felt I could do more if I had one of those as compared to the little 01V we were saddled with. When I came here and started mixing on the PM5D, I realized not much really changed. Even when we got the SD8, my mixing style hasn’t changed that much. The mixes sound a little better because I have a few more tools at my disposal, but overall, I still approach the basics of mixing the same way I did before.

If anything, my mixes are sounding better this year than last not because of the equipment I have, but because I’m constantly studying, learning, trying new things and growing as an engineer. When I find myself in our student room with a little MG32, I can still pull together a good mix.

My point in all this is that we all have a certain set of tools at our disposal, be that a large and expensive set, or a small and inexpensive one. But it doesn’t matter. It’s often said that a great engineer can put together a better mix on a Mackie than a poor engineer on a Midas. Personally, I’d rather strive to be the great engineer as opposed to relying on the best gear. How about you?

We Get To Do This

This week is a crazy week for the worship arts staff. We’re just over a week away from our annual Christmas production; this year we’re doing an original musical play called Gunch. It’s huge. We have a cast of over 80 people, a pit band, hundreds of props and a full set. We have just two weeks to build the set, hence the craziness.

I’ve done a lot of construction, so this comes very naturally to me. Still, I’m finding I’m really tired this year—physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s been a long year, a good one in so many ways, but a long one nonetheless. I was tired going into this week, and it’s taking it’s toll.

Still, I’m really excited to see what God is going to do. Last week I read an article by Chase Gardner that really re-shaped some of my thinking. It’s a great article, but this line really stood out to me.

 

More than any other section of the Church’s staff, the tech and worship team literally get to tell the story of Jesus.

 

That’s significant. Those of us that get paid to work on the technical or worship staff (not to mention those that give their time freely) are allowed the privilege of telling the story of Jesus in a very powerful way this time of year. And the simple truth is there are more people coming to church over Christmas (and Easter) than any other time of the year.

Last time I checked, we have sold over 3,500 tickets to Gunch, and we expect to sell another 1,000 or so. That means 4,500 people exposed to the truth of the Gospel in a clear, compelling and very creative way.

Is that worth giving up some sleep for? I think so. It doesn’t take away the sore muscles, the stress some of us feel at times or make up for lost time with our families, however it’s worth it. Next weekend, lives will be changed. For others, the seeds of life change will be planted. We will give our congregation the opportunity to talk to their friends and neighbors about Jesus.

And we get to do this!

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