Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cue to Cue, Day One

If you're not familiar with the term, a "cue to cue" is when you leap haphazardly from one sound or light cue to another, so that the technicians can work out the timing, adjust the levels, and write down the specifics of each cross-fade, spotlight, and thunderclap. Lear is not a tremendously complicated show, tech-wise, although there are rather a lot of thunderclaps. But even with a reasonably simple show, it takes time to bring the various elements together into an aesthetically appealing whole. And, just as actors drop a cue from time to time, sound cues skip, fingers slip on boards, lights burn out, and so on.

This is a frustrating process for the techs, but at least they're in control most of the time. It's twice as taxing for the actors, who find themselves bounced around from cue to cue, often thrown into the middle of a complicated scene with very little context (my favourite example was when they were asked to skip ahead to the line "Ay, my lord." They all just stared out blankly at the darkness in the house). My cast were troopers, though, and cheerfully repeated scenes, and fragments of scenes, over and over while the lights flickered above their heads. (I had a little fun with them at one point by asking Andrew to repeat the line "Most savage and unnatural" for a minute and a half.)

But if it's rough on the techs, and twice as tough on the actors, I have to say that cue to cue is ten times as troubling for a director who's become thoroughly accustomed to calling the shots. Yeah, yeah, I know, poor megalomaniacal me. But just as the actors started their penultimate major adjustment on Monday (inhabiting the set, and the costumes, and starting to build an ensemble both onstage and off), I'm now in the throes of my second-last transformation. The show is not mine anymore, not really; I can still pull rank when I have to, and I did that a few times, cutting sound cues which clearly weren't going to work with the world of the play. But the artistic authority I had even a week ago is seriously tempered, not only by the practical realities of our technical set-up, but also by the artistic visions of my bevy of designers--all of whom have just as much claim to this show as I do.

I keep seeing little opportunities to exert my authority--sneaking in an extra line here or there, or trying to add another quickie blocking bit. Some of those impulses have artistic merit, but I suspect that most of them are merely meddling; and I'm not helping anybody by sticking more stuff into the show, especially if it means a longer running time (don't get me started on the running time...). The actors have more than enough adjustments to make; and the more I tamper with things now, the harder it will be on the technicians. What I need to do is think about retiring gracefully, like Prospero; not throwing tantrums like you-know-who.


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