It’s noon on Tuesday, and you are ready for your next duty. For some extra money in your non-union check, you get to drive Van Number Two. Five days a week you’re responsible for driving a handful of cast members from 38th and 10th to Papermill Playhouse.
You park Van Two and take your first look at the legendary playhouse. Friendly faces welcome you as you walk through the stage door. You turn to your right to sign in on a sheet of paper pinned to the call board. You continue down a small set of steps. On your left, you enter the tiny, tan dressing room that will be your second home for the next six weeks. Seven ladies shoulder to shoulder explore the goody bags placed in front of each mirror. Greeted with free makeup provided by Jay Manuel and other guides of Millburn, NJ provided by Papermill, excitement bubbles in your stomach. Christmas came early in your eyes. You begin testing different lipsticks until you and the cast are called onto stage.
Similar to the first day of rehearsals in NYC, you join a semi-circle with cast mates, and new inviting faces that will be lending their hands in bringing this show to life. After trying to memorize as many names and faces as you can in ten minutes, the real work begins.
“All right everybody, we will be starting at the top of the show for our ‘cue to cue.’ We ask that you be patient, hold your positions as needed, and do not talk unless it is absolutely necessary. This is the time for all of us on the crew to set the show and work through scenic changes. Judson, Bradford, and Matt set up for the opening scene, and my dancers be ready to go into “Queen of the Night.”
You warm up in a cramped space in the hallway behind the stage. In all of your experiences teching a show, you’ve never had to dance full out. This time isn’t really for more rehearsal. It’s for lights/sound to set cues, people on deck to get used to moving set pieces, setting automation cues, and providing props. All of that continues to hold priority, but this creative team wants to take advantage of this time to do some extra rehearsal. They expect you to perform at show level each time the number is run.
After a lift call, you set up for the top of “Queen of the Night.” You dance your way through the first half of the big number. There is a small scene that happens downstage right in the middle of the song. You hold upstage as the crew resets the lights to focus on the actors downstage. You walk back to your opening position, and you start the number once more. Once more turns to twice more. By the fourth time, you finally make it to the end of the song and prepare yourself for the mock quick change, into the rehearsal room scene. Once you make it passed this chunk of the show, you will have quite a bit of downtime.
The creative team took their tough tactics and transferred them into the tech process. Between holding for the crew, and rerunning numbers for the creative team, tech is taking slightly longer than anticipated. It’s the end of the first 10 hour day, and they haven’t even finished the first act yet. The second half of the day has been a nice break for your body, but that means the salsa marathon will have to wait until tomorrow. At 11pm, you drive 45 minutes back to the city, walk ten minutes to the N train, and ride 20 minutes back into Astoria. Another 16 hour day awaits you tomorrow.
Day two of tech hits, and you don’t have much to do. After finishing your bit at the end of act one, there’s still 5 minutes left of the act. You and the ensemble sing offstage at the top of act two, and then there’s more down time before “I’m Every Woman.” To your surprise, the scenes take up most of the ten hour day. With only 30 minutes left, and not having danced all day, you and the cast hope that the team will start with salsa tomorrow. That hope vanishes as your stage manager’s voice rings through the speakers.
“Alright everyone, we’re going to move on to salsa. We are going to get through as much as we possibly can. Dancers, warm up and dance full out.”
You may not have been doing much, but it has been such a long day, and the exhaustion is real. The panic overwhelms you. Doing this number under these conditions can flare your injury. Your heart pounds a little harder. Your hands slightly shake. You breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. You meet your partner upstage behind the sliders.
“It’s ok. I got you. If you need extra support, tell me and we’ll work through it.”
The music starts, and the energy shifts. Everyone’s tense through their opening choreography. Your dance captain is out due to injury. His swing worked through all of the lifts successfully, but you can see the nerves in his eyes as you both move through the dance break. He does such a great job of guiding you, and doesn’t irritate your injury at all. Despite the panic, you all make it through the number, and finish with a sigh of relief. With only fifteen minutes left of the tech day, you can begin to unwind. To your right, you see the swing rubbing his elbow with a look of discomfort. The stage managers voice booms once more.
“Great job everyone. We need you to reset to the top. Get ready to do the number full out once more.”
You look to your right and three of the dancers fume with anger. You’re tired, but at this point, you just want to push through and go home. The choreographer Karen and her associate Amy come backstage. You see the swing approach the two. The three of them continue to walk to where everyone can hear the conversation.
“I’m having a sharp pain in my arm, and it’s starting to go numb. I can go through the number again and be in my spot for lighting purposes, but is it ok if I don’t do the lifts?”
The second swing stands nearby. You see stress overwhelm his face. Karen looks over to him, and then back at the injured swing.
“Nope. Willie you’re broken. Sean you're in.”
“But, I haven’t done a lift call. I don’t feel comfortable doing the lifts at this time either.”
“That’s fine. Just make sure you’re on the number where the lift happens.”
Everyone stands silently as their eyes widen. With only ten minutes left, the new swing tries to think through each number he stands on, the path he takes to get to each number, all of the different choreography, and who he partners with at what time. You wish you could go give Willie a hug, but he’s already cleared the area. You have to get to your opening spot. You don’t have anytime to work through the dance break with Sean.
The music plays once more. Such a melancholy vibe through such an upbeat melody. You notice a bit of chaos, but each dancer supports Sean by gently guiding him into each formation. You meet him for the dance break, and it just doesn’t feel right. A chart pain stabs your groin. It’s not his fault though. You weren’t given the time to work through the movement properly. You salsa through the pain to the end of the number.
“Thank you everyone. We will end here, and pick up where we left off tomorrow. Get home safely, and get some good rest.”
The angered chatter rises as each ensemble member enters the vans. No one wants to end a long tech day on such a low note. Just a few minutes more, and you will be in your bed, icing and reseting for what you hope will be a brighter last tech day. Hopefully, you will have a more positive transition into dress rehearsals.