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Theatre Diaries 5: Technical trials as opening night nears

A new piece of lighting equipment has been added as the cast takes to the actual stage
Jheanelle Roebbelen (l) and Drew Johnson try to remain inconspicuous during a rehearsal for Shaken, Not Stirred on Nov. 13. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

The weekend of Nov. 10 sees four rehearsals in four nights of Shaken, Not Stirred: The James Bond Panto, which opens on Nov. 23. It’s an intense schedule, and with less than two weeks until opening night it seems an odd time to welcome a new cast member, but that’s what happens, as we all come to grips with the newest recruit: a follow spot.

To say that the lighting for our theatre productions is fairly basic would be accurate. Jim Duncan does an amazing job with the lights that we’ve been able to purchase over the years, but they need to be mounted from a beamn on the ceiling of the HUB gym for every production, adjusted, and then left pretty much alone. They can be turned on and off, or dimmed, from the sound booth at the back of the gym, but they can’t be moved once they’re up, and adding colour effects is impossible.

As actors, we’re told to “find the light” when we’re on stage; that is, let the heat of the light on our faces tell us when we’re standing somewhere that’s lit as opposed to being in shadows. It’s not always easy to figure this out visually; when you’re standing on stage and the lights are on, it’s overwhelmingly bright. People sometimes ask how much of the audience we can see, and the answer is “Not a lot.” Bodies in seats are a dark mass; picking out individual faces is impossible.

This production has some actors going into the audience and interacting with theatregoers, or playing part of a scene from the aisle. Because that’s well outside the range of the fixed stage lights, something new was needed, which is where the follow spot comes in. It’s a movable spotlight mounted on the sound booth at the back of the gym, which can be manually manipulated to “follow” actors as they move around on- or off-stage. It can also be changed in an instant from white to one of several other colours; Nancy Duchaine’s villainous Maleficent is lit with green when she appears, and the effect is amazing.

The follow spot gets a workout during the rehearsals on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, which are designated as tech, or technical, rehearsals: a chance to get all the lighting cues, sound cues, music tracks, and special effects worked out to synchronize with the dialogue and songs. This is my 12th WRAPS theatre production, and it’s by far the most tech-heavy thing we’ve ever embarked upon. The rehearsal stops and starts and stops again as director Richard Wright and stage manager Jessica Clement confer with our incredible tech team of Jim Duncan, Damian Couture, and Jan Schmitz.

Suggestions are made, notes are taken, adjustments are written down. Can we get an instrumental piece to play behind some dialogue? Check. Can we get the red gel in the follow spot changed to clear in a certain place? Check. Can the curtains close faster, can the Skype noise be shorter, can the volume on the mics be lowered? Check, check, and check.

Meanwhile, the singers are still tightening up the songs, actors are still getting their lines cemented into place. We took over the gym at the HUB on Nov. 4 and the construction crew has been hard at work on the set, so we’re no longer rehearsing in a classroom. Now that we’re on the actual stage in the gym, however, and can get a feel for the space, the choreography of the chase scene is refined, the blocking is adjusted in some spots. Since the stage is bigger than the space we’ve been using, actors realize they have to move faster on their exits to clear the stage and make way for the next scene.

Fake props are being replaced by the real things, so at last we see what the dreaded Tickle Terminator 2000 really looks like. Rolling pieces of scenery have been painted and finished, and Jessica is now figuring out how to get them on and off stage as quickly (and quietly) as possible. Nancy has started wearing her headdress and cape over top of her jeans and sweatshirt, so she can get used to them, and the rest of the costumes will soon follow. We’ve only had tantalizing hints of what the two “dames” will be wearing, but from what seamstress Margaret Moreira has let drop, it’s going to be awesome.

Our table read was held way back in the summer, when days were long and Nov. 23 seemed impossibly distant. Now our rehearsals end in darkness, and opening night is days away. It’s the point where I always wonder “Will it come together in time?” It always does, and this production will be no exception. We’ll be ready; we just hope the audience is, because they’re in for a treat, and some of them might be getting up close and personal with the follow spot.

Tickets ($15 each) are now available for Shaken, Not Stirred: The James Bond Panto, which is at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances starting on Nov. 23 (7 p.m. on Nov. 23, 24, 25; also 1 p.m. on Nov. 25 and 26). Tickets can be purchased at the HUB or online at