Torture

November 12, 2013

There are two words dancers abhor above all others. This single pair of syllables plops unceremoniously from the tongue, so heavy with revulsion that they threaten to dent the floor boards as they fall. These words foreshadow an intense and unavoidable compounding of frustrations, tedium, discomfort, and fatigue. They are the steaming bowl of beets you are forced to endure before you partake in the still-warm chocolate chip cookies calling coyly from the kitchen. Endeavoring to corrupt any memory of why you love to dance, these words are synonymous with “torture.” These two words, the bane of a dancer’s existence, will follow the conclusion of this paragraph. I warn you in advance as a preventative measure; I don’t wish any of my fellow dancers to experience a sudden onset of PTSD symptoms unnecessarily.

“Tech week” are the words of which I am speaking. I admit my condemnation of them may have been harsh, but I find myself suppressing a shudder as I type them nonetheless. Though perhaps not as unbearable as I initially described, tech week really can be a trying time. For those unfamiliar, tech is the process by which sound, light, and set cues are meshed with choreography. It’s the predatory assembly of a show in the performance space before opening night. It is time for choreographers to collaborate with the crew in an attempt to bring the visions into physical being. It is time for dancers to become acclimated with the space and figure out where they need to be when. All in all, it is a necessary and ultimately beneficial process.

That being said, teching a show is one of the most tedious trials a body can undergo. It usually proceeds something like this: Each piece will take the stage one at a time, generally in show order. The dancers are cued by their choreographer, a voice hailing from on high (the sound booth), to take their opening positions. The dancers are then either made to run the piece with music or simply to move to their next formation. At each point the choreographer wants to set a cue, which tends to be often, they have the dancers hold where they are. Assaulted by sporadic sound bites and rapidly transitioning light effects, the dancers wait in silence as their choreographer rushes to solidify the aesthetic of their dreams. Usually under heavy time restraints, they try to set each cue efficiently, but despite their efforts the dancers find themselves inescapably caught in a violent bought of repetition and redundancy. When all the cues have finally been set, the dancers may get to run the number. More likely, however, they are curtly thanked and shooed off the stage to make way for the next piece.

This part of tech is painful for a number of reasons. The influx of sensory inputs, frequent difficulty hearing the choreographer, and rushed nature of the process are enough to put one on edge. Add a generous pinch of people inevitably zoning out and becoming generally thick, and tensions begin to run high. Actual teching is never the worst part of tech week, though. It yields only a transient level of angst, whereas its companion component inflicts wounds prone to festering.

The agonizing amount of time spent waiting around during tech is phenomenal. We’ve all had to wait before, but we do not realize the true, ugly nature of waiting until our first experience teching. Curled in an unyielding theatre seat, growing colder, stiffer, hungrier, sleepier by the second, you watch each piece preceding yours as they work out each precious detail of the work. What starts as a chance to observe the creative process turns into a truly mind-numbing exercise. You are likely to see the same eight-count of choreography upwards of fifteen times. Choreographers are prone to testing out the blue light then the yellow then the red, only to decide that they liked the blue best. But how does the green look? Dancers will utter phrases such as, “Sorry, what was that?” “Start from where?” “Which section?” Other dancers will clog up the process by donning attitudes of non-responsiveness or blatant negativism. You witness each demonstration of inefficiency unfold in slow-motion, while in the distance the dangling carrot of freedom swings back and forth. Back and forth. Like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Tick tock. Drawing us ever closer to our certain demise. Back and forth. Tick. Tock.

I digress. As I make my way through another in a long line of tech weeks, my thoughts begin to slip into this steady downward spiral. In the end, of course, tech enables us to perform. To perform is one of the greatest joys a person can experience. That in mind, wandering the desert seems a small price to pay for access to the Promised Land.

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