The past two weekends I was given the amazing opportunity to be a spot operator for Elon University’s production of “Hair”. It was an invaluable experience that I will remember forever. I learned a great deal about the technical aspects of a show. Also, through this experience I now better understand the immense amount of work that goes into a production.
The process started out with the tech watch. This was an opportunity for the crew to watch the production without the technical elements. Although the tech was missing, the production was alive. I immediately became engaged in the story, and the actors welcomed us into the “YavaPi” tribe (This is also evidence of the actors great skill-no lights, costumes, wigs, and still fully in character). This was a unique experience because a lot of times I feel there is a disconnect between the actors and the crew. In “Hair” this was not the case. The message of the show (love, community) was evident in every part of the production. It was clear even from this performance that this was more than just another college show, it was a theatrical experience with the possibility to change people.
The next day was a cue-to-cue, and the day where I got a glimpse into the tech world. Having always been on the stage during these days, my opinions of them were not always positive. I always grew weary when asked to stop the scene over and over again. But after being on headset on the cove, I understood so much was going on in those moments of pause. Numbers were being spurted out my ear constantly. With each number, a light would change. It was so interesting and impressive to hear Bill work. He was able to see the vision he wanted and then could apply it with these lighting cues. Just when it seemed to be right, the director would lean over and say, “That’s not what I envisioned.” Although it was time consuming, it was vital. It helped me understand just how hard of a job a lighting designer has, as well as crewmembers in general. We all had to be on top of our game for that 12-hour period, totally aware and ready to make changes.
This was the day I also held my lighting instrument for the first time, and was given my first cue sheet. When I first got assigned the role of spot operator I was nervous, but I didn’t comprehend how difficult it would be. You must be constantly aware of how your instrument is working and how it is positioned. Is your iris opened at the correct size for where the actor, or object, you are spotting is on stage? Do you need to tighten/ loosen your instrument so you are able to follow the actor without it shaking? Being the high up in the cove, it was very hard to perceive where on stage my light would go. I remember my first couple of times trying to spot on that cue-to-cue day. They were awful, some as far as 10 feet away from what I was trying to spot. Although every night I got better at knowing where to spot, there were still times when I was off. In this case though, practice did help tremendously. I found myself very intent in getting it right. This was just not just a job. I was too invested in the show for it to be only that. When I missed a spot, even by just a few inches, I wanted to nail the next time. Spots that I picked up perfecting, or that my fellow spots nailed, received uncontrollable emissions of joy. It helped that we became so familiar with the show. The other cove members and I joked often about being able to do the blocking of the show perfectly since we had seen it so many times. In all seriousness though, I knew this show in and out by the last performance. I started to not even need to look at my cue sheet (a very helpful, organized tool, especially during those first days) because I knew what was coming up. Like an actor, I had to be fully engaged and aware the whole show. I was always constantly listening to the cues Hollace read, and furthermore always conscious of what part of the show we were on. This also taught me the importance of communication in a show. It is crucial. Telling the stage manger you are off headset, or stating a standby, is not just polite, it keeps the show going. Another thing I must state that made “Hair” unique to other productions, was that even after the 6 performances and many rehearsals, I never grew tired of the show. Each night was a different energy. Each night was another experience to change and move the audience. I mean who could get tired of hearing Kennedy belt “I believe in love” each night?
Another very interesting part, which I greatly enjoyed, was being able to watch the performance and see it change and grow each night. It was great to see how adding different elements-lights, wigs, props, costumes (lack of costumes in some scenes)- transformed the show. It helped me see how a show can progress, and helped me better understand what it putting on a production entails. With each element I was able to see the directors concept and vision a little more. Although, like I said earlier, the characters were present from the very beginning of the process, they grew vastly each night. It was also great to see how one technical element, or the way the audience reacts to something, can change to show completely. I remember when Bill first added the lights for the drugged out sequence and the actors clapped after completing it, and I remember thinking that the scene had been transformed. This was also true when the actors finally took off their clothes in the closing number of act one. The meaning was so much clearer.
I am forever grateful for the experience of “Hair”. I learned so, so much, and I fear I can’t even explain it through my words. I also became a part of tribe, something bigger than myself that I know will last forever. I love everyone in the production, and have especially a tender spot for my fellow spots who I grew close to during the production with every new venture up into the infamous cove. I remember after the first day of spot opping, calling my mom and saying to her that I was having the best time of my life, because I was a part of a production. Even though I wasn’t acting in it, I was a crucial element and I was working with everyone for the greater good. I thrive on the energy a show creates. My mind was opened to a new world of tech, that I hope keeps on being expanded over the next four years at Elon. “Let the sunshine in”!
*My spot on Nasia, in “Aquarius”