“I’ve restaged the show, but I want the same design”

Here’s one that doesn’t come up often: You return to a show, having been told they want the same design only to find the show has been restaged.  I’ve had this come up a few times, and though I don’t think I’ve done it so much as to be an expert, I’ve definitely learned a thing or two I’d like to share.  I’m going to tell you about the first time and the most recent time.

First Time

I’ve arrived in town and head to the theater with five hours to oversee the hang of the moving lights package and then go straight into focus which flows directly into first tech.  That’s a lot for me in one day, but the show is a remount, so it should be ok.  I accomplish my tasks and even have some time to step through some cues before tech begins. The opening number is a little off for me.  People not standing where they were last year, but nothing too huge.  The second number is a ballad- no big changes.  But the third number (which is the first big dance number) is where everything goes off the rails for me.  The dance number isn’t at all the same.  I’m flummoxed, but working quickly to try to update the cues to reflect the staging.   The director is wondering why we aren’t progressing at breakneck pace and I mention the staging is very different than last time.  He tells me he and the choreographer threw out last years staging and started again.  When I can pick up my jaw from the floor, I double check that he told me this would be a remount and that he wanted the same lighting.  He confirms this, unaware of the logistical conundrum.  

Flash through a week where I have cue placements indicating moves that no longer happen, and me feverishly hacking and slashing my way through everything- adjusting every cue and adding many more.  At the end of this experience, I can tell you that having a bunch of cues that tracked old staging around the deck created more confusion than if I had started again.  But I irrationally held on to the original cues (though I rewrote everything eventually) because of the fear of not having anything in the board.

Lessons learned?  

  1. Insist on a run through video even for remounts before showing up at the theater.  No matter how busy you are.
  2. Keeping the cues wasn’t the right solution.

This Time

This time we are on a show I know is being reimagined.  (Golly, I appreciate being forewarned!)  It’s an aerial tour I’ve been designing and modifying for a couple years now called Aureum.  I’ve often described the piece as a story ballet, but every time the characters would normally dance, they go into aerial acts.  Lovely piece, and it’s a show I enjoy returning to work on.

The piece has now been entirely recast except for one performer, and some characters have been transformed into dancing characters instead of aerial.  Nice challenge.  The dancing acts are obviously going to change the most from the original, but there was mention that the major movements of the aerial acts should match (the major lifts, downs and orbits runs for instance).  My experience quickly proved so little matched that it was no longer helpful.  Since the producer and director really loved my original design, I decided to do something I’d never done before- keep the establishing cues for every number/scene and delete everything else.  

In practice, I copied the whole cue stack and then edited the copy.  This meant I could refer back to the original whenever I had a question.  I also found that I didn’t always the keep the first cue and erase everything after.  Sometimes a number takes a few cues to fully establish so I would find the cue the piece “unfolded” and erase after that.  I also found there was value in keeping the ending cue as well, even if I wrote all over it.  The punctuation from the original was a helpful reference.   

This solution worked so much better.  It kept all of the major art decisions that the other creatives wanted, but gave me the freedom to follow along with the new staging quickly and cleanly. Best of all, it made the data that remained useful instead of cumbersome.

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