Well the day has finally arrived and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival is ready to start technical rehearsals for the core venues. The core venues this year are venues 1-12 and the Kid’s venue. Each company that has performances in one of those 13 venues, entered the Fringe by winning their place in a lottery that was held in December. The rest of the venues are B.Y.O.V.s (or Bring Your Own Venues) which means they have arranged their schedules with their specific venues.
In the core venues for next four and a half days, 127 companies need to have, on average, a three hour technical rehearsal. That’s 381 hours of rehearsal time from today into Wednesday afternoon to get ready for opening at 6pm on the 15th.
To prepare for these 22,860 minutes of rehearsal time, groups have filled out technical riders that should tell us what the groups are bringing and what their technical requirements are, and this morning the 27 venue technicians are pouring over those same technical riders, in many cases for the first time, so we can be prepared and use the 1,371,600 seconds of rehearsal time efficiently.
The time leading up to technical rehearsals can be a tense time, both for performing companies and Fringe Festival staff.
Our first three days of rehearsals are usually local groups, and they are lucky in that they get their technicians fresh, rested and eager. A lot of them are Fringe veterans, so they know the Fringe Festival drill, and even first time local performing groups at least know the city if not the basic fundamentals of Fringing.
Tuesday up until Wednesday afternoon are usually out of town groups, many from other countries. Some of them are also veterans and might be just finishing up other Fringe Festivals (Toronto and Regina close on Sunday). The screaming mime will be ready for his tech, but will have the added stress of travel and accommodation arrangements, and may have been Fringing since May. We, the technicians, would have already had 4 days of rehearsal since Saturday, so we’re tired and a little on edge thinking about getting the venue ready for audience members (among other things).
This can sometimes lead to misunderstandings…
So on Wednesday afternoon when we are getting ready for our last technical rehearsal for Rambo Rescues Some Prisoners of War and Beats the Hell Out of More Terrorist Dudes – The Puppet Show, we know by the tech rider that the group is called Eerste Bloed Dramatische Productiebedrijf and are out of Rotterdam. They have 211 lighting cues, and 84 sound cues, but they are bringing a Stage Manager who doubles as a translator who’s name is Doutzen. They also have a video projector with a screen, a puppet stage, and an eighteen and a half foot tall papier-mâché llama.
The only big red flag for Venue two is that our ceiling is only 18′ 4″ and that llama might be two inches too tall. So before going to our loading dock to greet the group from the Netherlands, I make sure that I have my hacksaw on my Winnipeg Fringe Technician Batman Utility Belt™.
Meanwhile, the Dutch actors are running at top speed down Portage Avenue towards Venue 2 because they don’t want to be late. They would have been early but they mistook the MTS Centre for Manitoba Theatre Centre and they only realised their mistake by looking it up on Google Kaarten. They wouldn’t be in this mess if their stage manager and translator hadn’t booked her flight on Transavia with connections through Helsinki and Azerbaijan, making her almost a day late in Winnipeg, but KLM is expensive so it’s understandable. She is due to arrive in about 15 minutes, and now she may end up beating the actors to the venue because apparently Winnipeg names all of it’s performance buildings with very similar names.
These out of country actors are already a bit on edge, having spent the day before wandering around downtown Winnipeg, confused about why it was so damned hot and not sub-artic like they were led to believe, and trying to find some decent chocolate or cheese to buy with this weird plastic money that smells like maple syrup.
Passers by are confused why there is a group of Dutch racing down the street with boxes full of Sylvester Stallone puppets and a giant llama, cursing the Netherlands’ budget airlines and English abbreviations that look very similar to each other.
Over at Venue 2, we’re down at the loading dock, but just before we raise the large rolling door, I have an itch and scratch my head, forgetting that I have a my hacksaw in my hand, and give my scalp a nasty gash, so my venue partner takes the saw from me. Incidentally, this is why I’m not allowed to touch any of the carpentry materials at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.
So when the door rises, we see four panting, sweaty, swearing actors from another land, and they see one overly tired venue technician with a hacksaw in his hand, and another equally over tired technician with blood running down his face.
The actors run around in circles screaming “Moorddadige Canadezen! Moorddadige Canadezen!” whilst my venue partner jumps down towards the llama with a hacksaw and measuring tape, and I mumble “Welcome to Venue 2, MTC Up the Alley. So you guys are Dutch eh? I love your old chips”.
The actors jump in front of the llama screaming “Weg te blijven van onze lama met die ijzerzaag!” as my venue partner tries to explain that he just wants to measure it, and I blather on about Old Dutch Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips through a series of hand gestures, while trying to tie a tourniquet with a 2011 Big Top Fringe T-shirt from my utility belt.
One of the actors starts flapping their arms in a flying gesture saying in broken English “No Doutzen, No Doutzen”, but all we hear is “No doubt son, No doubt son”. I reply “pardon?” which sounds like “horse” in dutch, and they point at the big papier-mâché figure and say “niet paarden, lama”.
The confusion continues to spiral out of control with the Dutch thinking we are murderous Canadians who want to destroy their llama because we think it’s a horse.
Finally a woman runs around the corner with a screen and a projector in her arms saying “Sorry I’m late, I’m Doutzen, the stage manager. My flight was delayed and I only arrived in your city an hour ago…. what happened to your head?”
We explain what happened, and Doutzen translates, telling us. “They don’t like you calling our llama a horse and thought you were trying to murder each other before destroying our prop”.
“No, no no. Our ceiling is only eighteen feet four inches and we just want to measure it. The hacksaw is just in case we need to cut it down so it would fit”.
“That is not an issue. The llama lays on it’s side for the entire performance. In our Rambo story, it was killed in last year’s show. The puppet stage is built on top of it. The entire show is in Dutch so we need this projector for subtitles, which I run, and those boxes make up our puppet stage, Rambo puppets, and terrorist puppets.”
“Whew, ok lets get into the venue and start rehearsing, we’ve already wasted about a thousand seconds of precious technical time.”
“Excellent… by the way, why is it so hot here in Winnipeg? We thought it would be snowy.”
So you see, misunderstandings can happen before and during tech rehearsals, so we all have to remember that we don’t know what the other party has been through. Performers should keep in mind that your technician has about fifty things on their mind, and technicians should remember that performers are stressed out for a plethora of reasons. But if we are patient and respectful of each other, we’ll get through it together, and then Puppet Rambo can start kicking the crap out of Terrorist Dude Puppet on top of the corpse of a papier-mâché llama, for all of Manitoba to see…