Monday, May 23, 2016

When You Receive a Plot

Anecdote: This checklist was created while putting together the setup for an outdoor stage that would be used for 6 weeks. 5 lighting & sound interns including myself worked together for the better part of an entire morning making sure we got everything on this list.

Premise: When you're the ME and need to figure out what to order from the rental place so your LD has everything they need, there are a lot of things to remember. Anything that doesn't add up, keep track of by making a note on the page and inquire asap.

Image from Disney's "Tarzan", 1999
Nothing like having your jungle man tell you what's what.

First, Paperwork
You'll have received the paperwork (channel hookup, instrument schedule, gel cut list, etc.) from your LD. Compare these against each other to make sure they all line up. Does the instrument schedule stay Unit 1 gets a cut of R39, but the channel hookup says R339? Make a note to ask about it. Check all the channels to unit numbers, dimmers, gel colors, and every last element that's included there.

Then, the Plot
What do you need to make it work?
Compare and contrast the paperwork to the plot. Mark anything that doesn't add up.
Checklist below

Cable? Socapex? Feeder cable? 2-fers? Adapters?
Dimmer rack?
Pipes/Truss/Additional rigging positions?
Gel frames? Gobo holders? WHAT SIZE?
Barn doors? Top Hats? Half hats?
Safety chain?
C-clamps? T-bars? Cheeseboros?
Lamps? Lenses?
Connector types?
Specialty instruments?

Include general notes with your order when you contact the rental place.
ex. "All lighting fixtures to be equipped with 3-pin stage connector, c-clamp, and safety chain."

Take the tech table/booth into consideration, too. You'll need power there, protection from harsh weather, headsets, console & monitor, and some lighting to see your script & console by.

Helpful Things
Consider everyone who needs power. Lights, sound, SM, video, hazer positions, LED and moving light positions, etc.

To find out exactly how much cable you're going to need, use a piece of string cut to scale, and mark out 20ft, 10ft, and 5ft on it. Hold one end of the string to a fixture drawn on the plot, and use it to find its way back to the power distributor. This will give you the length of every cable that will be laid out to power your lights. (See figure below!)

Bring your notes to the LD all in one batch to prevent bothering the LD with 5000 phone calls for 5000 questions.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Problem solved
Troubleshoot (verb)/ˈtrəbəlˌSHo͞ot/ 
The act of determining what's giving you trouble, tracing it back to its source, and restoring it to working order
Just when everything was going great and you looked like a rockstar Master Electrician for everything going so smoothly, something stops working.

Things go wrong all the time, but don't let it stop you in your tracks. Your worth to the crew will increase by becoming the problem solver. Jump in there. Start looking for the source of the problem, how to fix it now, and how to prevent that from happening again in the future.

Where to Start
Start from a specific place and work your way out.

In general:
Start with the fixture and work your way back

Is the light not turning on? Check down the line:
>Shutters - Are they closed?
->Lamp - Is there one inside? Is it blown?
-->Cable - Is the fixture plugged in? Are all connections secure? Are connectors wired correctly?
--->Circuit - Is the fixture plugged into the circuit it's supposed to be in?
---->Dimmer - Is the dimmer on and working?
----->Patch - Is the fixture patched properly?
Note: Hot Patch: Something is plugged into a circuit that is always hot/turned on
         Hard Patch: Physically plugging, say, a circuit to a dimmer
         Soft Patch: Which address/dimmer goes to which channel in the console
------>Operator error: Did you select the correct channel? Is the Master Fader down? Are you in Blind mode?
------->Console - Are all necessary cables and power sources plugged in? All DMX, power, etc.
-------->DMX - Is it addressed & wired correctly?
--------->Power - Power strip on? Plugged in all the way?
---------->Building - Is every third light off? You've got a bigger problem. Check your fuses

Start with the mic and work your way back

Mic not working? Check down the line:
I don't know as much about sound, but I'll seek out the proper troubleshooting questions. As a first step, here are the things to check
->Phantom Power


Granted, there are many different kinds of problems that can arise.

My advice:
If there's something you can't figure out from what's written above, chances are, you're not the first person who has ever encountered this problem. When this happens, turn to Google.

If it's a fixture issue, like "why won't my LED's work anymore?" seek out its manual. All fixture manuals are online unless it's something homemade.

If you can't figure out what fixture you have because it doesn't have a label of any kind, try googling a fixture that has the same features.

If that doesn't work, take pictures of it and post them to the forum on or and see if anyone else can identify what you have there.

Also, always be sure to save your shows externally in case the console dies. That's just a good thing to do as a fail-safe. And SAVE FREQUENTLY. You'll thank yourself if things go wrong.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

That One Time I Stage Managed

Story time! Followed by Notes
The most terrified I have ever been on a job was when I was LD and board op for a community production of The Wizard of Oz, and an incident involving extremely icy road conditions prevented our SM from getting to the theatre for our final performance. Nerve-wracking doesn't begin to describe the feeling when you have a director who panics in an instant and is already crying as though the SM has actually died (Thankfully she is alive an well. It was just a scary moment.). What she came to tell me was that I would now be the substitute stage manager. Not any of the ASMs backstage, but me. I would be the SM.

When the director walked away and I was soaking in the news that I will be playing double duty tonight as board op AND stage manager, my FOH audio and video guys asked me what they can do to help me out and for the show run as smoothly as possible. I answered, "Just... Be phenomenal."

Mercifully, the show went fairly smoothly. I missed calling a few spot cues and projection cues, but my crew was on top of their game and picked up what I missed. After it was all done, I was drained. Never again, I said.

I'd like to note, though, that SM-ing was always something I had wanted to try my hand at. I have mad respect for SMs because they're always so organized. They have all the knowledge & answers, they always know what time it is and they manage their time (and everybody's time) so well, people depend on them so much, and you can always count on them! I have this deep-down desire to embody all of that.

But not while I'm also LD-ing!!!

6 months later, the production returned to the theatre for another one-day stint to make it up to the audience members who were also affected by the ice storm and couldn't make it that fateful day. Our original SM, for numerous reasons, refused to come back, and bestowed her blessed job upon me for this final day.
Please no... I am not here... Don't come find me...

I met up for coffee with the original SM, who is a member of Actor's Equity, and she gave me some excellent advice to handle myself better this time. 


"Just... Be phenomenal."

CHECK THE REHEARSAL/SHOW SCHEDULE WITH THE DIRECTOR. After her, I am the next person in line who has to know everything about it in relation to who needs to be present and where and what time. Once I have confirmation from her on all that, I have the baseline information I need to move forward.

OBTAIN THE SM'S SCRIPT. It's got everybody's cues and standbys written in already. Give it a look through to make sure I am familiar with the way things are written and how to say them. Even PRACTICE calling the cues out loud.

MAKE AN ATTENDANCE SHEET & ENFORCE SIGN-IN. This is how you can be confident the show can go on. Be that constant nagging voice that reminds everyone to sign in and have the cast remind each other. Frequently check the list. That lead actor who believes their personality is so big everyone will know when they've arrived? Yeah, they need to sign in too.

FIND OUT WHO SUBS ARE. In the event of anything unexpected, you need to know the backup plan. SM's ALWAYS know the backup plan. Obtain their contact info so you can be able to call them in last minute.

DOUBLE CHECK PROPS LIST. Everything. Must. Be. Accounted. For.

MAKE SURE THE BACKSTAGE MONITORS ARE WORKING. Test them with the stagehands to make sure they can hear you.

CHECK IN WITH MAKE-UP. Make sure they are on track and have what they need and who they need to have everyone done in time.

MAKE SURE HALLWAYS & CROSSOVERS ARE LIT BACKSTAGE. Just enough to see and not affect the lighting design.

CHECK IN WITH DIRECTOR. Find out if they need anything, AND if they plan on saying a few words before or after the show, if there is a planned talkback/Q&A after the show, etc. Anything that will cause cast or crew to need to stay late after curtain call.


CALL 15 MINUTE WARNING. At this point you can assess the house and lobby for a possible delayed start time if there are too many people still waiting to come in. If you need to delay it's fine. No need to worry the actors about it. Just call 5 when it's actually their 5.

CALL 5 MINUTES TO PLACES. Let House Management know when it is time to flick the lobby lights and close doors for the show to start. Now it's time to also get the directors out of the actors' space.

CALL PLACES. Wait for SL and SR places confirmation from stagehands. Make sure the pit band is in place.

FIND OUT POLICY ON LATE SEATING FROM THE DIRECTOR. Some directors have different policies, like allowing actors to adlib & make fun of latecomers, if they don't mind late seating at all, or if there are certain moments when ushers are or are not allowed to open house doors. In this show's case, there was to be NO late seating during "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".

KNOW THE PROTOCOL FOR MID-SHOW STOPPING. Obviously this could vary by case. But overall, if the show has to stop, have actors clear the stage. Bring house lights up. Announce in a calm and well-articulated voice, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have to hold the show." Keep the audience in their seats unless there is a need to evacuate.

TIME IT. Directors like knowing how long the show took. Write down the actual starting time of the show, how long Act I took, start time of intermission, how long intermission took, start time of Act II, and how long Act II took.

KEEP YOUR WITS ABOUT YOU. Always have your eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary happening. If something falls off an actor's costume, if a prop or set piece was left onstage during a scene change, if an actor misses an entrance, address these things appropriately. Don't assume anyone else saw them. Make sure those things get taken care of.

STAY CALM. You're the level-headed one in the room who knows everything and has all these answers, remember? No pressure. But it's on you to make sure things go smoothly. You'll do your best work and everybody else will do their best work with that calm, authoritative voice leading the way. You've got this.

You've got this.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mr.Kinner's Tool Safety Study Guide

Mr. Kinner's 7th and 8th grade tech classes were probably my favorite part about middle school. We didn't have a tech crew for shows, but 2 or 3 times a week we had a place to invent, design, build, and create really cool things using pen & paper and power tools. We made Rube Goldberg machines, mousetrap cars, built bridges out of balsa wood and had a contest for whose bridge was the strongest, learned about product and marketing design, and even programmed little Lego cars to drive around and play a monophonic tune!

Mr. Kinner's class was the coolest, and here is his study guide. This was given out after he gave demos on each of the tools. Without passing the safety test, you wouldn't be allowed to use the tools in the workshop.

Tools we needed to know about were the scroll saw, drill press, disc/belt sander, pneumatic nail gun, and hot glue gun.
General Safety
*ka-chk* "Attention workshoppers, uhh, we have a child without supervision in the workshop.
If you are a parent holding a leash and there is a child missing from the end of it,
we have your child here. They are in need of safety glasses and a sense of focus,
or we're gonna need a clean-up at the band saw very soon. Thank you." *ka-chk*
1- No running or horseplay.
2- You must have permission to go back into the classroom after we start working in the shop.
3- You must wear safety glasses or goggles when working on the machines.
4- Do not talk to someone who is working on a machine.
5- If someone talks to you while you are using a machine, ignore them.
6- Long hair, long sleeves, loose clothes, and jewelry must be pulled back or put away when you are working with a machine.
7- Tell the teacher if you think your cutting tool is dull because it will not be safe to use.
8- Do not leave a machine that is still running.
9- If you have a question, you should wait quietly in line.
10- If you have a clean-up job, you should wait there when you finish until the teacher inspects your area.
11- If you do not have a clean-up job, then you should wait by the hallway door out of the way.

Scroll Saw
Image from
1- You should install the scroll saw blade with the teeth pointing down.
2- If you have to loosen the blade for any reason, you must have Mr. Kinner check the machine before you turn it on again.
3- Move the saw mechanism up and down a few times before turning the scroll saw on to make sure it is working properly.
4- Before turning on the saw, check to be sure that the blade is tight in the upper and lower chucks.
5- You should stand in front of the scroll saw when cutting material.
6- Keep your fingers 2" from the blade.
7- Keep your fingers to the sides of the blade, not in front of it.
8- The scroll saw blade cuts by moving up and down.
9- Use both hands to hold the wood when cutting.
10- You should turn the scroll saw on before touching the wood to the blade.
11- If the blade breaks while you are cutting, turn off the machine, step back, and tell Mr. Kinner.

Drill Press
Image from
1- Make sure the drill bit is straight and the chuck is tight.
2- Put only the smooth part of the drill bit into the chuck, leaving the spiral grooves out.
3- Make sure the chuck key is removed from the chuck before you start the drill press.
4- Make sure the drill bit will not drill into the metal table.
5- The drill bit should drill halfway into the back-up block.
6- Students should not change the drill press speed.
7- Turn the pilot wheel slowly to lower the spindle.
8- Hold your material tightly with your left hand while drilling.
9- If the drill bit gets stuck in your material while you are drilling, let go of it and turn off the machine.
10- Put the drill bit away in the drill bit holder when you are finished.

Disc/Belt Sander
Image from
1- You should make sure the sanding disc is not loose or ripped before using the machine.
2- The sanding belt is adjusted correctly when it is centered and not rubbing on either side.
3- Students should turn off the machine and tell Mr. Kinner when the sanding belt gets too close to the sides.
4- Students should not make any adjustments to the sander.
5- Use the side of the sanding disc that is facing you.
6- You should turn on the vacuum before using the sander.
7- Do not walk away from the sander while it is moving.
8- You should turn on the sander before touching your wood to the abrasive surface.
9- Keep your piece of wood moving back and forth against the abrasive surface while sanding.
10- Do not use the edge of the abrasive surface.
11- Your wood should always be held flat on the table when you are sanding.
12- If the sandpaper rips, turn off the sander, step back, and tell the teacher.
13- Only one person may use the disc/belt sander at a time.

Pneumatic Nail Gun
Image from
1- Always wear safety glasses.
2- Disconnect the nail gun from the air supply hose before clearing a jammed fastener.
3- Never use the nail gun if it is leaking air, has missing or damaged parts, or requires repair.
4- Never use the nail gun if the safety, trigger, or springs are inoperable, missing, or damaged.
5- Do not alter or remove the safety, trigger, or springs.
6- Connect the nail gun to the air supply before loading any fasteners to prevent a fastener from being fired during the connection. The tool driving mechanism may cycle when the tool is connected to the air supply.
7- Always assume the nail gun contains fasteners. Keep the tool pointed safely away from yourself and others at all times.
8- Do not load fasteners with the trigger or safety depressed, to prevent unintentional firing of a fastener.
9- Remove your finger from the trigger when not driving fasteners. Never carry the tool with your finger on the trigger; the tool will fire a fastener if the safety is accidentally bumped.
10- Fire fasteners into the work surface only; never into materials too hard to penetrate.

Hot Glue Gun
Image from
1- Do not touch the nozzle area or melted glue. The operating temperature of the glue gun nozzle is 380F (193C).
2- Always use safety glasses.
3- Do not pull glue sticks from the glue gun. The feed mechanism may become damaged or impaired.
4- When the glue gun is hot, do not lay it on its side; place it into the stand.
5- Wait 3-6 minutes for the glue gun to heat up before using on any material.
6- Glue set up time is 50-60 seconds.
7- Large areas are difficult to bond because the adhesive frequently will harden before you have extruded the required amount of glue. Get a friend to help double-team it.
8- Glue is fed by simply pulling the trigger.
9- The amount of glue is determined by how far the trigger is pulled.
10- A hot glue gun or hot glue can cause second degree burns.

Dance Show Notes

Before any more of these dance recitals come up, be sure to consider the following items and bring up in production meeting with director(s)/choreographer(s):

Costume colors
This can have huge bearing on what to do with the lights. If you've got a lead dancer wearing a red sequin outfit, using a bit of red in the front light will give that extra umph! so that they can really stand out.

Projections or backdrop
Some dance companies have a banner or backdrop for their competitions or recitals, others have a gobo with their logo on it, and some want an image projected. And then there are those that don't have a plan for the background at all, but never count on that being the case. Always see what they want and work around it.

Any song mashups?
Ask if they can please send names of songs within the mixes and MP3 file if possible. At a minimum, I like to have a different look per song in a mashup.

Any songs with unusual endings:
False endings? Be sure you never get caught blacking out too early! Oy, is that embarrassing.
Chopped off endings? Don't ask about it like that. But again, see if you can get the exact MP3's they'll be using in the show, and really give them a listen before show day. If you didn't know they cut off the final chorus of a song you know by heart, and you either cued it or were running lights on the fly and were saving a special effect for a special moment at the end of the song... But then the song ends and the dancers all freeze and there's nothing else happening... Yeah it's just an awkward little moment.

Any show-stopping numbers?
If all the graduating seniors get a really special lyrical dance that needs some extra emotional interest, or a musical theatre number that involves 5 of the dance classes all together and it's so humongous and crowd-pleasing, be sure it gets the attention it deserves from your lights.

List of songs in show order AND rehearsal order
The most helpful thing I've learned is to get both these lists before rehearsal start time so that at the very least, I can sit down and number each song by cue number.

Below is an example of a Show Order and Rehearsal order with the Q numbers written in. That way when I go in to cue for the rehearsal, I don't have to bother with link/loop functions or remembering what goes where, because it will all be written in. Future self thanks present self for remembering to do this.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Theatre Maintenence Day

After every show closing in college, we would have a Theatre Maintenance Day to restore everything to as it was. One year, I was in charge of creating the list of tasks to complete, and assigning tasks to members of the theatre honors society, Alpha Psi Omega, based on what they were good at and what they liked. I grouped the tasks into categories for simplicity's sake, to make sure that all members had something to do. Each member had to put in an hour minimum to complete their maintenance requirement, and over a 4-hour period, all jobs were usually complete. 

Actors’ maintenance
Clean/dust book and model shelves in the Green Room
Scrub out microwave and two fridges
Wash windows & mirrors in Green Room and dressing rooms
Scrub out dressing room showers & sinks
Vacuum green room
Clean & vacuum under seat cushions in Green Room
Help organize Costume shop (sort crates and fold)
Take show props out to prop storage
Clean chalk boards
Scrub water fountains

Tech maintenance
Organize light storage, organize box of used gels
Organize cable storage
Scrub drafting tables
Dust/scrub clean the electrics
Assist with any light bulb changes in green room or dressing room areas

House maintenance
Clean up trash in the house from the last show
Dust framed photos on the walls
Sweep and mop all rooms, stairwells, and lobbies
Clean/ organize concessions
Do a sweep in the orchestra pit under the mainstage

To sweep and mop fully, remember to get into all corners of the room AND move all furniture out of the way to get underneath where it normally sits.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Corner Blocks

Corner blocks are one of the first things I remember learning about on day 1 of Stagecraft class in college. It answers the question, "What am I looking at?"

What Is a Corner Block?
Simply put, it's an info box that is drawn in the corner of a technical drawing, or draft, and gives you an idea of what you're looking at.

Info that's typically included will be the name of the show, where it is being put on, who is putting the show on, what scale this is drawn in, and if there are more drawings that complete the design. Here are a couple of examples:

How it's Used
If you were given a technical drawing, like a light plot or a ground plan with no explanation, you'd be awfully confused. Who is in charge of this drawing in case there are any questions? Where is this going when it's built?

"This is what you asked me to build. It's specified here, 18 inches."
Photo found at
Now, if only there was some information so that the builder could have gotten it right the first time...
That's better!
BAM! There's our answer. There's our contact person. If the designer took the time and care to make himself available to the builder by simply adding this information, the builder would have known who to go to and had the means to get in touch before buying the materials and ask, "Are you sure you meant to write 'inches' instead of 'feet'?" Noticing a draftsperson's mistakes is critical to being a good builder, because it's not just about getting the job done, it's about making sure it's exactly what the client needs.

Let's take a closer look at what's involved here.

Below is a corner block that I used as a template when I was drafting all throughout college. I'll go through what each item is.
1) Theatre Company Name
Name of the organization putting on the show - High School Thespian Players? The Community Dramatic Arts Alliance? The Grand Fancypants Broadway Production Co.?
2) "Show Title"
Full name of the show itself - Anne Frank: On the Moon, The Music Man in ASL, Cyotes: The Musical
3) Author
Person who wrote the show
4) Draft Title
Is this a ground plan? Light plot? Front elevation?
5) Venue Name
Where this show is going to happen - Great Thespians' Auditorium? The Global Theatre?
6) Designer's Name
Who designed whatever this is?
7) Draftsperson's Name
Who drew whatever this is?
8) Checked
Has this been approved by anyone?
9) Date
How recent is this draft?
10) Scale
How does this compare proportionally to the real thing? What measurement on the page will equal 1"
Note: I don't know how scale is written out for metric use. But in the US it is most typical to make the scale relate things to 1 inch
11) Plate, aka Draft
How many drawings are there that make up the complete idea of this design, and which one is this in relation to the rest? This might be a scenic design that has front elevations, side elevations, a ground plan, and a sight line drawing; together those make up 4 plates, and this one might be the 1st of those 4.
12) The box outline
All of this information gets contained in one clean box. Nice and neat and all together.

It doesn't have to take up much space. The one I used is about 4"x4". Other people have their own designs that flatten it out and make it wider so they have more room for the actual draft. Some people's corner block goes straight across the bottom of the page, and includes much more information like the designer's contact info, their website, other companies involved with the production, etc. Do whatever you want and make it yours. Just be sure that it's consistent.