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Touring focus cloths

Discussion in 'Technical Theatre History' started by RonHebbard, Apr 6, 2019.

  1. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Do you remember when bus 'n truck tours used to have a narrow annotated length of canvas that the head carp' would position on your center line then decide which of his items he'd be hanging on your system pipes?
    Next recall when the touring head LX would have a 40 to 60 foot length of canvas with a center line marked and annotated with focusing info' which he'd unfurl below his first LX pipe; hang his or your instruments, circuit and flash them, then fly the pipe to five or six feet above the deck and focus all of his instruments per the marks he had on his focusing cloth. If he had additional pipes needing focusing, pipes that weren't X-rays, he may move the same focusing cloth up stage and keep focusing or he may have a second and third cloth. If it was a large enough tour they may have multiple focusing cloths and focus several pipes simultaneously.
    Back in 1990 I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in the FOH coves of New York's Lincoln Centre's Metropolitan Opera House and witnessed a similar focusing technique on STEROIDS.
    Think about it. The Met' operates in a continuously rotating rep' with alternate casts and many matinees. Some productions are only performed once or twice per season. This leads to extensive changeovers betwixt virtually every performance. Think of the time and crew needs. Normally you'd need to clear one set into storage then pull your next production's scenery and props then assemble and position your scenery and large props prior to being able to refocus for this next production.
    Not in the Met' and here's the parts I found most fascinating.
    They fly in their unmarked white fire curtain, not quite all the way to deck level but slightly above the deck so their carp's can move and reset their many stage lifts without hitting their fire curtain.
    Up in one of their front coves they fire up a Pani that hasn't budged an iota in decades. The Pani projects a glass slide of an annotated grid onto their fire curtain. The grid has a center line, then other parallel lines annotated as 1 Right, 2 Right, 3 Right and so on plus similar marked lines left of centre. The projected grid also has horizontal lines running across.
    Behind their fire curtain carps and props go to work striking the previous production, clearing it into sub basement storage, elevating the new scenery and props up from sub basement storage then assembling and positioning the scenery and large props for the next production.
    Simultaneously in front of their fire curtain cleaners are cleaning their auditorium in reduced house lighting.
    And here's the part that BLEW ME AWAY!
    While the previous production is still being struck and stored behind their fire curtain, six or eight LX crew up in their ceiling coves are SIMULTANEOUSLY already re-focusing, gelling, gobo-ing and finessing 1.5 K and 2K ellipsoidals and 2K and 5K Fresnels per copious paper sketches and notes all with reference to the grid projected on their fire curtain. An amazing number of departments and crew all working cooperatively and efficiently SIMULTANEOUSLY! I found this a truly amazing thing to witness, remember and learn from. This would've been 1990 while I was parked in Broadway's Shubert for a few weeks with a Canadian / British / U.S. co-pro' of 'Buddy Holly, The Musical'.
    Another interesting memory was seeing four IA brothers each standing between pairs of follow spots operating their lamps simultaneously. Four pairs of Strong carbon Gladiators with each adjacent pair operated by one local one brother. Granted they were basically performing soft-edged flood and cover duties, it wasn't as if they were highlighting petite ballerinas on pointe. Your average opera singer presents an appreciably larger and barely moving target. The entire changeover was a fascinating display of well choreographed cooperative efficiency and an amazing treat to observe. In the IA way, some of those spot operators were operating lamps their fathers had operated before them for decades. 'Some call it nepotism, we call it tradition.' All of this and not a moving light to be seen. Wha d'ya think @BillConnerFASTC Did scaly Bob teach you that at Yale? Once the activity behind their fire curtain was complete, carps would fly out the fire curtain, LX would do a flash through of all relevant FOH fixtures and it was amazing to see how they all found their targets.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard (Retired from IBEW 105, IA 129 and 357.
     
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  2. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    For those that may not have seen it before, John Else' movie Sing Faster covers Wagner's Ring Cycle from the point of view of the San Francisco Opera crew.

     
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  3. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    Good stories Ron.

    My memory of the Met FOH was they had Super Troupers (90’s ?), as well as a dedicated electrician maintaining them. I hit them up for parts when I still owned ST’s and they had moved to Lycian Xenons. There was a “follow spot” room up in the ceiling with all the parts, and they used to make some parts for ST’s after Strong had discontinued. 7 spots in total, often as key lights for the main roles, typically head shot in a light blue and frost. They went thru a LOT of iris’s on the Lucians they told me.

    Great crew at the Met.
     
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  4. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I haven't seen a focus cloth like that in a long time, but all the tours this year that I've had through my venue have had marley's with marks that they use for focusing conventionals and their movers. The Marley goes down for the show and stays there with the focus marks, and then its used the same way.
     
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  5. JonCarter

    JonCarter Well-Known Member

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    RE: Sing Faster: Great movie--brought back lotsa memories. But they're all so young!! The stagehands I worked with and remember were all pot-bellied, bald, cigar-smoking and over 50! But the perpetual poker game between changes rings a bell.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2019
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  6. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    For those of you having a hard time picturing @RonHebbard 's description of The Met, The New York Times did a great timelapse video of two days of change overs at The Met. It is a mind-boggling amount of work that happens there. I definitely am planning to take their behind the scenes tour next time I'm out that way.
     
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  7. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @TheaterEd (And for those playing along at home) A touch more background info' on tours at the Met'. When I first worked in Stratford, Ontario's Stratford Shakespearean Festival Gil Wechsler was their head of LX design with Michael J. Whitfield as his assistant. Gil was already an established designer in New York and came to Stratford seasonally to light a few productions and play Head of LX Design. At Stratford I was the IA Head of Sound in their festival theatre but got to know Gil' primarily due to Stratford's main theatre running a Strand IDM Cue lighting board at the time. When production management learned I used to operate one of the other two IDM Cues in Canada, I soon lost my show off and became the alternate IDM Cue programmer. Leap ahead from 1977 to 1990. I was sitting on Broadway in the Shubert as one of two assistant LX with a British / Canadian / American co-pro' of 'The Buddy Holly story, the musical'. Once we'd gotten through previews with near daily re-writes and cueing sessions, things settled down to normal Equity eight performance weeks. Normally the road crew would remain with the production until our official opening performance then we'd all party and head home with members of IA local one assuming all of our positions. As it happened, my normal gig with the show was focusing approximately 2 to 3 hundred instruments in our FOH then operating our #1 spot and calling cues to two local brothers operating spots #2 and #3. The IA gentleman who became our Production Head Electrcian was simultaneously the IA Production Head Electrician for our show, plus 'Lettice and Lovage' around the corner in Broadway's 'The Music Box' theatre and also the international tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Starlight Express'. Our newly acquired IA Production Electrician already had his hand-picked crew of local one brothers lined up for our replacements except the fellow he wanted to slide into my position was already under contract elsewhere for two or three weeks. While we were sitting in SanFranCisco for a month our new IA Production Electrician flew out for two days to see and learn our production. While he was with us I boldly inquired if there'd be any way for me to stay with our production for a week past our official opening night so I could simply run my performances and have a few days to see more of New York than the inside of a small black booth. Local one's hold on Broadway crewing is the stuff of legends; imagine my surprise when I was told "This may just work out, how long do you want to stay?" I quickly suggested a week would be wonderful. I was told IF I'd guarantee to stay with the production until his hand-picked buddy became available to him AND NOT suddenly leave him without a lead spot op' then we'd have a deal. Sometimes things just work out, thus I found myself sitting in the Shubert for an extra few weeks with most days off to explore New York.
    Tying this back to touring Lincoln Centre in general and The Met' in particular. Once I was in New York I began playing phone tag to reach Gil Wechsler. After about a half dozen calls and never actually speaking with Gil', his assistant assured me Gil' remembered me and guaranteed me an insider tour could definitely be arranged and it would be with either Gil' or himself. I was told to let them know what day I wanted to visit and I would be accommodated. Next step. I looked into Lincoln Centre's listings of routinely scheduled public tours and selected a day when they had a tour of all (five I think it was) venues, paid my money and appeared at something like seven a.m. for the first public tour of the day thinking the line-up would be shortest for the scheduled 8:00 a.m. tour. Once I purchased my ticket, days in advance, I let Gil's assistant know my date and left it to him to select a time. Things just all fell magically into place. I was first in line about 7:00 a.m. I was still the only one in line at 8:00 a.m. when a spry little old lady appeared. I naively assumed the lady must be another tourist. WRONG!! The lady was a long retired ballerina who'd spent most of her career dancing in Lincoln Centre and now paid her bills by working as a tour guide. We stood next to each other for a few moments with me still assuming she's another tourist then put her coat in her bag and donned her official tour guide outfit, changed into comfortable walking shoes and introduced herself. We chatted and much to her surprise I was interested in the public tour of all venues except the Met' assuring her I already had a private tour of the Met' lined up for 10:00 a.m. This caught her totally by surprise "Every one wants to see the Met', was I sure I didn't want see the Met'?" We chatted a little more and got things sorted. She assured me she knew Gil' and his assistant and, as I was still the only person in line, off we went for a one on one guided tour. Once she understood I wasn't interested in seeing lobbies and dressing rooms she took me to the booths of every venue in Lincoln Centre and, since she recognized virtually every employee and addressed them by name on sight, she introduced me by name as a brother who was in town with a show in the Shubert and I got to see places the public are never privvy to. The next public tour of the day was assigned to another tour guide and so my retired ballerina finessed my personal tour and bid me adieu at the Met's stage door mere minutes to 10:00 a.m. where she waited until Gil's assistant arrived then introduced me by name and left me in good hands. Much of theatre's about who you know and maintaining a positive balance of favors.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2019
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  8. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    Ron, just a great story. Thanks for sharing.
     
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  9. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @TheaterEd I guess what I meant to post was: If / when you plunk down your money for their "Behind the scenes tour" don't be too surprised by how much time will be devoted to "behind the scenes" of areas far closer to the paying public; the value of paintings and sculptures on display in lobbies along with their insurance costs, how much the acoustically sealed doors weigh and cost in Avery Fisher Hall, behind the bars, coat checks; floor scrubbing and toiletry supplies, fire exit routes. You'll likely be lined up and marched across the stage with tour guides on both ends of the line busily counting heads and shepherding their flock away from anything remotely interesting. Heaven forbid any mere mortals get anywhere near the pit edge and / or down to the pit. Not to be too much of a downer but if you're not a close family member of an established star or maestro, then you'd best have your IA silver or gold pin prominently displayed on your lapel. Go in with low expectations, bow gracefully and gratefully for whatever they deem to show you. (BTW; Mentioning my name won't gain you anything.) [Dropping @SteveB 's MAY get you a little further in the door.]
    Toodleoo from north of Donald's walls!
    Ron Hebbard
     
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  10. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    PSHHH, I'm sure that my etc hoodie and my winning smile will be enough to earn their confidence :D If not, I'll take what I can get!
     
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