Tips For a Smooth Tech Week

Darin Keesing

  • OnStage Guest Columnist

All week, we’ve read articles referring to Tech Week as “Hell Week”, how actors hate it, how technicians dread it, how everyone involved is tired, irritable, and unhappy. This is may be true in some theatres, but it doesn’t need to be so. In fact, I don’t remember the last show I designed that the tech week wasn’t a smooth, and, dare I say, enjoyable experience. 

Tech and dress rehearsals are the final mile of the rehearsal marathon, with Opening Night as the finish line. There are some simple and effective things every production team can do to ensure a productive, efficient process that leaves the show energized for their first public performance.

Have a Plan - Preparation is absolutely key to a smooth tech week. Set a strict schedule and stick to it (i.e. no staying in the theatre until 2 am getting that cue sequence just right). Know what the expectations are for each part of that schedule (we need to get through Act 1 on Saturday, and Act 2 on Sunday, for example) Schedule a Paper Tech with the director, stage manager and all designers to work through every cue, transition and costume change in the show. Give the Lighting and Sound designers dark time in the space to write cues ahead of time. As a lighting designer, I try to have rough looks (or even place holder cues) in the board before tech begins.

Set First Day of Tech As Your Deadline - As a production and technical team, the goal should always be to have all scenic, lighting and sound elements in place by the first day of Tech (and costumes by First Dress). There is nothing more frustrating as a designer than to start tech with unpainted scenery/floor, unfocused lights, or missing speakers. If there are set pieces that fly, they should be hung and tested. If there are practical lights, they should be wired. All masking, borders and soft goods should be hung and stretched. If there are some set dressing additions or cosmetic fixes that need to be addressed throughout tech, that’s fine. But every major element should be as close to Opening Night ready as possible on the first day of tech.

Keep the Actors Engaged - The number one reason many actors dread tech week is boredom. If they feel like they’re going to spend twelve hours standing around while the designers fuss with cues, the energy will be low, and the pace of the rehearsal will grind to a crawl. As a lighting designer, I’ve learned that the more I can allow the actors to run the show, even during the first tech day, the happier everyone will be. I try to write/edit cues while the actors are running the scene, and only ask for a “hold” if the scene gets too far ahead, or if I have a question about timing, blocking, etc. Of course if you’re doing a rock musical with 1000 light cues, there will be times when the actors will have to wait for complicated sequences to be sorted out, but in my experience, you can make the actors very happy if you “give back” the rehearsal to them and let them work as well.

Use Actor Breaks Effectively - Equity actors require strict guidelines for breaks, and most non-Equity companies will adhere to some variation of those guidelines. If you’re in a company that schedules “10-out-of-12’s” for tech weekend, the production team can plan on having some work time in the middle of the day. While I encourage the team to actually take a break and eat a meal, its rare that a full two hours of down time is needed. As such, I try to use that time to work out some tougher sequences or to solve some staging issues while the actors are away. When I run into problems during the rehearsal, I encourage the team to move on from potentially time-consuming sections to keep the actors engaged, choosing instead to work those issues out during down time. Then, when the actors are called back, you can go back and run those newly fixed sections. The actors will appreciate it.

Reward Efficiency With Time Off - Finally, I encourage directors and stage managers to consider rewarding the entire team (actors, designers and production crew) with some time off if the tech process goes faster than planned. This isn’t always possible, and the hours scheduled for tech should be used to their fullest if the production needs them. But if you’re doing a single set drama with no costume changes and a relatively small number of light and sound cues, you might be able to cancel the second half of Sunday tech and give your team an evening off. They’ll come back refreshed and refocused for dress rehearsals and previews.