The Trials of Tech Week

Top Ten Ways for You and Your Child to Survive

For those of you new to the theatre game, tech week refers to the week prior to the opening night of a play, musical, or similar theatrical production in which all of the technical elements (lights, sound, set, costumes, makeup, etc.) are introduced to the rehearsal process.

During tech week, or tech for short, there is a lot of stopping and starting, allowing the actors to become familiar with the set, see if costumes fit properly, and check time allotted for costume changes. The technical production crew uses these rehearsals to fix any unforeseen problems and the director is able see how his artistic vision has come together, allowing him to make necessary changes prior to opening night.

I remember my very first tech week as a theater mom. My 7 year-old son was in a summer camp production of “Godspell” and camp was to be over at 3 p.m. I went to pick him up and they said, “Oh, it’s going to be a little while longer, we are still working on something.” Ninety minutes later they kids were finally released. This was Monday, and the rest of the week followed suit. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t they tell us? Why is it so disorganized?” I had no idea that what I was dealing was pretty average for a tech week.

Subsequent community theatre shows and working with, shall we say, less organized directors, taught me the true meaning of tech week. Rehearsals that go until 11 p.m. on a school night came to be expected. Last minute trips to Goodwill or the Dancer’s Closet for certain shoes or costume pieces needed for the next day were not out of the norm. It was not surprising in the least for directors, stage managers, crew, and actors to take another person’s head off for something that would have been calmly discussed in the weeks prior. I have seen many adult actors leave the theatre in tears under the rigors of tech week, not to mention parents and child actors who would leave rehearsal crying or looking shell shocked from their first theatrical experience.

To help you and your child survive this challenging time, I’ve come up with a few pointers that will not only reduce your stress but possibly make directors want to work with your child again in the future.

1 & 2, Keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, and do what you are told. I know this may sound kind of harsh, but it is something I have said to my children for the majority of their combined 200+ theatrical productions they have performed in and it has served them well.

1. Keep your head down means mind your own business. If someone is doing something wrong or that they shouldn’t be, it is the director’s job to tell that person not yours or your child’s.  While you or your child may think you are being helpful, with tempers running high due to stress, you may cause a much larger problem than what you are trying to prevent. Plus, it is never appropriate for an actor to give another actor a note, ie. tell them what to do. Let the director and stage managers do their jobs and you concentrate on your own.

Actors need to pay attention to where they are to be, when, and know their lines. If the director tells your child to do something different, even if they have told them ten times to go to stage left and now they’re saying to go to stage right, your child needs to say “yes sir/mam” and do it. They shouldn’t question and should never argue about it.

2. Keep your Mouth Shut. Don’t talk in the wings or while notes are being given. If you are in the green room, keep your voice down. You should never be heard while the other actors are on stage. In addition to it being distracting to others, if you are talking you might miss your cue.

The director hates having to talk over people while they are giving notes. This is incredibly disrespectful and frustrating to them. Not only will he or she have to raise their voice in order to be heard over those chatting, but if your child is talking, they cannot hear the director and might miss something important that affects their performance.

The same goes for parents, if you are allowed to be in the house during rehearsal or notes, refrain from speaking entirely. If you must talk, make sure your whispers are so faint they cannot be heard on stage or by staff that may be watching in the seats. And, this is not a sporting event, NEVER yell directions to your child or correct them if they are on stage. This should be a no-brainer, but believe me, I have seen it done.

3. Be flexible. Tech week rehearsal schedules can fluctuate based upon how much is accomplished during the run. If adding the technical aspects or other production limitations cause the director to not accomplish what was needed, or if a specific section of the show needs “cleaned” i.e., more rehearsal time, then actors might be asked to stay later or come in earlier the next day. The likelihood of this happening increases as the week progresses closer to opening night.

Rarely the converse is true. I have seen a show getting on its feet much quicker than anticipated and the director letting the child actors go earlier so they could get home and get rest. So be prepared to either leave later or pick up earlier if you do not stay at the venue.

Either way, don’t complain to the director about it. I have seen parent’s rip into a director about rehearsal times fluctuating and I’ve seen the director never cast those children again because of their parent’s behavior. And believe me, directors talk. Those children were never cast in another show at that theatre again, simply because the mother was such a nightmare to deal with.

If you have shared custody of your child, please clear everything ahead of time with the other parent. I have seen kids not be able to attend rehearsal, miss a show, or be pulled from a production all together because both parents were not on the same page. It is heart wrenching for everyone involved to watch the child go through this, but more importantly, it is incredibly detrimental to the child.

4. If it’s not yours don’t touch it. I can not tell you the number of times I have heard of an actor being late or going on stage without a prop because a child actor took it off of the prop table or wherever it had been set. Children need to be taught that props are not toys, even if technically they are toys. They need to understand that props are an essential part of the show.

Also, teach your child to set their props before the run begins or check to make sure their props are where they are supposed to be if they had set them the night before. There are many times I’ve seen a child get yelled at for not having a prop that they either forgot to set until it was to late or they set it previously and didn’t check its location, only to find that it had been moved or taken by someone else.

5. Stay out of the way. I know it is enticing for young actors to want to watch the show from the wings, but for the sake of safety and the flow of the production, it is best that they are not in the wings when not needed there. Many elements relating to the production take place in this area and actors, as well as crew, need to have easy access on and off of the stage. A young actor in the wings can easily get in the way and possibly even get hurt.

6. Be cautious. If your child hasn’t performed in a specific theatre before, have them check the stage texture with the shoes they will be performing in before the rehearsal begins. If the surface of the stage seems slippery, put gaff tape on character shoes or spray the bottom of tap shoes with hairspray. You can break new jazz shoes in by rubbing the bottoms of the shoes on concrete or sidewalk.

Tell your children to pay attention to instructions given regarding the set and the safety of certain pieces.  Tell them to to pick up any loose screws that they may come across and to pick them up and give them to the stage manager in order to prevent themselves and others from being injured.

Tell them to be aware of their space when tech is added because they will be working with so many new elements. If not fully aware of the space around them, onstage and off, they could be injured or injure others. This is more important than it sounds. I know of talented children who have been removed from productions during tech week due to this issue.

7. No Jelly Donuts! Do not bring food or drink other than water in the theatre. I know many mother’s mean well and sometimes want to treat the cast or make sure Little Johnny has a snack available to him in the Green Room. But the fact is, with the hustle and bustle of tech week and shows, there is a huge possibility that something could easily be knocked over, spilled, drip or even be handled with dirty or sticky hands. The potential for damage to costumes and sheet music is great. Additionally, many people have allergies, some of which can be deadly. You don’t want to be the cause of a cast member getting sick or worse. So feed your child at home or in the car on the way to the theatre.

8. Be considerate of others. During dress rehearsals and shows, actors can be put in tight quarters together in the Green Room or backstage. Even on stage depending on the show, how large the cast is, and how small the stage is. There may be many times when actors need to be close to one another and nothing makes it more uncomfortable than a lack of personal hygiene. It is important to remind your child to take a shower, brush their teeth, and depending on their age, use deodorant. Also, be sensitive to other cast members allergies or olfactory senses by never using any type of aerosol spray in confined quarters and limit or eliminate the use of perfumes and cologne.

9. Be Patient and don’t take it personally. Tempers and sensitivities can run very high with the pressures the entire cast and crew are under during tech week. I have seen the mousiest, meekest of women walk in the door of the theatre lobby and rip the head off another actor, who was simply sitting there trying to inhale his dinner before the run. So be patient with others if someone does snap at you or speak to you in a stern way, especially if they are normally kind, remind yourself and your child of the stress everyone is under. Be like Elsa and Let It Go.

10. Leave the place better than you found it. Most community theaters and some professional theaters expect the cast to stay after the final show to help with teardown. Tell your child that if they are not assigned a job, to ask the stage manager what they can do to help. Directors, Stage Managers and the rest of the crew are very appreciative of parents who also help with teardown. Before the final show, ask what will be expected of your child, if you can help, if you are able to, and if so, what tools you can bring to help out.

Even if your theatre company does not require you or your child to help with teardown, it is your child’s responsibility to clean up their area of the dressing room, make sure they have all of their own personal items, and return all costume pieces. Remind them to always leave the place better than they found it so they will be invited back to perform their again.

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It’s Essential To Tell Your Kid They Are Not Perfect

I think it’s fair to say 99% of parents reading this page think that their child is talented. He or she very well may be and of course you should support your child and let’s face it we all are biased in one way or another when it comes to our kids.

But even the most talented kids are not perfect all the time and parents who constantly tell their child they are great when they are not are doing a them great disservice.

I remember after one performance, I asked my then 15 year-old son how he thought he did and his response was, “Eh.” I replied, with a kind tone, that while he did a good job I had heard him perform that song better. He agreed. A 10 year old girl overheard me and told me I was “mean” because I said that instead of telling him he was great. I explained that it is not “mean” to be honest.

Over the years I have witnessed many of those children whose parents think they are the most talented, most perfect, tell their child they were amazing when they clearly were not. What happens to these kids is they end up with a false sense of self. A false sense of their abilities. They cannot fix what they do not know is broken. They do not work hard to improve on their skills because mom and dad said they are awesome so why should they.

From a very early age I have been honest with my children about their performances. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t come out and say, “Boy that sucked!” Okay, full disclosure, maybe once or twice with my adult son, but that was in a joking manner when he also knew what he was working on was very rough and he agreed with me.

I usually listen to them and watch them perform and then give them an honest appraisal. I try to always find something positive to say about the performance but then hone in on the areas that may be rough where there are pitch problems or they have gotten shouty. I try to do this as much as possible before the actual performance so they have time to make adjustments.

This is beneficial to them for a couple reasons, first they will perform better when the time arrives but they also begin to recognize the areas that need work themselves and tell me what was wrong before I even get a chance to. This has served them well over the years as they have grown up and had to work on new material on their own.

This has not only stayed true at home but also with those they have worked with, instructors, directors, I have always encouraged them to be honest with my children and tell them how to improve their skills and performances. Many have told me they appreciate being able to do their job without worrying that they will upset me or my child.

If my child is not doing what is expected of them they need to be told, period. My children have defiantly benefited from this. Over the years I have often been told by directors how impressed they were with my children being able to take direction and easily make the corrections.

Unfortunately not all parents feel this way and are highly offended when their child is corrected. Often, at a community level and professional level, those children are not cast in shows again simply because the directors do not want to deal with the parent. I’ve seen that happen many times.

That being said, my children only work with those who treat them respectfully. There is a difference in giving a correction and just yelling, outright being mean or degrading. My children have worked with people like that and have refused to work with them again. My, then 13 year-old, daughter once told me, “Mom I respect myself to much as an actress to work with someone who screams at and degrades their cast.” This director had never treated her personally like this but she watched the way she had treated others in the casts she had been in. I credit her stance to her working with real professionals both on stage, as directors and instructors. When you work with professionals you learn how to behave and how you should be treated.

Another big mistake many parents make is exerting influence over directors to give their child a role, a lead or a title. (This in itself is a topic I will write about at a later date so I’m only touching on it now.) This is in my mind even worse than constantly telling your child they are great because they gain a false sense of their abilities, their type, and their expectations for their future.

What happens to the kids who are always told they are great or get roles they do not earn? They go out into the real world and are hit hard by reality in the face. They go to college auditions at only the top schools, most don’t have second tier or safety schools on their list and they don’t get into a program. Or if they do get into a program, often it is not at the level they expect or if it is, they don’t get cast in shows and they can’t understand why. Many simply do not know how to handle it leading to many problems. In their minds and possibly in reality, they have failed and having never “failed” in getting what they have wanted in their lives or careers before, they are ill equipped to deal with the emotions that come with it.

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