Thursday, October 10, 2013

40th Anniversary: Behind the Scenes (Spoilers!)

Last Saturday was our 40th Anniversary Concert, a 2-hour production with 20 performers from SJT, 5 of our junior members, 8 dancers from Abhinaya Dance Company, 3 of their musicians, and 1 DJ from the Bangerz.  The entire second half was a 60-minute medley of 25 of our songs without pause.  It was one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of and one I think people will remember many years from now.

For this post, I wanted to give people a look into what a day in the theater is like for such a big event, since it’s such an immense undertaking.  I’m not going to say TOO much, because I don’t want to ruin the mystique or get myself in trouble, haha.  However, I know that some people are curious about what it’s like to make this kind of a show happen.

Most of us arrive at the theater by 9am Saturday to start unloading the equipment brought in both a large Budget truck and one of our vans.  Some people have arrived earlier to prep the stage or start working with the Lighting Director.  The stage crew has already started building the riser (raised stage) in the back.

With so many of us available, it takes about 90 minutes to prep all the equipment.  The shime are tied in the lobby stairwell, the okedo tied and strapped and given wraps, the stands assembled, the tables set on both sides and covered in blankets for all of our bachi and percussion.

There’s a crew working on the lobby displays, and a crew working on the merchandise tables and T-shirt display.  Actually, I think it was the same crew doing both!  There are a couple of people setting up the green room, where food is put out.  Lighting is still going on and the projections/videos are being tested and tweaked.  Our sound technician arrives around this time.  During the whole time we’ve been there, the theater crew is lowering and raising pipes (where they hang the lights and other things from) and constantly working around (and in between) us.  They don’t get in our way and we try to stay out of theirs!

From here it’s a bit of waiting, until we can help one of the teams.  The merchandise table needs people to fold shirts, the spike team needs people to help place and mark where the drums go.  By now most of us have put our personal stuff in the dressing rooms upstairs and hung our happi on the clothes racks on both sides of the stage for the multiple quick changing required later.  There’s a lunch order made at a couple of different places nearby and then there’s a bit of a break for those who aren’t helping one of teams.

After lunch comes the sound check, where we run a couple of the songs where microphones are used.  Levels need to be balanced, especially for the non-taiko instruments (violin, hand drums, vocals).  From there we get ready to run the entire show, in costume, with all the costume changes, lighting, and sound that we can.  Some of the women from SJT need to do hair and makeup during this time.  For the run-through, some non-playing things may not be ready or set, but adjustments can be made once people see what happens.  Yes, that means we are playing the concert before we play the concert.  That’s two shows in the space of about six hours.

Dinner break in the green room is noisy and crowded as people eat what they need to before the final push.  We have performers and technicians and family and some ex-SJT members, and the mood is pretty relaxed.  The show starts at 8 and we’re ready to go at 7:45 to bring everyone together and center.

There’s a delay because of the line outside, so we wait for 10 minutes, but once we start, it’s on.  All those nights and weekends and so many hours spent outside of practice in prepping and planning come to fruition.  As we perform, we don’t know what the audience is really seeing – the effect of the lighting isn’t known to us until we watch the video on the following day.  But it doesn’t matter; we’re putting it out there with all we’ve got.

The two hours pass by so fast due to all the times we’ve rehearsed it and the joy of playing.  We’re off in the lobby after the end and see fans, family, friends, so many people happy with what they’ve seen and happy to see us.  It’s hard to talk to any one person for too long because there’s someone else always coming up, and so we don’t always get to say goodbye.  And it’s not long before we have to get backstage to start packing up, still running on adrenaline and excitement.

Personal stuff gets put away, costumes grabbed from the racks, then changing upstairs.  Equipment is broken down, drums are normally untied (but we don’t have time this time), everything is put into boxes or bags, spikes are peeled off the stage.  All the food needs to be packed, all the displays packed, all the merchandise packed plus an accounting for our totals.  It’s chaotic and if you don’t have something to do, it’ll take three seconds to find what to help with.  And everything that just got packed tightly in the truck and van is then taken back to the studio to be unloaded once more.

It’s now 1:15am on Sunday and we circle up, just the remaining SJT members and a few volunteers to close out and thank everyone for their hard work.

So does it always happen like that?  Nope.  Did it all go as planned?  Nope.  Am I going to explain?   Nope!  But for those who don’t play concerts or do larger events like that - or who are just curious - this was a glimpse into what went on in order to make a single anniversary show happen – and that’s just the day of, not the days, weeks, and months leading up to it.  Hope to see you at our 45th!  And 50th, 55th, 60th

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