Friday, June 4, 2010

I'm On A Boat!

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to work on theater in just about the coolest location imaginable: on a boat! The U of MN runs a showboat docked at Harriet Island in St. Paul that is gearing up for a run of shows this summer. I cannot stress enough that it's a THEATER ON A BOAT.
Okay, it's more of a barge than a boat. Apparently the old showboat would actually cruise up and down the river during shows, but it burned down in a welding accident in 2000, and the new one is permanently docked. Inside is an impressive, if slightly small, theater by any standards,
(Note: it was many times messier and filled with tech junk when I was working on it) Luckily, all the lights had already been hung (they use the biggest ladder I've ever seen, named Big Bertha, to hang the lights visible in the picture) last week, so my work consisted largely of connecting everything. Despite five enormous cables running from the dock to the ship, there weren't nearly enough dimmers, and there was much electrical work to be done twofering (or three-fering) lights into circuits so everything could have power. I also ran smaller DMX signal cable to carry instructions to intelligent instruments.

Plugging stuff in sounds easy enough, and normally it would be, but apparently the fly system of the showboat isn't as sophisticated as the one in Rarig (theater building), so the bars everything hung on couldn't be lowered. Meaning I got to access everything in one of these.
The Genie aerial work platform is basically a portable elevator that lets you reach heights of up to 14 meters (which is terrifying). Luckily in the small showboat theater I only had to go up 4 or so meters, which isn't too bad. For stability, the Genie has four outriggers for stability. Every time I wanted to go up, I had to tighten all the outriggers to the ground, then climb into the basket to ascend. To move the Genie, all four outriggers had to be loosened so it could roll around. Multiply this by having to make dozens of ascents to work on various points on a bar and it can take all morning.

When I was up in the air, I would be plugging in lights and running the cables along the bar to where they were supposed to go. For the first semester of my techiehood, I learned to keep cables from sagging by coiling them around the bar. Just when this habit was ingrained, we got a new tech director who, like all the other ones I've had since, advocated tying the cables to bars. Switching over has been hard, especially since tying makes adding or removing individual cables much more time-consuming. Even worse is the unspeakable horror of trying to plug something in, only to need just a few more inches of cable. If the theater would get one-foot, or even six-inch extension cables, I would use them all.

Just when I thought I was done, the power splitter that was supposed to be powering a dimmer box and the strobe cannon (which is even more awesome than it sounds) was revealed to be nonoperational. After taking the whole thing apart, I concluded it needed a new plug, which would have to be brought from Rarig center.

But first, it was lunchtime. We piled into one of the lighting interns' amazing puke-green van and headed into downtown St. Paul, where after giving an impromptu tour of the city he brought us to a an amazing hot dog place. I was the only one not to have a dog of some kind. After lunch, we returned to the boat, while the lighting director went to Rarig to get more stuff. Meanwhile, we went to the booth to patch in the lights we'd connected. Up there, I discovered the showboat had an old friend of mine: the timeless Colortran Innovator, bane of MA techies everywhere.
Being highly experienced with the board, I offered to work on it, but instead read off light assignments as the intern on the board explained in detail why the numbering system the designer used was ridiculous. The channel numbers she'd assigned lights to were ridiculously spread out--the numbers for maybe 50 or so lights went up to the mid 300s, and the old board almost didn't have enough channels to accommodate everything.

After this, we had nothing else to do until the lighting director returned with more stuff, so of course we began playing Text Twist on his computer. Word games have never appealed to me much, so I explored the boat. The front entry area was quite nice, with high ceilings, elegant furnishings, and a grand staircase to the second level, which had a dining area and two(!?) bars.

Eventually the lighting director returned and told us to take a break after we'd been wasting time for at least half an hour. That got laughs out of all of us. After carrying some stuff in, I got to work replacing the plug. This went fairly smoothly; the old one was already not the original, having been installed only for a bad connection to melt and fuse the whole thing into a mess. I had to cut the whole thing off, strip the wires, and install the new, nicer plug farther upcord. After installing the whole thing, with a total of eight screws, I discovered I'd left part of the old plug on the cord. My first instinct, of course, was to break it off by smashing it with a wrench.

Unfortunately, I was later told that it was made of impact-proof plastic (a fast to which I can attest), so I just left it on as a special feature and put the splitter back onto the bar. After that we kind of ran out of work and all I remember of the rest of the day is stumping my fellow techies at 20 questions (with 'time') and being presented with some paperwork for getting paid for the day, which I'm still wondering if I did correctly. Like every day of tech, it was an adventure, and I'm sad that I'll be in Milwaukee for the debut. But it apparently has a ridiculously long run, from June 18th to August 28th, which should be time enough for anyone to see it. Get on the boat!

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