ZHAO BUSINESS – THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG, PART 5
We’re thrilled to host blog posts written by Tony Award-winner BD Wong, star of THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO, as he chronicles the creative process on stage, in the rehearsal room and behind the scenes. Please note that this entry was written during the Company’s time at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, our co-producer for this sweeping Chinese epic. THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO begins performances at the Playhouse on Tuesday, July 8.
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SECOND AND THIRD DAY IN THE THEATER: TECH-TEQUE
So we start tech at the beginning of the play on Saturday morning and slowly work our way through every moment—the actors’ performances, the lighting cues, sound cues, scenery shifts, and costume changes (many of the costume changes are “quick changes” as there are a lot of actors doubling roles in this company)—gently folding them all together like ingredients in the batter of a soufflé. I believe the goal is to finish the play by the end of Sunday, basically one day per act, leaving time for revisions, a margin for error, and enough time for a proper dress rehearsal before the first preview performance. That is about eight-and-a-half hours to tech each of the two (approximately) sixty-five minute acts for each day. Why does it take so long?
The tech process is partly tedious because it is in a constant state of stopping and starting. Repeating a part of the show that hasn’t been entirely ironed out yet is complicated, because in order to go over any given portion again, everything in every department has to be restored to where it was at the beginning of that sequence; and, as a play like ours is always in a state of forward motion (with lighting, scenic, sound, prop, costume, hair, makeup, and music elements all constantly shifting from point A to point B to point C and so on), working through the entire production bit-by-bit requires the constant, painstaking coordination of every department. Picture, if you will, an actor rushing offstage during tech and doing a full makeup, wig, and costume quick change with the assistance of dressers and hairdressers; completing it successfully in the small window of time he has to make his next entrance; high fiving everyone—and then, just as he’s about to reenter, hearing that we are going back to repeat a part of the show right before this all happened. It can be maddening, but it’s also pretty fun.
Here is my attempt at recreating a typical moment in a tech rehearsal.
(This basically happened the way it is described, with minor artistic license.)
Midway through the rehearsal, the Stage Manager announces where in the play the tech rehearsal will resume and continue from.
Stage Manager (on a “god mike” that everyone in the building can hear): Okay. Thank you for your patience, we have fixed the problem with the drop rolling up and are ready to continue. So we are going to take it again from the point in the scene between BD and Julyana when BD exits the house through the curtain, so we can raise the “mountain drop” again. Can we have BD and Julyana back on stage, please?
BD reenters, finishing a donut.
BD: Hello again.
Assistant Stage Manager (stepping onto the stage from the wings): Dick, Julyana thought we were moving on. She’s making her costume change for the next scene.
Stage Manager: Bring her back please, Megan, just tell her she doesn’t have to change back all the way.
Julyana (eventually entering): Here I am! Sorry. . . . I thought we weren’t doing it again.
Stage Manager: That’s okay, we just want to look at one thing again. BD, whenever you are ready.
BD: Okay. (Speaking from the script to Julyana, who is no longer dressed for the scene as his wife, but is now dressed as an old man.) “. . . Maybe he will have some advice. . . . ”
BD goes to the curtain and opens it. Before his exit, he and Julyana share a moment of meaningful eye contact.
BD closes the curtain in front of him, exiting the scene, and the lights shift indicating the end of that scene. Julyana exits in the dark to go to her designated backstage quick- change area (where the dresser and hairdresser wait to assist her with her costume and wig change), but she does not change, since she already did before. Continuing to the next scene, BD starts to climb the ladder, in front of a slowly rising backdrop that is painted like the mountain in a Chinese watercolor. The Stage Manager coordinates the lighting and rising of the mountain backdrop with the actors’ movements. He cues the lights and scenery according to what has been decided/designed, speaking to the different departments with the aid of a headset. The live music is self-cued visually by the musicians. The transition represents BD leaving Julyana behind in their house, and him traveling to (the character played by) Sab’s house. When the scene shift is complete and BD has reached the second level on the ladder, Sab and Brian enter from another part of the second level to meet BD for the next scene. The Stage Manager speaks into the god mike.
Stage Manager: Can we hold please? Thank you, BD.
BD climbs back down the ladder to the stage level, assuming they will be going back again and trying to get back to the secret place where he hid his donut in the set. Sab and Brian go back offstage obediently, “restoring” to where they were before they entered.
Director (to all involved, a voice in the dark, enthusiastic about the “rising mountain effect”): It’s beautiful, guys! Hold on. . . .
Set Designer (to Director): Carey, does BD have to close the curtain? If the curtain is closed, then the audience sitting house right can’t see the mountain drop go up.
Director: BD, leave the curtain open, honey. It’s so beautiful when the mountain drop goes up.
BD: But I’m leaving the house. How can we have that “goodbye” moment with Julyana if I don’t close the curtain? Don’t I need to close the curtain?
Director: I know, but it’s blocking the mountain drop.
BD: Argh. Okay. How about if I just stand and we look at each other for a moment and I wait for the lights to go out before I move, rather than leaving with the “front door open”? The lights go out, right?
Director: Yes, the lights will go out. Yeah, do that.
BD “goes back in the house.”
Stage Manager: Okay, can we take it again from the same place?
Julyana (coming back on, still dressed as an old man): I’m here this time!
Stage Manager: Very good! Whenever you are ready, BD.
BD: “Maybe he will have some advice. . . . ”
BD goes to the “doorway.” BD and Julyana look at each other meaningfully for a prolonged moment. The lights do not go out. The mountain drop starts going up. The musicians start playing the music cue.
Stage Manager: Hold, please.
Director: BD, you have to exit and go to the ladder so Dick can call the light cue and cue the mountain drop.
BD: . . . But I thought the light was going to go out . . . argh. Can I—
Director: NO. You can’t close the curtain. It’s blocking the mountain drop.
BD resignedly goes from the “doorway” to the ladder.
Stage Manager: BD, we need to take it from the same place as before.
BD resignedly goes from the ladder back into the house.
BD crosses to his “hiding place.”
Assistant Stage Manager (popping out from the wings): You can’t eat on the set.
End of Scene.