The End of the World Show: Tech

Though it has been more than a year since my last post about this process, I wanted to pick this back up as I have been encouraging more and more people lately to think about projects.

In parallel to rehearsing with my cast, I began work on the tech aspects of the show. Ideally, I would have had a Technical Director to collaborate with on this, but for this show, that was also me. I did, thankfully, have a wonderful board operator at the theater.

Tech Break-Down

For End of the World, tech consisted of:

Final Set Design - Musician would set up stage right, cast on stage and Overlords off stage left with low colored lighting. Projection gave the appearance of looking out of the ship and onto Earth.

Tessa Karol as an alien overlord in costume, Hair and Makeup at Tech Rehearsal.

  • Pre-Recorded Audio and Video: This show had a lot of audio/video components. For me this involved sourcing and compiling this content, and in some cases working with artists to create original material. 
  • Live Music: Most of the shows had a live synth player adding environmental ambience and underscoring the scenes. We had to find the right place to put her physically in the space, hook her into the board, sound-check and incorporate her into the rehearsal process (for this show, she was just at the tech run through).
  • Set Design: We did not build any sets, but that did not mean that there was no set design. We had two distinct areas of the stage we wanted to set apart, as well as the live music. We played with where to place them physically, lighting options, and incorporating some furniture.
  • Costumes, Hair and Makeup: To clearly distinguish the aliens from the humans in the show, we used costumes, hair and make-up. We had a very low budget, so the costumes were gathered from my and the casts' closets, hair services donated by a cast member, and make up done by a generous local face paint artist in exchange for hanging her art work in the lobby. 
  • Pre- and Post-Show Experience: I wanted the experience to begin from the moment the audience entered the lobby. The conceit was that they themselves were an alien counsel and by the end of the show would vote to save or destroy the human race. Before the house opened, they spent their time transforming themselves into their alien alter-egos using tin foil, pipe cleaners, egg cartons, face paint and costume pieces. The end of the show allowed them to vote to save or destroy using their smartphone and watch the vote live on screen, sharing the results on social media. All of these pieces had to be built and organized.

Creating Media

The concept of this this show seemed essential to explain for the audience to enjoy, but also complicated. The solution I came up with was to present a short video at the top that fit with the pre-show experience. I worked with two incredible animators to create it in an amazingly short amount of time: Spencer Diaz–an Imagineer at Disney Research–and Nico Zevallos–a fine art and robotics student at Carnegie Mellon. The resulting work did a wonderful job of leading into the short scripted introduction:

Introduction animation used in the End of the World Show

They also created two other animations that we played depending on the audience vote at the end of the show.


QLab project for End of the World Show

The show ran about 90 mins and had about 20 cues in it. That's probably low to normal for a sketch show but high for an improv show. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for the person in the booth (let's call her the Stage Manager), so I programmed all the cues (audio and video) into an amazing and intuitive piece of software called QLab which you can rent for $3 per day. I rented it for the week leading up to the show and the run of the show and it was remarkably affordable for what it does.

With QLab, you can program all of your cues to operate just by hitting the space bar. Cues can play video, put up static images, play audio, do all of those at the same time (which I did frequently), fade sound in and out, time cues to play during other cues and so forth. And it's all pretty easy to set up. Then your tech person will just need to hit the space bar at each cue.

Technical Runs

With all that preparation done, you are ready for your tech run. Ideally you will do (at least) 3 kinds of runs at least once. If time or venue availability is limited, you may need to combine some of these but I don't recommend it:

  • Paper Tech: You want to walk through each of the cues with the Stage Manager on "paper." This will be whatever you have for a script. If it is a fully improvised show, this may be more of an outline. But if it is a more ambitious production with technical aspects, you definitely do want to write down clear instructions before the first rehearsal.
  • Cue-to-Cue: Here is where you involve the actors and any other production folks. You want to be in the venue and use all the actual people who will be doing anything on show night. The goal is to walk through each cue, run a little bit before, run the cue, a little bit after then skip to the next cue. I usually use these to also to rehearse entrances, exits, any devices (edits for example) that we may not have rehearsed in the space, where do we stand when we're not in a scene, etc.?
  • Dress: This is a full run of the show in costume, make-up, full tech, top to bottom. This should be treated like a performance. It will also give you a sense of timing.

At this point, you should be confident about opening night!

This post is part of a series about creating the End of the World Show