Fresh Eyes on MAGELLANICA, 6th Installment
MAGELLANICA has moved from the rehearsal hall into the theatre, and on Saturday the company began adding in all the technical elements. Tech rehearsals are generally famous for being slow. There's always lots of waiting: waiting while a cue gets rewritten and tried, waiting while the glitch in the video projection gets sorted out, waiting while a set piece needs to be altered. But while waiting, everyone in the room has to stayed focussed and ready to go as soon as the stage manager says, "Okay, let's pick it up from just before the Southern Lights cue." And that's the truth of tech rehearsals -- extended periods of waiting punctuated by bursts of glorious beauty.
Tech Week: Or, How to Build a Better [Fourth] Wall
This post is about the end of tech week at Magellanica, but first, it begins with some etymological confusion on my part. I’m teaching a winter-session literature class at Pacific University, focusing on Sappho and diverse voices in antiquity. In class on Thursday, after a particularly long lecture, we had a brief aside into the etymology of the word technology, and I must confess that my own hazy memories of the vicissitudes of Ancient Greek have betrayed me. I had said that technology came from the Greek “teknon,” meaning “wall.” However, that word doesn’t actually mean wall. Instead, it means “child.” Upon further research, it seems I was thinking of “teixos,” which does, in fact, mean wall, instead of the actual etymology of technology, which is from “tekhno,” meaning “art” or “craft.”
All of this etymological confusion did create some clarity about tech week: that wonderful moment where all of the art and craft of these actors and designers finally begins to knot together. This week might be the only time where my meandering bewilderment about Ancient Greek roots all somehow come together to be correct. Over the course of the morning and early afternoon, I saw walls built, art performed, crafts and the craftspeople who built them, working in the service of one massive, beautiful play; the nearly-grown child of all those wonderful parents.
I spent the first hour and a half of Saturday watching the stage light up. Literally. Lighting Designer Carl Faber went through all the different shades and filters in turn, and in time, at moments feeling like following the bouncing spotlight. I half-expected lyrics to appear beneath each sudden sunrise and sunset. Strange, as well, to see all those myriad desktops projected between re-calibrations: a constellation of your desktop icons; the personal computer’s Pleiades.
I had just a brief few hours with all those artists, including Rodolfo Ortega, composer and sound designer, and watched them weave together all these disparate pieces I had just spent the last month “imagining.” Stairs suddenly were no longer stationary tarp, but instead set and pointing to the stars. It’s like seeing extended members of the family, all of whom have been working day and night on objects just out of my sight: this cargo cord on the glass observatory; that nautilus door; the outside, a sheet that covers everything w/ a ghostly pall. For the briefest of moments, I watched Carl fold and unfold a piece of aluminum foil, just so, though I never had the chance to ask him about it.
Getting a chance, as well, to see the actors take their places in the set itself was like watching a slow-cresting sunrise emerge. I knew it would happen. I’ve watched for more than a month now as everyone prepared themselves for the moment. But it’s still beautiful when it arrives, no matter how expected it might be. And the expectations of perfection every member of the team is looking for is quite the thing to behold. It was a day of line, then light, then line, then light, then line again. Again and again, until everything was as it should be.
It seems, perhaps, that a play is a thing always just about to begin. And when it does, it can never be done the same way again. Talking to playwright E.M. Lewis during an afternoon break, she reminded me that if you gave the same playtext to 10 different theaters, you’d get 10 different plays. The art is always ephemeral. It had me thinking about two summers ago, on fellowship, and late-night liquored conversations with friend, writer, and chef Michael Ruhlman, who told me that there’s something strange and beautiful about cooking; each night you walk into the kitchen and create art that you know was never meant to last. Maybe that’s what I’m getting at in this post: having the opportunity to watch all of these craftspeople, artists of all avenues, buttress every wall over the course of this process, whether in words, or direction, or light reflected off corrugated steel has been a blessing, but I know it inevitably has to end. The room is at capacity; chairs checked and re-checked. Dinner is about to be served.