Conscripted Passenger Seats and Other Production Adventures with Mittelschmerz!

Guest blogger Davis Plett gives us a behind the scenes look at the tour of Mittelschmerz, which launches FemFest with a 2:30pm performance on September 12th and plays again at 7pm on September 19th.

Spire Theatre, located on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the humble town of Gimli, has a colossal nest spiked on top of the eponymous spire and a jar of crystalized ginger abiding in the basement.

The University of Winnipeg Asper Center for Theatre has an ETC ION Control Board and a sinister looking letter opener that unexpectedly showed up in the tech booth.

In short, the one is inspiring but to be approached gingerly, and the other is a cutting edge extravaganza of Millennium Falcon proportions that all theatre goers should have their eye on.

However, despite differences in appearance and potential for deplorable puns, these two venues either have been or will soon host local writer/performer Kim Zeglinski’s Mittelschmerz, a solo performance that takes the viewer through the delights and tribulations of motherhood, middle age, and artistic aspiration. And I have borne witness to the technical sides of both productions.

Gimli booth for Mittelschmerz blog

Spire Theatre booth in Gimli

Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of tech-ing Kim’s show in Gimli, before she took it on tour to Edmonton, as part of the A-Spire Players summer theatrical season. Luckily for me, as a first-time tech with virtually no prior experience, the cues for the show are relatively simple: the lights change at the beginning of most scenes, and there is the occasional sound effect. Not so serendipitous, but certainly entertaining, was the technology with which these changes were to be made. A-Spire Players is a small company of local enthusiasts, with a mix of backgrounds in theatre, an abundance of good will, and a tight budget. After clambering up the narrow staircase at the back of the converted Unitarian church A-Spire calls home, I was shown the tech booth. This amounts to a decrepit (but surprisingly comfortable) passenger seat filched from an ancient van placed in front of a manual light board (it was programmable at one point but that function no longer works—which was the only reason they could afford the console) and a primitive amplifier powering a pair of mono speakers.

The space not only had an abundance of character, but also of characters. Several veteran gentlemen of the company showed me the ropes and regaled me with tales of creative quirkiness: how they want to install a garage door opener to operate the curtain, how one of them believes he made the first ever music video, and how one of them used to be a semi-professional clown who rode a gargantuan tricycle at parades. They also explained the intricacies of finding a space to do theatre in the Interlake. Gimli Unitarian Church’s congregation now numbers exactly three, including the church board (they all sit on the church board; it is the perfect democracy). By renting the space, the theatre pays the church’s bills and the sanctuary gives the thespians a base of operations.

As Kim and I made the commutes from the city to Gimli, I reflected on how this relationship is really a microcosm of what makes theatre extraordinary: it requires creative thinking, symbiotic relationships, and the willingness to work with what you have.

I also contemplated the joys of having current equipment and the expertise to use it. This Thursday, I witnessed my dream become reality.

U of W booth for Mittelschmerz blog

Asper Centre for Theatre and Film booth

The tech booth of the UW’s primary performance space is spacious, painted pitch black (in theory to downplay its presence in the theatre; my own theory is that it is to show off the glittering array of LEDs that festoon the sound and light boards). I spent several hours in the booth on Thursday afternoon, watching Khaeler Bautista operate the luxuriously professional array of technology, as he prepared the light and audio cues for the upcoming FemFest production of Mittelschmerz. Khaeler is a student at the UW, who worked at the theatre during the summer facilitating events and shows. He’s casual and prompt about his work, quickly responding to directives from Steve Vande Vyvere (production coordinator guru for FemFest), communicated via headset, as Steve and Kim discuss lighting and sound design on the stage below. Khaeler occasionally exits the booth to adjust things above the stage on the catwalk, but primarily he is stationed in a pleasant swivel chair, typing commands on a keyboard and manipulating dials and sliders. The various physical controls Khaeler calmly adjusts interface with lighting software that modifies the intensity, colour, texture, and even direction of the lights, as well as communicating with QLab, a computer program being run off an iMac that can weave various tech events (light, sound, video projection, etc.) into complex and compact cues. Once these cues are programmed, they can be recalled and triggered at the touch of a single button. The tech can operate a show with relative ease, simply waiting for the stage manager’s directive for a cue to “Go,” or, in this case, following a script with tech prompts created by Kim.

“I gotta know; why is this show called Mittelschmerz?” mused Khaeler at one point. We discussed the literal translation—“middle pain”—and it’s various thematic connections to the show. But one thing’s certain: in Khaeler’s competent hands, Mittelschmerz might be painful because of gut-splitting laughter and strong emotion, but not because of technical mishaps.

Or almost certain; because—as I learned while sitting in my passenger seat tech throne in the old choir loft of the Gimli Unitarian Church, trying to figure out how to operate a compromised lighting board—the adventure of theatre is that anything can happen.

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