A Speculative Dictionary of Production Terminology with A Side of Dreams

Read the latest from behind the scenes from FemFest guest blogger Davis Plett.


What do a bar stool, dream catchers, an inedible apple pie (though I had to check twice), a bed, a bone, spiders on adjustable wires, and a terrifyingly humanoid doll have in common?

I’m really not sure either.

What I do know is that they are all involved in A Side of Dreams, which opens at FemFest on September 15th at 7:00 pm at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Two more performances will be held on September 16th at 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm. Out of this incomprehensible mass of objects, something will emerge, something that, by all indications, will be extraordinary.

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I encountered these items on Monday afternoon, during the tech for the show. A Side of Dreams not only has its fair share of props, but also extensively incorporates multimedia: I witnessed the techs clambering up ladders to adjust projectors, saw a fog machine lurking behind a scrim, and watched as the light design was painstakingly assembled. 

But before all this, I joined the techs for lunch. We discussed the difficulty of transitioning from day-jobs to art-jobs, class schedules (the UW theatre employs current students as techs), and, most importantly, why Matt Damon wasn’t in the trailer of Interstellar. One of the assistant techs told us that she was taking Japanese this term and has had to learn more in three days than she did in the entire year of Japanese she took in high school. This got me thinking about the process of learning a new language.

Theatre production has, as I’ve discovered, a language utterly unto itself, one that is totally indecipherable to the uninitiated. As I watched the tech for A Side of Dreams unfold, I made note of some of the more intriguing phrases and terms I heard, and I have compiled a speculative dictionary of what they might mean:

“This one didn’t need to be yoked out, did it?”: apparently something one says while fiddling with lights on the catwalk above the stage, but intuitively I feel it belongs on a cooking show about different ways to make eggs.

“Can you see that little ghost there?”: this occurred during the adjusting of the projector. I started to reach for my flask of holy water, but nobody seemed to be freaking out, so I let it be.

“That one needs the iris”: conceivably pertaining to a lighting detail, more likely an inside joke about an optometrist and an eyeball.

“Let’s practice the feeding”: seemingly pertaining to a large bundled roll of gauze that was to be slowly released from off-stage by a stage-hand. However, I’m fairly certain this line originally comes from a Steven King novel about a school for adolescent zombies.

“That is supposed to be a 36 but we don’t have anymore”: again, these production people seem to have confused their profession with another. Why they were impersonating jeans sales reps I cannot imagine.

“Something smells like it’s burning”: this must be an encouraging inside joke. The reference to heat is probably a metaphor for the talents of the crew, who were so proficient at their tasks that they might be said to be “on fire.”

“You can record that as lx2 with a time of 8”: a directive having something to do with lighting. I think the idea is that the settings for the lights are stored as a cue (“lx2) in a computer program and that the transition from the previous lighting arrangement to the new one is 8 seconds. The lack of opportunity for puns was profoundly disappointing.

“And, uh”: a technical term I’m not even remotely qualified to speculate on.

As a traveller last summer in Turkey, I went into a beautiful mosque and was somehow shocked to see a vacuum cleaner. Perhaps my surprise was the most surprising thing about it; I suppose I’d unconsciously assumed that the mosque would just mysteriously repel dust and dirt, and it caught me off-guard to see something so mundane. It prompted me to reflect on how special events—rituals, parties, theatrical productions—are seemingly effortless and astounding only because beneath the magical veneer is a flurry of preparations and logistics, toil and strife.

The specialized language of theatre is a case in point. It is direct, practical, and efficient. It also flies completely over my head. But without it, the theatre would not be able to function.

Even the mosque needs to be vacuumed.

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