Thursday, 22 September 2011

When communication counts

One of the things I enjoy about theatre and performing or directing is the way all the elements come together. Sometimes these blend almost seamlessly, and at other times they are more awkward.

We are currently in 'black week' for the Alexandra Musical Society's production of The Full Monty. This is the term given to the week before the performance where the actors, having been the focus for the past three months of rehearsal, are no longer centre-stage. Instead the director turns his or her attention to aspects of sound, lighting, cotumes, hair and make-up, the band and traffic.

This show uses 'trucks' or set pieces on wheels which must be rolled into position and then removed from stage for various scenes. We have to negotiate urinals, pianos, police sergeant's desks, sofas and coffins: the stage-crew are busy. There are very quick changes: the costume department are very busy. Microphones have to be attached and removed in a rapid time-frame; meanwhile lighting and sound cues are crucial to the actors and the band.

It's all coming together and it will be a wonderful show. Many people are learning a lot and learning it fast. Our director, Bryan Aitken, is a good teacher - he spells things out clearly and concisely. The most important lesson he teaches is, "It's not just about you. Make sure you communicate". The stage manager calls the show - he or she makes sure that the actors are ready; the sound and lighting technicians know when their cues are; the band are tuned up and focussed in the pit.

No one component can start without the other. It is a giant dramatic jigsaw puzzle and each piece fits in exactly the right place - if it doesn't, then the picture will be subtly (or radically) altered. Clear forms of communication are necessary between departments, which may mean that not everybody has to pipe up at the same time and create a chaotic cacophony.

Meanwhile the rest of the nation is embroiled in the throes of the Rugby World Cup. The media here is still harping on about the mess of the 'party central' when lots more inebriated rugby fans, and other folk, turned up to the Auckland waterfront than were expected so all public transport was thrown into turmoil, even though this was routinely advertised as 'the place to be'.

Ignoring the sideshow, the players have been out and about mingling with the public and attempting to foster good PR networks. You may have noticed that I went along to meet some of the England team when they visited the local school. Other team members (including top trump Jonny Wilkinson) went to Wakatipu High School for a skills sessionwith the young players.

Asked for advice, Jonny Wilkinson (OBE) said the most important aspect of any team sport was to communicate clearly with your team so everyone was aware of what the others were doing all the time. It's all very well to be the Flash Harry, but for the sake of cohesive teamwork and ensemble performance, it's better to be Johnny-on-the-spot.