Touring It: More Lessons Learned

Sometimes you have to be reminded of—or relearn—the realities of touring your show.

In my case, I relearned several things during my first booking of 2019 a few months ago:

1. Bringing your technical operator (the person who runs the screen projections and audio cues) with you makes an enormous difference.

  • They already know the show, so you only have to teach the venue’s lighting operator the minimal light cues. (Do make them minimal for the touring production. Save yourself some headache.)
  • The tech op acts as a buffer between you and any other techies. If something goes wrong, the tech op will handle it while you concentrate on your performance.

My husband was my tech op in February and I don’t know what I would have done without him. The tech rehearsal should only have taken 90 minutes, but the light board kept failing to save the cues that the lighting operator programmed into it. In the end I think we teched for four hours, which is normally how long it takes to

  • teach booth operators all the cues (not just lights)
  • do a Q2Q
  • do a speed-thru of the entire show.

Guess what? The four hours did not make a difference…but my tech op did. Here’s what happened:

At the top of my show, I enter in darkness as a projection plays above or to the side of me, depending on where the screen is. Once I’m “set” at center stage, a shaft of light illuminates me directly from above. I’m spotlit.

Imagine my surprise when, as the house lights went down and the music for “places” played and then the screen projection played…the stage lights remained on. The other cues kept going. Since my husband was running the music and projections, I knew that by playing those cues he was telling me to get on stage even with the lights on, because something was wrong that couldn’t be fixed. So I made my entrance and began the performance.

Imagine my further surprise when many different light cues started illuminating the stage, one after the other. This lasted for several minutes.

Finally, that stopped, and I could focus on the show without having to grin and bear the technical glitches.

As it turned out, the light board had once again failed to save any of the lighting cues, so the operator panicked and started trying to work out the glitches during the show by manually playing every cue back to back and then over again.

Thank goodness my husband was in the booth and let the op know that there was a performance happening and all the lighting changes were distracting to the audience and performer.

I honestly don’t know if the lighting op would have realized this if it hadn’t been pointed out to him. I might have had to perform for 20 minutes as bizarre, nonsensical light changes were played.

From then on, the light op followed the performance while reading the script, skipping ahead to manually set up each cue in advance, then playing it on time. He did a good job, I’m relieved to say.

2. The self-proclaimed most experienced techies will screw up, especially if they’re the type that brags a lot.

The lighting op I mentioned above did not brag, but I had a feeling there still might be some issues based on the following:

The more the venue’s technical director talks about his and/or his crew’s experience (on Broadway, on national tours, etc.),
the more he says things like “we’ll take good care of you” (so far the person who says that has always been a He in my experience),
the more you perceive you’re being condescended to in subtle and not-so-subtle ways,
the more the techies interrupt you to say “We know what we’re doing” when you ask them to run a certain cue again…
the more likely it is that the tech rehearsal will last a ridiculously long time because of issues that are somehow always blamed on the equipment—the same equipment that they’ve been working with for years without a problem…
and the more likely it is that there will be technical errors during the performance.

The best techies I’ve ever worked with were the ones who never bragged and whose bosses never bragged. One booth op was a fellow actor who also happened to be a terrific techie in New York. Sometimes they were young college students. Sometimes they were formidable pros, like the ones at Williams College who work in the booth during the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

My favorite is my husband, who is not a theatre person, who had to learn how to run my show on the fly at my first college booking in 2014. We learned that the techie at rehearsal was not going to be the techie at the performance (!?!). That booking was at a hugely prestigious university.

The love of my life stepped in and saved the day, having never worked as a booth operator in his life.

3. Your show will find its audience somehow. 

At the February show, a woman whose upbringing was very different from mine still thanked me afterward. (My show is largely about my upbringing.) We had a nice conversation and then suddenly she burst into tears and came around to hug me as she said “It has different meanings” regarding the show. I hugged her back and assumed she meant the show had emotional resonance despite being an unusual tale with unique details.

Any story that illuminates underlying “universal” (human) truths, which any good story does, will have emotional resonance for vastly different people.

That same night, various adults and students from the region and from other states and countries praised the show and spoke of how relatable it was. They were my ideal audience and they found the show somehow, despite there having been less outreach and PR due to extreme weather that had closed the campus more than once in the previous weeks.

4. Even if you trip over your lines a few times, the quality of the show will shine through. You’re a pro, you’ve got this, remain present and keep going.

5. You are giving people permission to tell their own stories when you tell yours. Even if they hate your show, it could still galvanize them into telling theirs “better.” You’re providing a service.

I take it as a given that you’ve worked hard to make the script and performance as strong as you can, because you want them to be good more than you want attention, so I have a feeling your audiences have been and will continue to be inspired after seeing your show.

6. It really is hard to resist the sugar or salt or alcohol temptation—whichever one you need to be mindful about the most—but try. Of course, the reason to eat healthy is that you’ll feel better during the tour. Adrenaline will drive the performance, but the rest of the time, it’s awfully nice to feel well.

7. Tell your contacts and networks who live in nearby cities of the upcoming performance. You’ll be amazed at who makes the two-to-four-hour drive to see a show they think they’ll relate to—it might not even be someone you know well.

8. Don’t assume that a negative experience in a particular region will be repeated. Bluntly put: not all politically similar regions are alike.

I had such a stressful time touring my show in a conservative state in the US in 2014 that I was tense about taking it to two more red states within the past year.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. People were lovely to me all over the campuses and towns, and I was ashamed to have formed a bias based on a single experience. As someone who moved a lot as a kid, my life had taught me to never pre-judge, so it’s especially embarrassing that I did so as an adult.

9. Doing the show itself increases your stamina, so if your workout routine is a bit iffy, rehearsals will help. Every time I run the whole show in my living room for the first time in months, it takes forever because I have to take breaks and am just slower. By the time of the performance, I’ve increased my stamina and become more facile and swift, so the show clocks in at its usual running time, which is much shorter than it was in my living room at that first rehearsal in ages.

Of course, ideally, you’re working out regularly—but full run-thrus will build your stamina, too.

10. Take time off after traveling with your show. You’ll need it. Tell people, including your agents if you’re also pursuing an acting career, that you’ll be gone for longer than you’ll be gone. Don’t worry, your agent will contact you with an audition that conflicts ANYWAY, but at least you’ll have set a psychological boundary that you can move as you see fit, and everyone ELSE will think you’re not available, so you’ll have a day or two (or more) to move slow and recuperate.

I hope this is helpful. For my original (and most popular) post on touring, click here.

Also, thank you for your patience between posts over the last year! I’ve been remiss and am determined to get back to making this a monthly blog. If you have questions/ideas for future posts, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

[EDITED 5/20/19 at 1:40pm, LL]

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