Ok, so that caption is a little over the top, but we do get to see improv from a completely different angle than most people. Anyone who has been in the booth for a show or two knows what I’m talking about, and for those of who haven’t, you should really give it a try.
Finding one’s niche in improv can be quite difficult. When I started out in classes two years ago I was terrified, intimidated, and wondered, sometimes aloud, how I might ever find a spot in this huge community. But I diligently finished Level One, hit a financial brick wall, and then wondered how I was going to pay for Level Two.
The email that changed my place in the Improv World came from Andy Crouch. Most of us received it around the time we finished The Hideout’s Level One Class: to paraphrase it says, “Not being able to pay for the next class is bullshit because I can email Andy about an internship.” And so I did, and jumped off the edge of a cliff.
I interned for The Hideout for a year and a half, volunteered for as many special events as they would let me, paid off my classes, teched the finale of The Three Hot Chicks all by myself (truly my very first time alone in the booth), and got over a lot of fear. Then Jason Vines paired me on lights (with Cindy Page on sound) for After School Improv and my life has never been the same.
When I started, I had no idea that doing tech could be such amazing/frustrating/rewarding/fun. We live in tech booths all over town. We see all the shows from on high. We come to know the troupes, the individual players, what they like and dislike, and how to find the buttons of a show almost better than the players themselves. We have the power to save shows, make good shows great, add ambience; and the best part is that if we miss something, mess something up, play a song at the wrong time, the imps on stage will run with it.
We are the magic-makers. We are the people who make your every thought on stage happen. We can isolate you in a spotlight for a mighty and deserved monologue; we can turn the entire stage red during a slow-motion battle and play epic music as inspiration; we can create separation to demonstrate distance between characters. We watch carefully, even more carefully than the audience, and listen for even the smallest request. And there is nothing better than watching a player light up when her desire is realized, or watching everyone on stage reacting to something we’ve done.
“I’m going to turn on the blue light. Are you ready? Is everyone ready?” The light switch flips, and the blue light comes on, and everyone on stage is smiling. The rain sound effects that cause everyone to look up at the sky at the same time and have to make fast space-work adjustments to compensate… These are truly beautiful things.
Now, who is this “we” to whom I refer? Very good question: a good dozen or more of us have made names for ourselves in this specialized arena of improv. (I’m not naming names here because I didn’t have much time to ask permissions, but I’m quite sure that most of you know who we are.) Amongst ourselves, we have separated into ‘Light People’ and ‘Sound People,’ and as such few arguments break out over who will take over which board. We always have an amazing time together. The faster we are, the more cohesively we work together, the more we help add to the illusion the audience sees. The better your tech, the more likely the audience is to say, “So, how much of that was really scripted? It’s ok, you can tell me.” And we delight in it.
I love imp tech so much that I created an entire improv format around it: Tech Nightmare. The Booth has It’s Revenge!—Cindy’s and my brainchild. We were afraid it would be bad, that no one would want to work with the booth running the show. But to our shock and awe, the format has taken off like a shot and people are lining up to play.
Where I am going with all this? I love imp tech. I may not have left Austin, Texas, for several years now, but I have helped created and lived in hundreds of new worlds both grounded and fantastic. I get to work with amazing directors, learn new skills, and help make your show the very best it can possibly be.
Don’t be afraid of your Tech. Help us help you. We want to help you, to play in your world, to make your show the best it can possibly be. So hug your next tech, talk to them about your format, and let them be a part of your world.
YesAndrew.com fully endorses every word of this “In Praise Of.” I’ve been wanting to get into the tech booth for more than a year but haven’t pulled the trigger—-lured, as I am, toward the stage. But Courtney’s right: a great technical move can elevate any scene. Bravo, techies; without you we’re just talking in the dark.