Once again, Danny Maland fills our page with important, practical advice about how to put on an awesome show!
Of course, your show should be exciting. It should be bursting with color, light, and sonic textures. The attention of everyone in attendance should be held rapt with every word, such that any notion of NOT being enthralled by your performance borders on the distasteful.
The technical execution of your show should not be exciting at all. It should contribute nothing to the adrenaline rush of the experience. For the humans tasked with the practical work of ensuring that your show does burst with tangy lights and savory audio, pulling it all off should be routine.
Maybe even dull.
An Excited Pilot Is Having A Bad Day
Of course, I’m oversimplifying my analogy – but stick with me.
Let’s say that you’re on a flight. The whole thing has been pretty “ho-hum.” You got a beverage about halfway through, fired up some tunes on your phone and settled in. It’s just another day in the air for you. It’s just another day in the air for the flight crew. They’re doing what they do all the time.
And then, an engine makes a sudden decision: It wants to retire. Immediately. So, it just stops. You’re at 30,000 feet, and one of the devices that keeps the plane moving forward (and thus acting like a plane instead of just a large, complex, soda can) is no longer doing what it’s supposed to do.
Emergency procedures are immediately put into action. The pilots get the other engines spooled up to handle the load that the dead motor isn’t dealing with anymore. They start looking for a place to divert to, and get on the radio with updates about the situation. It’s all very exciting!
But it’s not fun. You, the flight crew, and everybody else are living on the bad side of a classic mantra for flyers: It’s better to be on the ground, desperately wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air, desperately wishing you were on the ground. Everybody wanted the flight to be fun, but everybody also wanted the actual flying to be boring. The mechanics of flying should be routine, so that the experience of tearing down a runway, leaping into the air, and soaring above the Earth is an absolute hoot.
It’s the same with show production.
What You Can Do
The key to keeping the technical execution of your show routine – or as routine as can be practical if you’re doing one-offs – is to do just that. Keep things routine.
In other words, keep things as far inside the boundary of “this was expected to happen” as you can.
For The Big Show
For shows that are big, complex, or high stakes, this means rehearsals. REAL rehearsals, with all the technical elements either in play or being closely simulated. Get in the actual space if you can, get a real FOH mix going, get real monitors happening, run the lights, run the atmospheric effects, roll the video, and do everything that you’re going to actually do on the night. This is expensive and time consuming, but it does something very important: It reduces or (ideally) eliminates all surprises regarding how the show will be pulled off. On the night of the real show, this means that both you and the techs will have maximum mental capacity for dealing with unexpected issues, because the number of expected elements will be very high.
For The Little Show
For one-offs, keeping things routine also means rehearsals, but done differently. In your band space, rehearse as though you will have nothing. Practice like the audio and lighting humans will be deaf and blind. Practice as though you can’t get much – or even anything – in the monitors. If the PA barely exists, will your arrangements themselves create a balanced mix? Can the singer(s) be heard without a lot of fuss? (If the mix is wrong in rehearsal it will probably be wrong at the show. If the singers are being drowned in rehearsal, they will probably be drowned at the show.) If your show pretty much works without a lot of bells and whistles, there’s a good chance that an average tech will be able to put a decent show together. They’ll be able to run their rig well inside its normal limits of gain and output, which is a very “routine” and easy thing to do.
Also, COMMUNICATE. At least a couple of days before your show, make sure that the folks responsible for running the gig have a current list of your audio needs, and a basic idea of where everyone will be on stage. It’s fine if this is on your website, as long as it’s what you actually need to do a show right now. Yes, some techs don’t do their homework, but some of us do. For those of us who care, knowing what to expect means having everything out on deck, patched in, and maybe even partially checked before you arrive. We might even be able to cook up some cool light cues…if you tell us what you want in advance. Preparation = expected to happen = routine = “happy boredom.”
On the flipside, finding out just before downbeat that you “need a couple more things” is problematic. It’s not that we shouldn’t try to pull it off – we should – but it’s exponentially harder to get gear on the deck, patched in, and preset when the general chaos of getting a show rolling is already happening in full force.
Please DO excite us, all of us, with your show. Excite us with the prospect of doing your show. Excite us with helping you design and produce your show.
But when it comes to running the show, bore us. Bore yourself. Bore us all to tears.