Reflection on my placement at 'English' with Quarantine and NTW

Monday, Day 1

At 10am I arrived (behold, in due time, as I already searched out the way from my hostel in on high street down to the National Dance Company Wales the day before - only getting lost once :D ) and started my first day off with meeting everybody involved in the production, from technicians, to designers, to company members. It was a little help that I already knew some people around from university but everybody was incredibly welcoming and friendly, so it was really easy to settle in and get into the working rhythm
We started off by rigging the lights – yeah, I know now how to properly hang and secure lights and also learned what the numbers printed on the side of spotlights mean, so that was really cool. And then the main part of the day consisted of setting the first draft of light, sound and video cues for the performance; all via Qlab. I don’t know if you’ve come across this programme so far, but it’s a pretty great thing and the crucial basis in which almost every show’s tech cues are rooted. I only ever saw people using it but didn’t know how it worked, as it is a rather difficult and complex programme, in my opinion. But today, I spent a long time watching the production manager typing in and arranging all the cues in the system and he explained to me a lot about Qlab’s logic and the way it works, how cues are faded in and out, several cues bundled together in a group to run simultaneously or how to set running, delay and fading times for each individual cue. And although I’ve mainly been watching him, this is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned during this placement, because, as I said, Qlab is used in almost every theatre performance that contains light, sound or projections; and although I’m mainly interested in becoming a performer/director, this is a vital and super useful thing to know, as so many times you have to be independent, self-sufficient and flexible in what you’re doing and it can only be helpful in whatever job may come along in the future. I just found out that our university department also has some MacBooks with the Qlab software, so I definitely intend to keep looking further into it on my own.

Tuesday, Day 2

This was the day when I first met the performer of English himself, Jonny, and watched the video and sound set-up we’d done the day before, in connection with bits of his performance, how both in turns trigger each other and experienced the openness of the whole performance structure, which is a trademark of Quarantine’s work – one which I love and find fascinating, as it allows for a lot of real and personal exchange between performer and audience; but at the same time, it poses some technical challenges to the production manager, as the show is rich in video, projected text and sounds, whilst at the same time has to be kept very open and adaptable to whatever happens in the moment. In this context, it was also great to be able to see the whole discussion and solution-finding process that goes on behind the scenes of this show. Furthermore, I met the stage manager, she told me about the props needed for the performance and I helped her set up the place. Have you ever tried to neatly fold an about 8 x 6-metre piece of tin foil? – No easy thing, I can tell you! Later in the evening, the second production manager then got to work on one of the speakers that just didn’t produce any sound, although it should have and was properly connected to the others. So I gave him a hand and we opened the cables to check that all the inside wires were connected to the right poles and he explained to me which speakers needed which wire set-up. Ultimately, we found the incorrectly wired cable and swapped the connections, so that the speaker worked again - another good thing to know.

Wednesday, Day 3

More cue setting; more video editing; more room prepping. And then we had the first run-through of the entire show and it was great to see the individual pieces I’ve watched so far, being strung together

Thursday, Day 4

After a lengthy discussion among the Quarantine ensemble on Wednesday evening, the Thursday morning began with a meeting where many, many new ideas were discussed, decisions made to return to some earlier elements of the rehearsal process that have been dismissed over time. This was actually a great reminder for me that it’s okay and sometimes even good and fruitful to return to past concepts, to not forget the roots the piece of work comes from. The atmosphere was great, open and creative again, and I feel lucky being able to be here, experience all this and being given the chance to voice my opinions as well. This radical new / old concept was meant to make the concept less stiff and limiting for the performer and to open it up again, to emphasise its game-like character, to make it more intuitive and overall easier for the performer and the audience to get in direct and spontaneous contact. These changes meant a massive tour de force for the production manager and assistant production manager, changing and re-arranging the entire show but they solved it extremely quickly so that in the afternoon, the show could already run in its new style in front of an audience of NTW TEAM members. Equally challenging was the concept change, of course, for the performer himself but he also adapted and changed focus really quickly, which was fascinating to watch. In the evening followed another performance, the first one open to the public and I was so massively surprised and marvelled at the different character of all these runs I have seen so far. Each performance is radically different from the previous ones, due to the dynamic work of Quarantine who always re-evaluate concepts, and respond directly to the performer’s and spectators’ reaction and try to enhance the direct exchange between them. Because of this and the intuitive character of the show, which works along spontaneous associations to a lexicon, each performance brought up new stories, new angles on those that I’ve already heard and introduced new arguments into the conversations. I’m in awe every single time.

Friday, Day 5

This day started later because there were only small alterations in lighting, projections and performance technique to be made. I spent most of the time with the stage manager, swiping and mopping the space, securing the chairs, and pre-setting everything the performer was going to need at a specific point of the show. She showed me her pre-show and post-show checklist, so that was really useful - to see how such a checklist should look like and what it includes, because it contains everything, from audience seating, the objects they are going to be asked to use during the show, the performers immediate props and any items of scenography.

Saturday, Day 6

Saturday was another day of pre-show set-up and I had a chat with the stage manager about the earlier rehearsal process of the piece and how it had developed. Furthermore, she explained to me about the post-show report she had to fill in after every performance, describing everything unusual that happened or any errors that occurred. This report is meant for the company, the theatre and the front of house staff, so that everybody knows about any issues and what to do to prevent them in the future and/or what steps are going to be taken, like, exchanging light bulbs, or re-arranging the seating procedure for the audience.

Finally. I can say that this placement has been really useful to me, as I have mainly experienced theatre from the audience or performer’s side before. Therefore, I’ve learned about a lot of things that have to be kept in mind and arranged when you are stage manager or production manager, and I got so many hints, I’m going to look further into now, so it was a great step to start my education in this field and give me something solid to continue and explore further now. Plus, meeting many truly warm and inspiring people! – both on the side of the production team, as well as NTW. A wonderful experience I would not want to have missed.

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