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Apparently That Was Too Naked

Peter Rogers says:

I’d like to hear a story about Rice Theater!

My first thought was to tell a story about something Peter and I were in together, i.e. The Winter’s Tale. But maybe he wants to hear about something he wasn’t present for. And I’ve already done Caesar, so how about something even further afield…

Freshman year of college was when I caught the theatre bug. In high school I’d been in choir and done speech and debate, but I always had scheduling conflicts that prevented me from doing plays or musicals. When I got to Houston, I auditioned for the first Rice Players show of year, and because it had a huge cast, I got a part. The second show of year had a cast of six, so I didn’t. Instead, I started doing technical work.1 My first foray into the backstage realms was in carpentry, but I quickly expanded into set design, lighting, and pretty much everything except costuming and makeup. I was eager to help and happy to be involved.

Which is how I ended up volunteering to run lights for the premiere of short play. Its subject and the plot were not entirely clear to me, nor were its connections to the student body. What was clear after the first tech rehearsal was that it had an all-female cast, a set that was more implied by lighting than built with materials, and a substantial mix of both sheer costumes and nudity. I think there might have been a Pygmalion element to plot, but it was really this last fact that most people latched onto.2 It resulted in exchanges like the following:

“Is she naked?”

“No, she’s standing in a blue light and wearing a translucent blue dress.”

“No, no, under that…”

“Ah. Yes.”

Most of the theatre groups on campus at the time had a style of lighting board called a two-scene preset, which has two banks of sliders. The way these work is while you have one group of lights up on the active bank, you can set the next cue on the other, and then cross-fade between the two. The Players had a board that could do that and could also be fully computerized. The lighting designer would set the levels for each and then program the transition time. To run it, you only had to follow along in the script and hit the “Go” button whenever the actors got to the right spot. A trained monkey could have done it.

So in the first dress rehearsal, I’m sitting in the light booth, cheerfully hitting the monkey button. The lighting designer had told me and the director before we started that she still needed to adjust to adjust the timing and levels of some of the cues, and I was taking notes as we went along of places where I noticed the transitions were a little fast or slow. And then we got the final ten minutes of the show, a sort of dream sequence with really bold, saturated lighting. And nakedness.

So just as the statue takes off her dress, I notice that one of the three lights on her doesn’t have the color of gel in it that it’s supposed to. In fact, it looks like there isn’t one in there at all. It probably just slipped out at some point. The end result is that instead of being washed by a deep red field that is — shall we say — tastefully done, she’s basically standing naked in front of a car headlight. I make a note, and I figure we’ll fix it after the rehearsal.

At which point the director, who I’ve already realized is a little crazed and doesn’t really understand much in the way of technical details, bursts into the lighting booth and shouts at me:

“I don’t want my actress that naked in that light for that long!”

As soon as the rehearsal wrapped, we dragged out a ladder and fixed the light.


Fitness: Ran 3 miles
Writing: 252 words, 269 average

1 Which is what led to Gwen and I dating, but that’s another story.

2 To the extent that our shorthand for it later was “the lesbian soft-core play.”

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