July 16, 2010

Tour Part I: Israel

Following is what I wrote the Stagecraft list summarizing my experiences in Israel on tour. It has little to do with running or health - those notes are already in older posts on this blog.
Accompanying pictures.
I recently finished a short tour with Bill T Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company, making stops in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Venice, and Ravenna. Every single day was a full work day, with the exception of three travel days and two off days. What follows are my observations and thoughts on doing dance performance in those locations.

Let me first say that the flight to Tel Aviv was, mercifully, a direct flight. Even still, with a three-hour delay for takeoff, it was a very long travel day. We (the crew) got off the ground about 10 p.m. in JFK Friday night, and landed at Ben Gurion airport about 3:45 local time on Saturday. The cast were scheduled to arrive the next day, which was an off day for the crew. While waiting for Monday to roll around, we all took advantage of our hotel's location in the beach resort section of Tel Aviv to frolic in the Mediterranean and stuff ourselves with local restaurant food, including a great fish place the first evening and a very different sort of meal at Pie the next night, where our company took up the entire restaurant.

We loaded in at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, which is a very large, very modern, well-equipped theatre where a lot of opera is done. This theatre had a massive standard plot they use for their own opera productions (indeed, the scenery for the next opera was loading in before we loaded out). To accommodate our plot, they simply flew their electrics out, flew empty battens in and the entire plot - including booms - was hung, circuited, and patched in about two hours. The rate of progress slowed considerably once we hit focus. I was learning the focus of the show and Laura Bickford (BTJAZ lighting supervisor) and I were learning enough of the language to communicate with electricians. So things went slowly at first, as they tend to do at focus. It doesn't help that our focus is very finicky, with razor-sharp shutter cuts on a white floor, which have to align with the next unit in the system, etc. Fortunately, color was never a question - the entire plot, save for one sidelight system and one special - is L201. Oh, that Robert Wierzel!

The units we used in Tel Aviv were a mix of the familiar Source 4s (rented specially for us, BTW) and PCs and ENT zooms. Laura had some experience with the European units, but maybe not enough - we ended up refocusing the plot and adding a few units to make up for certain problems, such as an inability to get an even wash out of the zooms and an inability to control the light coming out of the PCs, even with barndoors. These are problems we'd deal with the rest of the tour, developing strategies to make the lighting look as good as possible. (For instance, with the zooms, we had originally 4 of them to create a downstage box on the floor. However, it was unevenly lit, and I argued that in the middle of that box, we weren't getting the dancers right. So we added two more units that used to be in the plot anyway, plus refocused each zoom at a wider angle to cover as much of the box as it could - thus each unit overlapped the next quite heavily, and intensity came from multiple overlapping sources in the same area.) I also note that the zooms don't concentrate light when you make the beam angle smaller, as you might expect. Oh, they may do so to some extent, but the effect I observed was much closer to using an iris than actually gathering the light.

The booms were box truss style, on wheels, and were all Source 4, as were our high side systems. Some of the lights were ours - fluorescents used upstage and mini-tens used downstage and on the first electric. We travel with Shuko adapters, which take care of most European houses, but here we needed an additional adapter to fit the Israeli lighting pucks. The first of some tensions arose here. Madai, the hosting production manager for both Israel stops, sometimes didn't deal well with the women. So Laura's request to obtain some adapters went ignored and Madai's insistence that we modify our own adapters (which would involve cutting off molded ends) was not well received. Eventually, the rental house was able to send over enough of the needed adapters. I guess sometimes it just comes down to one little issue like that; on this stop it was adapters. Go figure.

Tel Aviv turned out to be the only stop we couldn't use our own board at - we travel with a HogPC that outputs one DMX universe. But Tel Aviv needed two universes to run the whole system, so Laura ended up dictating all the cues to the house board op who programmed their GrandMA. This was frustrating for her and I can't blame her. It also left her with little to do when showtime came so one of her more annoying habits came to light early: given time to futz, she'll futz. Endlessly. I can't tell you how many times I adjusted our fluorescents and the gels on the music stand lights just because everything else was done and Laura was not good at just relaxing while she had the chance - at least not while in the theatre.

The crew in Tel Aviv was as professional as you'd expect anywhere with the usual divisions of duties. Much of the load-in crew came via the lighting rental house, which I found interesting. The rental houses act as informal agencies for a lot of the country's crew labor. The schedule can be grueling - they don't take breaks. They work 'til lunch, take an hour for that, then work 'til dinner, take an hour for that, work 'til end of call. When someone from our crew inquired about breaks, it was meant with Madai's response that "only American babies take breaks." This turned out to be true in Italy, too.

It was during the Tel Aviv stop that I contracted some kind of problem with my joints, which came on suddenly and severely, feeling like total-body arthritis or something. I quickly ran through my supply of painkillers and it was like throwing stones at a battleship. I went hunting for more painkillers. This turns out to be difficult, as painkillers are by prescription only, though for low-level ones like ibuprofen, the pharmacist himself can print up a prescription. But pharmacies were few and far between with short hours incompatible with touring theatre schedules. Life pretty quickly became hell for me. But I did get some and by downing about 1200mg of ibuprofen every four or five hours, I remained functional.

Load-out was smooth and quick, as one would expect. Our TD, Eric Lowner, is very good during load-ins and load-outs and his professionalism made getting it all packed up and on the truck practically a breeze. It is notable that there are no basements in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The theatre and its loading dock are actually on the second through fifth floors of the PAC. They have two vehicle lifts for getting trucks up to the loading dock.

The move to Jerusalem was by bus and I was hurting badly by then. I knew that whatever was going on with me would have to be addressed by a doctor while we were there. We had a day off scheduled, though, with the entire company going on a mini-tour of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. I learned a little bit about the country, especially the kibutzes. At one stop, the whole company went on a two-hour hike up in some mountains while I stayed behind, being in no condition to walk for two hours. At that stop I discovered the delicious Magnum Gold ice cream bar. Then we proceeded to the Dead Sea where three things of note happened: one, once in the water and floating, I was finally out of pain for the first time in a week. Two, it's nice to have a drink at the World's Lowest Bar. And three, if you think dancers are good-looking with their clothes on, you should experience the site of them all standing knee deep in the water smearing black mud all over themselves.

The next day, I managed to get through load-in at The Jerusalem Theatre (Madai's home space, it turns out). This load-in was also quite smooth, though of a somewhat lower-rent quality to some of the equipment. The biggest frustration came in that the lines from the dimmers, which were parked squarely in the middle of the wing stage right, to the electrics was up and over a flown truss stage right. Anytime this truss was moved, it moved the cables, which moved the electrics, which threw our focus off. There came a point where Laura and I parked our asses until the scenic crew could finish up with projection screens, cyc, blacks, etc because it was a useless endeavor trying to get shutter cuts before the stage right truss was locked in position. In Jerusalem, we left the crappy ENT zooms behind and used ETC zooms instead, which was a far more pleasant experience, but as with all ETC, the edges are very hard and it is hard to blend beams together. Back to massive dispersal overlap technique. We used PCs for most of the floor box systems this time and while they blend well, controlling their spill was a nightmare - the barndoors don't have the additional hinged wings on the small flaps. So we used quite a lot of our precious blacktak supply blocking off stray light. This is a technique Laura was apparently quite used to and I admit allows for trapezoidal barndoor configuration - this is the one technique that may bleed over to my own focus methods.

This particular BTJAZ show also uses Littlelites on lecterns for our narrators and singer, which in Europe must be run through a transformer. But that transformer must then be on a dimmer, for board control. And even though Laura changed the cues to bring the Littlelites up and down in 0 time, we kept frying transformers. There were no relays or non-dim modules available and as it turns out, the transformers weren't getting a full 240 volts - only 208. So this stop was frustrating in several ways. But in others, it was much more relaxed. For instance, Madai fixed us all a lunch that we had on road boxes end-to-end family style. That was pretty nice, compared with the usual habit of everyone going their own way for meals. The dressing rooms and green room were all fantastic and I was able to get laundry done during our second performance.

The load-in was interrupted, for me, by a trip to a doctor. As it turns out, I was not the only one of our company needing medical services. Our executive director sprained her ankle teaching a class. We happened to meet at the facility our tour escort, Michal, called a "pre-hospital". This is a facility for urgent care, though not outright emergencies; but unlike a clinic, you don't need an appointment. The both of us were seen very quickly and, as it turns out, by the same doctor, Dr. Fred Carroll. I had blood work and urinalysis done and the results showed a high white blood cell count. The doctor couldn't diagnose what was going on with me at the time, but gave me a prescription for a different class of antiinflammatory, Etopan. This, in combination with more ibuprofen or sodium naproxen, allowed me to at least function.

Now, this was Friday and sundown was approaching. Madai had already warned us that at 6:00, the day would end, whether or not we were where we wanted to be with focus. Contrary to popular belief, the entire country does not shut down for Shabat, but quite a few things do! There are Arabic quarters where businesses remain open for Saturday and Madai generously offered to stop by a an Arabic pharmacy and fill my prescription on Saturday, before the late call (yes, the crew did break the Sabbath a little bit, but not by much. Madai himself came in during the day Saturday but merely made sure we didn't get ourselves into trouble. Laura had managed to get 95% of focus done before 6:00 the night before, so she spent the day futzing with cues until such time as we had enough crew to touch up the remaining focus). But, yeah, the Sabbath is taken seriously in Israel and especially in Jerusalem. The streets were practically deserted.

I'll wrap up this first half of the trip by saying that I spent my Friday night in Jerusalem hobbling through the Old City, and making my way to the Western Wall. The Western Wall plaza on Friday night is....ALIVE. Singing, dancing, etc etc. Though I'm Jewish, I'm a poorly educated Jew, so I don't claim to understand most of what was going on, but I said my prayers and left. I had dinner at the hotel, a Shabbat feast led by a Rabbi, as it would turn out. My next post will detail the hellacious escape from Israel and the great stops we had in Italy.

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