Note: Part I of the tour, Israel, is written up in this blog post.
So in my previous email, I wrapped up with Shabbat in Jerusalem. We played two performances in Jerusalem, Saturday night and Sunday night, and things were nice and relaxed between them, including an evening I sat out on the hotel patio with Bill, Janet, and a few others and we all drank wine and did not talk about performance, dance, theatre, or anything remotely related. Very nice.
Load-out again went smoothly, though we somehow tore a very small hole in our opera drop; not where light hits it, but still, very aggravating, considering the care which Kyle and the crew take with our few softgoods. I loaded some gear into the tophat roadcase to go back to the US, as these particular roadboxes were done for the tour. We had another set waiting for us in Italy (it would take too long to get the equipment from Israel to Italy economically). Finally, about 12:30 a.m. we were all loaded out.
At this point, the day of hell began. The crew split into two groups. Kyle, Sam (sound), and Laura went to Haifa for a different Bill T Jones show, where they'd literally load in, do the show, and load out in one day. Meanwhile, Eric and I went ahead to Italy to begin work there, as the show we were doing in Venice was a special performance put together just for that festival. Eric and I had three hours at the hotel before we hopped in a cab for the airport. I napped, Eric chose not to. We hit Ben Gurion airport at 4:30 a.m. for a 7:30 flight - and we'd need almost every minute of it.
I won't go into a blow-by-blow, but the upshot is that our luggage was searched in minute detail - not only was luggage opened, but so was the toiletries kit...and the cans, bottles, sewing kit, etc inside. Literally every single separate item was examined. Twice. All of our baggage (and we were carrying some company baggage, such as costumes, to be used in Venice) was x-rayed twice, searched visually twice, and given THREE chemical sniffer tests. Some of this was due to sheer boredom on Israeli security's part, some of it due to change of shift happening in the middle of the first search, and some of it due to the red flag that the projector lenses threw up. The security people could clearly see they were lenses, but the attached motors and heavy duty pelican roadcase freaked them out I guess. For some time, Eric and I were separated from all of our belongings and parked in a secure room. We were very nearly separated from our clothing, too! I believe we were about to be strip-searched, but something or someone intervened and we were called back. The head of security for the shift (note: not airport security, no airline security - ISRAELI security) decided we could continue on, but they were confiscating the projector lenses. Though they did give Eric a claimcheck, they said he'd have to file a missing luggage report in Venice and ultimately he'd get the lenses back. It was purely coincidental that we wouldn't need the lenses until Ravenna and that Venice was a week-long stop. (Eric got the lenses back the last morning of our stay there, literally hours before we left for Ravenna).
So you'd think that would be it, that we could check in, get our boarding passes and go, right? Oh, no no. First, the airline (Aegean Air) decided that our checked luggage was over the weight limit. Turns out their weight limits are 20kg (44 lb) per bag - we'd packed 50 per bag and one or two were definitely over that anyway. Overage fees, we were prepared to pay -- we thought! Our carryons (well, mine) was also overweight - yeah, there's a goddamn weight limit on carryons, too, of 8 kg (17 lb)!! I transferred about five pounds to an already overweight checked bag and even though I was still over by a couple kilograms, the counter agent let it go. After all, the airline was already charging us 475 for the overweight checked bags. At first, we thought that was sheckels, since we were in Israel, and 475 sheckels is only about 125 dollars. But then she corrected us - 475 DOLLARS! Yeah, no mistake. Eric and I nearly had a heart attack. There was no choice but to find an ATM, withdraw money, and pay the fees. Keep in mind, we're under armed guard all throughout this.
Now, fees paid, bags checked, boarding passes in hand, we get to regular airline security screening. Here having been searched two (three) times already paid off - we were skated through that security area. But our journey was not yet over! Now, we're down to about 30 minutes before takeoff and we still have to clear customs. I went through fine, but then Eric hit a snag. Customs computers showed that Eric had arrived with three bags to check, but only two had been received by the airline. (Remember, security had our lenses and those would fly later.) This is a red flag for them and Eric was detained by the police. While being marched off, he ordered me to make the flight no matter what, since at least one of us had to be in Venice on time. Fortunately, things were straightened out quickly for Eric and he made the flight, but barely.
On to Venice.
Longer flight than I thought, but quite pleasant. Aegean Air may rape you on overage fees, but they do serve plenty of hot meals. Unfortunately, they don't shut up loud, talkative assholes partying it up in the rear of the plane. Eric and I were now both of us up beyond 24 hours and had a full work day ahead of us....
Upon landing, we were met by the festival's rep and we took a high-speed water taxi to Venice, where we then lugged approximately 200 pounds of luggage (plus our own remember) through the narrow streets and up and over bridges to get to Hotel La Fenice, a hotel known for being the place for visiting artists to stay. (And it was certainly pleasant enough, though every room was different. For instance, I was graced with a shower - Laura had only a bathtub. Shoshanna had the smallest room every, but also a whole terrace to herself. Etc. I recommend it!)
After dropping off our crap, we lugged the 200 pounds of luggage back through the streets and again split up. Eric had to go to the shipping port and get our roadboxes from the shipping container (which took most of the day) and I was on my own to find the theatre. Teatreo de Tese was WAY the hell out there in the Arsenale. So a water bus ride to Arsenale and a kilometer's walk later, I found the theatre, where the technicians were already moving trusses into place.
Teatro de Tese has the neatest truss system I've ever seen. Situated in an 800 year old building - a sail factory (the oldest factory in Venice) - the converted space was as unmangled as possible in the process of making it a theatre. There is a great deal of excellent scenic trickery designed to look like more venue that fills windows, hides cable, etc. Very nice. The trusses (there are six of them) are mounted on a rail system, with the rails bolted into the center of three halls. This allows the trusses to be moved into place at will and very, very easily. Technicians then get up and walk the tops to place circuits. Hanging, final circuiting, and focus is all done from a rolling ladder that has a small work platform at the top. My goal was to have the positions nailed down and all the lights hung and cabled before Laura arrived the next afternoon. This was ambitious. Things don't happen FAST there, but they do happen WELL. As I was dealing with lighting, Eric showed up on a boat with a crane and moved our road gear into the space and then dealt with the positioning of the extra stage sections we were having built.
It all turned out very, very well. This huge stage with a runway shooting off into another hall house left, a smaller platform for Sam (as musician) upstage left, and a separate entre-acte playing space in the hall house right that the audience would pass through to get to their seats. It was a fully fleshed out performance that INHABITED the space. It provided some technical lighting challenges, in that Laura couldn't use more than X amount of power and getting up to the lights to hang or adjust them (if they weren't directly over the stage) was accomplished with driveable personnel lifts. These yellow things were GREAT. I've seen them on construction sites here and would like to see more of them in theatre.
At this stop, we took our time and teched a lot and ran two performances. It was here that I learned how to make coffee Venetian style, which I grew addicted to. I also made sure I ate something new and different at every meal I ate. I had the most creamy lasagna - fantastic! As we used the back wall instead of cyc and translucency for this performance, our load-out was actually pretty quick. We packed up our fluorescents and mini-tens and dance floor and that was it. I have to say, I liked the entire festival crew the most at this stop. Again, there was friction and not the best spirit of cooperation between the people in charge and our two females in charge (Kyle and Laura). They kept complaining they'd get "no" answers to everything, yet if I asked or Eric asked, it would generally happen. Different approaches maybe?
From Venice to Ravenna, the entire company took a bus. LONG bus ride - three hours. We actually stayed in Marina de Ravenna, on the coast and it was a fine hotel to stay at, with little private balconies, which I took advantage of by getting some doses of Vitamin D where I don't normally get doses of Vitamin D, if you know what I mean.
The theatre, Palazzo Mauro de Andre, is a converted sports arena, which we think was for either volleyball or basketball. It is ceiling with a giant glass pyramid, similar to something at the Louvre, and this is covered in a translucent white fabric. The effect is of dazzlingly bright cloudy daytime - at all times the sun is up. The place was used for sports exactly once. Then it was converted. There's a big RAKED stage, huge hanging ugly sound baffling, and a slightly raked truss roof system. The hang itself was quick and mostly complete by the time we got there. Laura and I made a lot of adjustments to their hang before the roof truss rose, because getting to the lights was by scaffold only - a long process involving five electricians, since four of them were required to keep the damn thing from rolling off the stage! Once the roof was up, we got to work on the ground units and the booms. Their usual booms were flat steel truss pieces, held up with long triangular legs. This would prove to be unsightly and potentially dangerous for the dancers. Laura and I convinced them to cable-tie the trusses to the far side rails and then we figured out how to get our four lights onto these "booms". It was not the best looking setup ever, but it worked well enough - as long as nobody leaned on the railings (as the dancers tended to do).
Focus, of course, had to wait until 9 p.m. for it to be dark enough to work. So call that day was fairly late and we enjoyed a really long cookout dinner watching futbol with the crew until 9. The crew went to great lengths to get good reception, including drafting the services of, in sequential order, a metal cart, a wheelbarrow, and a 12' aluminum ladder. Quite enjoyable! Once we got to work that night, focus took forever, and it wasn't all the technician's fault. Laura had a timetable to work within and she went over it by two hours. Don't get me wrong - I think she's great. As a lighting supervisor, she is exacting and her standards are high, which is exactly what is needed in that position. But she was definitely futzing with details that Eric and I (from the tech table) couldn't see differences in. Still, it's her show, so it's her call. We got back to the hotel about 5 in the morning and had a 9:30 a.m. lobby call.
We rehearsed all day, including a dress-rehearsal with Laura running the light cues to absolutely zero effect, then one performance at 9 p.m., then load-out, which unfortunately took longer than any of us thought. It boiled down to the fact that we couldn't retrieve our one truss-mounted lighting unit and our two softgoods pieces until the truss roof could move - and it couldn't move until everything else was struck. Yikes. fortunately, the long wait left plenty of time for Kyle to dry out the sweaty costumes under the heat of two 2K PCs backstage. Finally, with the rain starting to come down, everything was in road cases and well-packed for the trip overseas. Last step was a very rainy loading of the shipping container which, because the theatre has no proper loading dock, involved lifting the cases on one truck's hydraulic tailgate, then manually heaving them over to the deck of the shipping container, situated 90-degrees to the first truck. As some roadboxes come in at about 600 pounds, it was quite interesting to see four or five men managing this feat. But they were used to it, I guess. Finally, as the rain turned into a wind-whipped storm worthy of Lear, Eric sealed the shipping container and twice read off all relevant seal, container, and lock numbers to Sam, who wrote it all on the shipping manifest.
And thus the tour was over. The next morning, the whole company took another three-hour bus back to the airport near Venice and Delta took us home. After a 17 hour travel day following 20 days on the road, I was at last able to cook for myself, take a shower with actual doors on it, and sleep in my own comfortable bed. Laura, Kyle, and Eric had one quick show to do in Santa Fe, leaving the day after we got back to NYC. I asked about that today and Laura expressed her thanks at how quickly things happened there - how professional the crews were and how expedient everything was. Didn't have to ask for a tech table, it was just THERE, for instance. And here I thought Israel and Italy crews did pretty good; but then I've done a lot of unsupported theatre in crappy little NYC spaces. It's all about a sense of scale, I guess.
I learned a lot on this tour and would definitely go again. As for the joint pain, it is still present, though very much dissipated and more easily managed with naproxen. Recent bloodwork shows high sedimentation rate, so I'll soon be seeing a rheumatologist. If this is what my uncle thinks this is (PMR), then it could be a couple of years before its all cleared up. At the moment, I'm able to type and am in no pain, though water bottles continue to be difficult to open.
And now, on to the the normal program of Christmas windows, dance lighting (of my own), giant multi-media international workshop performance (IMPACT), and a little wedding photography on the side.