What is Tech Week?

Lyric’s summer technical work is crucial to the success of each production.

Tech Week at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Tech Week 2016
The giants’ intimidating entrance in Das Rheingold, the battles in Les Troyens, the windmills in Don Quichotte — these and countless other riveting moments onstage at Lyric would be impossible without painstaking technical preparation. They’ll be tried out this summer during each production’s “tech week.” That’s a chance for everyone involved behind the scenes to look at the physical production onstage, assessing what works and what doesn’t.

The director of each production — usually working with an associate or assistant director — will be on hand during tech week, along with other members of the creative team (set, costume, lighting, and sometimes projection designers) and all the other vital departments (lighting, technical, props, costumes, wigs/makeup).  Stage manager John Coleman views his role as one of facilitating communication throughout the process. “We also determine what physical things we’ll need for rehearsals. There are choices to be made — how much those things cost to put in the room, if they can physically get in there, the time and the labor that it takes to change from element to element.”

Tech week starts with pulling the production out of trucks and into the theater. Once it’s onstage, “the first thing we always do is fly anything that needs to be flown,” says technical director Michael Smallwood. Various special effects are tried out, but the most vital task for tech week is to establish the production’s lighting cues and program them into the light board. “We also take notes regarding the painting and scenery,” says Smallwood. “We’re basically determining everything that’s needed for the production to look its best.”

Lyric’s 13 electricians — with the lighting designer, plus Lyric lighting director Chris Maravich and his staff — take about eight hours to focus a production’s lights, with each light’s position precisely documented. “We focus between 200 and 300 lights,” says Maravich. “When the show comes back, two to five months after summer tech, we can then restore the lights to their designated positions.”

Props are also a vital element of tech week. With the revival of a previous Lyric production, “we unload it, put it on prop tables, check out the condition of the props, and see what needs to be fixed or replaced — either through buying or building,” says property master Charles Reilly. “The director and designer, seated out in the house, will ask us to move things around. We then ‘spike’ it [that is, mark the position] by act — we might spike the Act One furniture in blue tape, the Act Two furniture in red. We take pictures and document everything.”

During the season, when the production finally gets onstage, “that’s when we can fine tune it,” says assistant director Elise Sandell, “because we have the actual performers and we’ve all made so many discoveries throughout the rehearsal process. But it’s tech week that gets the process going. It’s something of a guessing game, going with your gut and following your instincts, with a little bit of luck.”
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