Last week, at some unhappy hour, my alarm clock started bleeping at me. It does that occasionally. I think it was trying to tell me that I needed to get out of bed. Naturally, I reacted with a suitable level of disgust.
In the end, it turned out that my alarm clock was bleeping at me because I needed to catch a train. You see, the kind folks at Westacre Theatre had arranged a little day out for me. In London, no less! Me, a mere country yokel was to experience the sights and sounds of the big city!
A few short hours later, I was blearily making my way along the platform at King’s Cross, and staggering into the bowels of the Underground. As is tradition, this subterranean journey took slightly longer than I expected it to, and I arrived at my final destination at a time that was just slightly too fine-cut to be considered punctual.
But where was my final destination? It was, of course, Units 26-28 of the Victoria Industrial Estate, North Acton. It turns out that this humble, grey building is the European headquarters of ETC. Yes, I thought that stood for etcetera, as well. But apparently it stands for Electronic Theatre Controls.
A little while ago now, Westacre Theatre acquired a new lighting control board. Since then, I had been bluffing whenever I said that I knew how to use it, and have somehow managed to fluke my way through a number of productions. But today all that was about to change. I was to attend a training day, to learn some of what quickly became apparent was a vast amount to learn.
Happily, upon entering, I was handed a menu, and told to place my lunch order.
Lunch is my favourite.
I found myself in an unusual looking room. A surprisingly elaborate proscenium arch stood proud at the far end. Where one would expect there to be raked seating in neat little rows, there was instead an untidy arrangement of patio furniture. And where one would expect walls, there was instead an audience. A two-dimensional, hand-painted audience, whose expressions suggested that whatever play they were watching was going to be receiving mixed reviews.
Before long, our teacher for the day, a skinny, bespectacled and slightly camp man called Dominic, directed us to our workstations. Rather than using real lanterns, our lighting boards were plugged into a “virtual theatre”, which would allow us to mess up to our hearts content without actually breaking anything. There was also the advantage that a virtual theatre comes with virtual actors, who, unlike real actors, actually do as they’re told.
The virtual actors in question were the curious quartet of Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Lara Croft and the Loch Ness Monster. The presence of Nessie, indicative that whatever virtual play we were lighting was set in Scotland, caused me to leap straight into action and list all the plays I could think of that were set in Scotland. Having achieved a grand total of one, I concluded that we were lighting a virtual production of Macbeth. Don’t worry, it’s not bad luck if it’s virtual.
We spent the day working though a selection of tutorials, and I am pleased to say that I learnt much. From now on, technical rehearsals will be much more bearable. Oh, who am I kidding? Technical rehearsals are invariably awful, but they should at least be easier and briefer. A noble goal, and maxim of theatre technicians everywhere.
At the end of the day, I was presented with a certificate and free t-shirt, bearing the ETC logo. Marvellous!
Having successfully completed the training, I set off in the direction of Central London and ended up having many adventures in Soho. Unfortunately, since this blog post is getting a bit long, the precise nature of these adventures shall have to be left to speculation.