Sunday, June 10, 2007

Public Service

So tonight I am watching the Tony's and something catches my eye that I feel like I really need to talk about by way of a small (but personally satisfying) public service. Which is I guess another way of saying I need to complain about something that matters to me but will have absoluely no impact on the lives of anyone else in the universe.

But thats the whole reason to have a blog, yes?

There was a musical number from Curtains performed fairly early in the show. Something fairly uplifting and theatrically self referential. I believe it celebrated being a "show person." It featured a unit that bugs me every time I see it.
Probably this isn't exactly what it looked like, but it's close. What we're looking at is the prototypical stage fly batten with some rope and sandbags. Really I think what this is in the minds of designers and directors is sort of "backstage texture."

I've seen this unit on many different occasions. I am fairly certain I have fabricated and installed this unit on more than two occasions. But as a theatre technician I have a problem with it. The problem is this: a batten, even a backstage batten in a theatre with no set, would never look like this. I guess there might be a batten with some random sandbags hanging on it. The stage left bag in the sketch above is at least plausible. But the stage right sandbag and the interestingly festooned rope just really make no sense. There are many things that get stored on battens. Usually sandbags aren't one of them, and random swags of rope are far from the top of the list.

Curiously, many of the things that do store on battens wouldn't evoke the correct mood or to a non-technician would just look stupid. Strip lights, which often store on battens would just look like more lighting instruments. With the design aesthetic we're used to an audience might not register that as scenery at all. A ladder, something which also often gets stored in the air, would just look weird to a lay person.

So this is a strange situation. The rope and sandbag, while totally wrong, appears to work well. I wonder how many other work environments designers would choose to depict in a way that would ring true to laypeople but come off totally fake to experts.

The public service? World, that's not what "backstage" looks like. But I think my chances of never running into this unit again are fairly slim. How's it go? If it ain't broke (to most people), don't fix it.


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

we just did a "scenic" hemp fly system for a "backstage" play... complete with pinrail, sandbags, and vintage lighting equipment. our TD was TOTALLY anal about making sure it looked "right."

so some people do pay attention.
- lindsay

Scotty said...

Great point David. In the sound world, we very often have to make sound cues that sound differently than they would in the real world because they have to resemble what people think they would sound like.

Blake said...

As you point out, this is a phenomenon common to any highly-technical occupation. Watching movies like "In the Line of Fire", "The Sentinel" and "The Interpreter" drive me nuts. It's just Hollywood perception of what they think the audience wants to see and it rarely resembles reality.

Movies and TV shows don't even have to be Secret Service-specific to bug me. Even generic cop shows are glaring in their lack of authenticity.

One of my favorite ridiculous Hollywood cop-tropes is the obligatory scene where the hero takes a deep breath before busting through the bad guy's door and right before he does, he dramatically racks the slide on his gun. Yeah, that's real cool looking and all but what that really means is that up until that moment, the hero-cop was standing on the threshold of life-and-death situation with an unloaded gun-- something no real cop would ever do.

(I also don't get why movie cops seem to constantly and obsessively check whether their guns are loaded or not-- usually as punctuation to some bit of tough-guy dialogue.)