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What we have here is… Orestes Post Mortem #3

This will be the last of the Orestes post-mortem posts. I’m excited to move on to NEXT and honestly it’s not easy to frame the mistakes we made in such a way that it’s at all useful to others.

This is by necessity the most negative of the postmortems. There is little that went right in my technical positions on this show, and that had a dramatic impact on the final product and on the environment we provided the cast during tech week.

The problem was two-fold: the same concentration of duties problem that stifled the show in general, and my own lack of specificity.

I served at Technical Director, Set Designer, prop builder, carpenter, and deck electrician once the show opened. This breakdown is actually a pretty reasonable one if I were Truly Skilled at any of those jobs rather than “competent, breathing and free”.

For the sake of clarity: I wasn’t unhappy with the final product (though I have quibbles) but rather with the process and the lack of adherence our own goals in that process that led to a grueling load-in and lack of time for the cast to really adjust in the move from rehearsal space to stage.

The roles of carpenter and deck electricians were handled adequately though without distinction, and you don’t care so let’s move on to something that helps us all.

Prop Builder
Honestly a mixed bag. The look of them all was correct. I include in this the daggers (purchased), the lantern and the masks. The daggers were inexpensive and appropriate. The lantern I am honestly proud of in that way only an indie theatre moonlight craftsman can be, the director asked for a thing and I gave him what he wanted – lord help us it shouldn’t be that rare.

The masks… well.

The look and the build of the masks were okay, though I don’t recommend leaving a hot glued item in a backseat in Texas in July, but there were two functional problems.

  1. They were too small. (Yes, Ms. Catmull I totally agree with you) Even in the intimacy of the Off Center the simply weren’t large enough to be a very real presence on stage. They weren’t large enough to draw focus from the manipulators and be in a scene with Orestes by themselves. They were built from 18” away and they’re pretty good from 18” away. Unfortunately that’s not how we play those scenes in the theatre.
  2. The manipulation idea, while a good one, was probably wrong for the interpretation of the Furies that we ended on. It was intended to release the manipulators to be “less human”  in their movement and vocal choices, but ended up locking them down into some pretty static tableaus and limited Will’s options.


Set Design
We talked about the shift from old to new set design earlier and it’s time to see if I was right. The answer is of course: sort of.

  1. The concepts behind the set design were correct.
  2. The aesthetics of the execution were correct.
  3. The utility of the set wasn’t great. I underestimated how restrictive an 18” rise would be for the cast, and it hurt the flow of the show.
  4. The aesthetics of the show were completely de-emphasized by our audience placement. It was all in the alleys along the outside of the house and ended up not adding to the show itself. “Space design” rather than “set design”.
  5. Safety precluded adding debris to the playing field… I’m not really sure why it never occurred to me that this would be a problem.

Technical Direction
Sweet merciful lord above what a farce. I spent the entire process shooting behind a moving target and never caught up. Without the help of Tramaine Berryhill and Jess Harper we’d still be building platforms. I underestimated the time necessary on every single element of the build which cost the cast time on the set and led to stress level not commensurate with a confident composed performance.

Before we try to cover my mistakes with lack of experience, this wasn’t a company problem. This wasn’t a system problem. This was simply me being serially wrong for a month.

I didn’t set specific goals for the aesthetic of the show. I abandoned the other designers to their own devises because I didn’t know every single answer. That’s on me. As the TD I needed to know every inch of every fact of the technical aspects of the show and didn’t.

For my money the TD needs to be proactive not reactive and I spent this entire show on my heels reacting to changes in the script, changes in character direction, and space limitations I either hadn’t known about or forgotten about.And because I was also my boss there was no pressure from anyone but myself to change it.

The lack of specificity in my choices as set designer, and lack of proactive attention to detail left a dangerous amount of slack in the process that was only overcome by the generosity of others. The goal is to be self-sufficient until such time as our progress and resources signal the need for expansion. This can be done without sacrificing production quality.


So say we all.