Powering Performance

A performance is a magical experience. We have stereotypes of what goes on in the theater and it is all true! All the rehearsals—acting and technical—create a new, seamless experience. It can be perfection in the right hands, especially at the most professional level, but any time really. No one knows how much effort was exerted by so many when you are sitting in the dark enrapt. The theater is a world of light and sound but it can’t happen without expertise, planning, talent, and creativity. At the most advanced level, it is a complicated world of electronics utilizing expensive equipment and requiring a trained staff. Music and lighting are no longer accessed manually, not even the opening of the curtain. A computer on a timer does it all, even though a smart human mind has to create the master plan.

It’s a wonder it all works so well most of the time with so few mishaps. We are used to everything going like clockwork as a rule and we really notice it when it fails. It is rather disturbing. When something from the real world intrudes during a performance, it breaks that transparent curtain between stage and audience. That’s why coughing and unwrapping candy is taboo. We don’t want to pierce the veil or dismantle the “suspension of disbelief” which constitutes art.

Thinking about this kind of thing, I recall being in the great Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles during an earthquake last year. The epicenter was only five miles away and the tremors were quite apparent. It shook the place to the rafters. Of course, as luck would have it, the lights went off, and the theater owned a top rated standby generator which switched itself on. It was amazing. The actors did not skip a beat. The conductor looked a bit nonplussed but kept the baton in motion. I wonder if all theaters have these backup units. I would guess not. Those in major urban centers no doubt do, but certainly not all the little local venues that seat 100-400 at best.

The moral of the story is get a generator if you are in charge of your community theater as your venue no doubt is fairly basic and skimps on unnecessary expenditures. I hope it hasn’t been depending upon candles! Raise money for it with a raffle or bake sale. Ask local businesses for a donation. Whatever it takes for the show to go on. You never know what nature has in store from a raging storm to quivering earthquake. Power outages are common enough and they can happen at night or on weekends during a matinee. No one wants to miss the closing scene—not one bit of dialogue, not one line of a song.

The size and cost of a generator varies a great deal. If you are talking about an auditorium, you need a pretty large contraption. A small space might do with a portable job. The point is that without one, the direction and other powers that be might be in for a disappointing evening.

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