China Report: Technical Experiences in Beijing

December 27, 2007 at 5:21 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Touring through China is a challenge and it was never going to be easy but with this being my second time on tour with NBT in China, I thought it would be easier. In some ways it certainly has been. The technical staff we have on this tour have been excellent and have needed to be. Their patience has been stretched a couple of times in each venue. This is mainly due to the fact that each venue has different ways of doing things and very different systems in place. The Poly Theatre in Beijing was a challenge. From the moment we discovered that there was an access to the City issue with the containers to the no gaffa tape on stage rule. At present no trucks at all are allowed into Beijing until midnight and have to clear the City limits by 6am. As Beijing is a major building site at present you can imagine the queues at the City limits waiting for the clock to strike midnight. At this point it must be like a Le Mans start. By 12.30am long convoys of trucks wend their way into the city as in some kind of protest akin to the fuel tax protests in the UK a few years ago. By 1am on 19/20 December the first of our containers arrived and backed into the loading dock under the supervision of the local police and security/army guards at the theatre. Unloading took about 45 minutes with the help of a team of 10 guys hired in by the promoter. With the doors shut on the empty container we thought it wouldn’t be long before the second container took its place in the dock. 10 minutes later nothing had moved. What I discovered walking to the front of the truck and speaking with our translator Flora, an absolute angel, was that the driver had been caught smoking in the dock by the security/army guard. The driver was being chastised beyond belief and his boss was being instructed that the driver must be punished. Until this was all agreed nothing was moving. After a further 20 minutes the truck finally moved and I was told that an agreement with the driver’s boss had been reached but I couldn’t find out what it was. The second trailer smoked its way into the car park and tried to back into the dock area. Alas the skill needed was beyond the driver so the container was unpacked there in the car park and another 20 metres of distance was added to the route in. Finally at 3.15 am we went upstairs and retired to our rooms grateful that the theatre and hotel were in the same complex.

In the morning breakfast was a cheery affair looking forward to working in the theatre we had seen the night before. On entering the theatre we were told that no gaffa tape could be used on the Korean oak floor that we were told had come from Russia. From that point on it seemed to be that they had learnt one word of English and that was the word ‘NO’ Even when going through the translator the answer seemed to be always ‘NO’. But if we really pushed and pushed for what we required and kept smiling then eventually it seemed to turn up. Well most of the time. The biggest issue was the petal drop in Act 2. They had not seen this done before and were not happy with the petals falling past the lighting bar. No reasoning or even myself telling them we had done over 250 performances of the production and never had there been an issue of the theatre catching fire seemed to wash with them. My final offer to buy them a new theatre if the effect caused the building to burn down did not even come close. We had to move the lighting bar downstage and the petal bag had to move upstage. They seemed happy with that. But after the 1st show they insisted we bring in the lighting bar and check for stray petals. Only eight petals had the gaul to land on the lighting equipment but each one was carefully extracted before we could fly the bar out again.

Joe Marchant, our Flyman/Rigger, had a nightmare of a day trying to get the flying system working safely. The Chinese flyman had never been shown the safe way of working the system and not wishing to lose face they refused to listen to Joe’s instruction. This caused a few heated debates through Flora. Meanwhile on stage Steven Wilkins (Wilky), our Chief Stage Technician for the China Tour, was being told we could not screw into the floor and not use certain flying bars for scenery. Thanks to the Chinese lighting people we have touring with us, lighting seemed to be going smoothly. Rich, Paul, Martin and Chris (Lighting Team) were all put under various amounts of pressure through the day but mainly the pressure of ‘NO’ was mainly kept to Wilky, Joe, Nic and Paul. (Stage Team)

Technical team discuss plans for the get in - Photo by Neil G Jarman

On the first day we all finished at 10pm. We lost around 3 hours of the day having to argue and discuss each thing we wanted to do. The second day started in much the same way with ‘NO’ being the order of the day. The electric flying bars were strictly under the control of the in house personnel and it was hit and miss whether we got what we asked for. By 11am the focus started and the stage work was coming to an end. By 12.30 the main focus of the lights was complete and we had only the side lights to do. Class then took place on stage. A welcome break for the technical crew. Back at 2pm we beavered on and the Technical Rehearsal went quite smoothly. Just before the start of the Technical though, the person in charge of the electric flying handed the reins over to Martin. Martin had never seen or operated the system before and it was amazing that the rehearsal went so well.

To add other things into the mix we were not allowed to go anywhere with out a pass. Not even if we had made friends with the guard and he knew us. We were not allowed to sit in the auditorium seats at all and the drinks machine had given up as well.

The first night and subsequent shows went very well indeed. The Technical staff on tour have been pushed to the edge and have been amazing.

The get out started well until we caught them inch by inch peeling back our dance tape to make sure that we had not damaged the floor. I know you have an image in your head of a highly polished oak floor and you are wondering why I am going on about this so much. But let me dispel this image and replace it with an image of a painted black extremely well -used floor that has had the paint ripped from it in various places. I hope you can see the frustration.

The containers were packed and all was finished by 3am. No driver getting punished this time although we still had to wait for the containers to arrive!

Having had a couple of days off I can look back and smile and make light of what the Tech team was put through. But things like this are a small part of what happens when we enter a new venue. We never know what we are going to face and only a great deal of experience and teamwork gets us through.

In the future I would hope that we in the UK can bring Chinese technicians over from the larger theatres and let them see how we work in the UK. I believe for the long term future of the theatres in China and the welfare and mental state of the Technicians arriving with companies from the West it would be very fruitful.

Nanjing, Yangzhou and Shanghai here we come.

Andy Waddington – Technical Director

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