Firstly, I’d like to say, how wonderful the UiT danseklubb performers were last night. The dancers were beginner-amateurs of Swing and have only had a handful of Swing lessons before signing up to be performers. Even though they weren’t professional dancers, the audience was none-the-wiser.
Being a trained/educated stage manager, I tend to have very high expectations. Even for small productions, if it is created as a professional venture, then it should be professional. I won’t say much about the organising of the Opening of TIFF for it’s 20th anniversary (as that is another dumbfounding story) but I will say a little about the Opening Night, as a stage manager.
The Opening of TIFF was only a 30min ‘professional production’ and I couldn’t believe how unprofessional the event was. From the moment it started until the start of the opening film it was safety hazard, after sloppy cueing, after incorrect information, after bad directing. This was largely because a film crew was putting on a theatre production.
Firstly, the house was full above capacity. In a 500 seat cinema, the stairs leading to the front screen/stage had a person standing on every step. Some were from the media with big cameras on tripods blocking the stairs. This not only breaks building code/law of how many people were allowed in the cinema, the people were obstructions to safety. Stairs must be clear to allow people safe access to exits in case of an emergency such as fire.
For the start the lights went down – the audience sat in complete darkness while the announcer said her opening speech in three different languages – Norwegian, English and Russian. Her shaky competence in English and Russia made her speak very, very slowly. For me, it was unnerving standing in pitch black listening to the announcer struggle through. It must have been over a minute before any light came on – which was on the screen. In theatre you only go to darkness if it serves the story. Blackouts should be no more than 3 seconds unless there is a special story concept in which the audience is generally informed. This is about safety and the pre-warning is courtesy to the audience. In any case, there needs to be adequate light for the audience at all times so they can move from/to their seat or in case of emergency. In an orchestral concert, it is custom to have the house lights (the lights over the audience) up at least 20-30% so they can read their programs. It was obvious that the director of the opening was directing a film not an opening ceremony.
There was a short film presentation orientating the audience to the 20th anniversary of TIFF. The first half of the film was a little nostalgic as we got to see the old cinema and TIFF over the years. Halfway through the film changed and a dancer and I looked at each other. Clips of non-Norwegian films were made into a slide-show. It seems these might have been films that were shown a TIFF previously but having films like Run Lola Run and actors like Liev Schreiber downplayed the nostalgic beginning.
The director wanted the dancers to escort the speakers to the podium and back again. This was a noble idea until the tech crew just couldn’t get it together. As I was there for the rehearsals and knew what was meant to be, I was a little gob-smacked at the kufuffle. In theatre, after the director has finished directing, it is the stage managers show. Therefore, anything that goes wrong is the stage managers fault. At this opening, it seemed that the tech crew went rogue but, unfortunately, that is still the stage managers fault. The first thing that went wrong, as mentioned above, was the people blocking the stairs. It took four times longer to navigate through the people and down to the podium. This left the audience watch the dignatries and important people clumsily shuffle up and down the stairs for about two minutes each way. Not only that, the stage manager waited until the people were seated before progressing the show. In theatre, overlapping boring movement takes out the bore and makes for a smooth, punchy production. In rehearsal, I demanded for my dancers to have glow tape on the stairs, as the stairs were black and there was no light during the movements. As they had no glow tape it was organised to have a moving light to light the way. This sufficed, however, the lighting guy did not light the stairs during the show. (It might have been because all the ‘illegal’ people on the stairs but the stage manager should have put safety first and raised the house lights). As a result, the dignatries slowed down, (slowing the show down), as they were stumbling to find the next step. It just so happened that the last speakers – the festival Director and a Russian Film star from the movie Hispster, plus four dancer-escorts, had to make their way up the stairs through the stair-people with no light, as the tech crew lowered the stage lights too soon and didn’t have the film cued, therefore the cinema was in complete darkness. I couldn’t see it (as it was dark), but I heard the Festival Director trip. From rehearsal, I know that for these movements music was meant to be played – music played only half the time.
The speeches were a bit of a downer. The Culture Minister spoke to everyone like babies. The City Mayor just read from a paper, head down. The Festival Director decided to ‘wing it’ in English and her speech wasn’t really worth anything, except trying to get the Russian star to dance like he did in the movie. She did say how professional the Opening of Tiff is. The nail in the coffin for me was when she said ‘And thank you to the Tromsø Swing Klubb’. The dancers are certainly NOT from this club – they are from the university dance club called UiT danseklubb.
Because there were no press kits, because the media didn’t ask, and because the Festival Director didn’t even know who was performing at her 20th Anniversary Grand Opening, the next day ALL the news papers and web editions had great pictures of the UiT danseklubb dancers, stating they were from the Swing club. (Retractions in an obscure little corner of the paper never suffice!)
It’s unfortunate to say, but Norway doesn’t have the standards I am used to, when it comes to professional productions. If Norway ever joins the EU, you can kiss theatre production good-bye as they just won’t meet the EU standards of safety and regulations.
I must say, the UiT danseklubb performance rocked! Bar the fact that we had to wait for the Mayor to stumble trip up the stairs as the director didn’t conceive the entrances/exits well. (We could have gone down the other stairs, but as a professional in the theatre business, you do what you are told.) I gave the signal to cue the music and we danced our little hearts out! Great applause at the end. The stage manager asked a dancer what we were getting for putting in all the hard work of rehearsals and a full day of production. Nothing. (We were hoping for good advertisement but that has certainly gone to our competitors.) She said she will have to do something about that, but we will see if she does.