There’s nothing quite like the high you get coming off of a great set. But while improvisers get to bask in the spotlight, some of their funniest moments wouldn’t exist without the skill and support of a very special person: the Tech Guy (or Gal).
To the audience they’re invisible, but make no mistake: he or she can make or break your show.
“Pulling the lights on an improv scene is hard,” says Rob Norman. “You have to have a supreme confidence to know when it’s over. To find the biggest laugh of the scene. Sometimes 30 seconds in. Sometimes waiting for 17 minutes.
But also there’s an egolessness about it. It’s not about adding sound effects. Or playing ‘funny’ songs from the booth. You are highlighting success and distracting from failure.
When tech is done right, no one sees your invisible hand. But you have to be completely confident in your job. So egoless that no one knows you’re adding essential elements to what’s happening onstage.”
It’s not easy to sit in a dark, cramped booth, changing lights and cueing songs at a second’s notice. But what about when tech goes wrong? We’ve all seen shows that suffered from poor technical choices. Things like…
• playing, shall we say, idiosyncratic music before a show (emo, nu-metal), instead of stuff that will pump up the crowd
* pulling lights way too early (like, 10 minutes in to a 25-minute Harold)
• not pulling lights, long after a show has died a slow, awkward, squirm-inducing (did we mention slow?) death
Learning how to tech a show takes time, and the only way to learn is on the job.
On the flip side, there are some are very talented light and sound technicians. In Toronto we’re fortunate to have folks like Darryl Pring, Gord Oxley, and Josh Murray toiling behind the scenes to make performers look good. And perhaps no one is more respected, even revered, than Mark Andrada.
Photo © David Leyes
Like Robocop or Steve Austin, Mark operates on an almost other-worldly level. To find out how he does it, we asked the community. If you want to know what qualities make a great technician, read on.
“[Mark] is a very skilled clown and improviser, so he gets it. He gets the timing of a joke or blowline, he gets where a scene starts and therefore where it should end. He can anticipate what’s about to happen and lend to it with a lighting change or music or even over the microphone. And if you don’t want him involved you can ask him to stay out and he’s not offended, unless he decides to jump in and fuck with you anyway.” – Gary Rideout Jr
“He is often the best improviser in the room – and that’s behind the tech booth. I’ve seen his tech choices save scenes and make them better, and I’ve been there when his choices are the scene. He is insanely quick with improvised tech cues, and they are always on point.” – Matt Folliott
“The shows Mark techs are alive. There’s this feeling of security when he’s in the booth. I trust him immensely. But also there’s this feeling of danger which I love, because he’s good enough to fuck with you and heighten what’s going on, so again, it’s like there’s an all-seeing, omnipotent being watching over the show and pushing you to play better. Oh, and he also appreciates and respects good theatre. So he knows how to push the boundaries of what’s possible.” – Isaac Kessler
“Mark Andrada puts a huge amount of effort into making sure Mantown is the best [show] it can be every month. We throw a lot at him and he’s never complained, been frustrated or unreliable.
Just this last Mantown, we had a pre-recorded insult that was supposed to show up in our second audience interaction game. We assumed the audience was going to have a hard time reading a joke we had written down and we could play the recorded “T-T-Today junior” from Billy Madison. However, Rob Baker got a little confused while explaining a game in the first half of the show and instantly Mark Andrada played the insult and it was perfectly timed and unexpected. The audience blew up with laughter and Rob Baker blushed, as he does.” – Adam Cawley
And there you have it. A great tech person listens, watches, pushes, and plays, shaping and heightening what’s happening, and lifting the performers, the audience, and the show.
It’s a demanding and often thankless task, so let’s show them some appreciation. For all those who do it, week after week, in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, LA, London, and beyond, this one’s for you…