Three Keys for a Successful Tech Rehearsal

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This article was originally published at ChurchProduction.com

Just when you think you have it all under control, they change the game. You have been mixing the Sunday morning services and specials. You accommodate the occasional guest musician or evangelist swinging a guitar around. You are getting pretty good at this stuff. But then…. Someone decides we need a major production, like a Christmas show. Great. Now what do I do?

Once you finally understand what it takes to get through a soundcheck, you get a whole new laundry list of random foolishness that looks just like a stage production. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath and make a plan. Let’s cover some of the critical bases for an effective tech rehearsal.

One. Get your cast involved.
Most of the people involved in this production don’t even know which end of a microphone to sing into. Part of your job is to calmly and patiently teach them as much as they need to know. Don’t sit the cast down and explain ohms law or amp load calculations. Just cover the basics.

We need mics to carry our voices into the audience. Try to project your voice like there is no mic.
The mics have limitations. They can’t be buried under costumes. They can’t be worn more than a few inches away from your mouth.
They need good batteries to work right. Let them know what the indicator lights mean.
We can’t mix them up, know your mic and use it. That mic is your precious.
They need to know about mute switches and placement. If the mute switch is on, there’s nothing you can do for them.
They need to know how to put it on and take it off. Exactly how and where to clip it.
They need to know when and where to meet anyone sharing that mic. That’s part of your plan.

That’s about all the information they need. Don’t make it sound complicated or they will assume they can’t understand. Then you are stuck. Don’t talk to the cast like they are beneath you. Don’t search for big words to impress them. This is the time to put the event ahead of your ego. Showing off how super intelligent you, are and how ignorant they are, is not going to help that.

They need you to make the tech side as simple as possible. Like I was told a few months ago… If you can’t explain something in simple terms, it’s probably because you don’t really understand it. Just a thought.

Two. Get your crew involved.
Do not assume that you will grow extra arms prior to the show. The cloning process isn’t ready, yet, either. You will need help. Whenever possible, draft other techs for the critical stuff. Pull from the more responsible kids in the youth group for runners. You will be very thankful you did.
I almost ruined a major Christmas show, because I took on too much responsibility. Yep. Read the Separation of tech and stage article.

The idea of asking for help is foreign to most of us. As if there isn’t already enough wrong with anyone choosing to be a tech, we are kinda stupid about how we do it. Asking those kids from the youth group to help with a production is about them, too. Not just you, admitting you can’t handle it all. It’s creating an opportunity for them to get involved and take some level of ownership. It might just be the way you find your next protege.

Anyone who spent time on the road with me knows that this wasn’t my nature. I loved mixing live music. The shows, with bands I loved, made it all worth the effort. But. Corporate gigs were my addiction. I loved the tight budget corporate shows. It was like being in complete control of a space shuttle launch, my blood was pumping.

Projectors, with videos, live camera feeds, titles and transitions. Podium, lavaliere, audience response and Voice of God microphones. Stinger tracks, house music, sound effects. Lighting, movers, blinders. Me sitting in a cockpit surrounded by the mixer, lighting console, switcher, CD and DVD players, laptops and receivers. Not to mention dozens of empty coffee cups. That was my adrenaline laced, chosen land. I loved being in absolute control of the entire event.

Hands waving in the air, laughing maniacally. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein creating life. Yep. Crazy people in this business.

When you are a well paid road dog, they expect you to manage that much stuff from time to time. When you are the lead tech for a church, you shouldn’t have to. In fact, as the church guy, you need to be getting folks involved. To a certain extent, your mission includes training up volunteers. It helps people take ownership of their church. They get to be a part of something. Don’t hog it all for yourself. A great pastor once told me something that has been with me for years.

Success, without a successor, is ultimately failure.

If you aren’t pouring yourself into the next generation, all is lost once you move on. In some ways, that’s even more important than pulling off another flawless show. Keep that in mind.

Three. Get yourself involved.
I love it when my plans come together. When we started with a plan and ended with success, it was a great feeling. Knowing that we were experienced and wise enough to figure out what we wanted, and make a map to get there was awesome.

You have to be on the same page with the director and producer. Ours is a ministry and mission of support. It’s not our show. It’s a show we are going to run like it’s ours, even though it isn’t. We will take control and run this thing. But, only after we know exactly what they want to happen.

When I was training church techs, I spent more time on the principles than on tech. Ours is a work of translation. Our mission is to take whatever is in the pastor, worship leader or director’s imagination and make it real. We take whatever they are envisioning and give life to it. We have to make their vision jump off the stage and into the audience. That’s your challenge. That’s the skill. That’s where you find excellence.

I got a reputation, from some church members, for being a “bubble buster.” They would dream up these elaborate plans that involve impossible productions, and I would explain what it took to make them happen. To me, I was simply trying to drag some reality into the conversation. To them, I was a big jerk who was trying to make things more difficult.

Sorry. When a human life is at stake, I have to say something. When some flamboyant direct waves their hands around, envisioning swinging someone out over the audience, I want to know the details. That’s a lot of rigging and rehearsal to consider. There’s a million things that can go wrong. I just want to know how it’s going to be done. Something like that doesn’t just “work itself out.” Sometimes, jerks like us, are the only voice of reason. They won’t hear it if you live like Quasimodo in your booth and never participate.

I guess the point here, is this. All that amazing technical knowledge you have in your head, has to come out to benefit everyone. If you are determined to hide in the shadows and just mix whatever is handed to you, you are missing out. The real work and satisfaction is outside the booth. They need you involved on the stage from time to time. Some poor idiot may get dropped in the audience if you aren’t involved. Some other clown is going to wander into the bathroom with a mic that wasn’t muted. Some kid may never get the chance to figure out that they want to be a tech.

Get involved. Get them involved. Get yourself involved. It’s the only way to make it a complete success.

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