(ED: David Perreault Ninacs is one of our finest lighting designers—his most recent work was Medea for Scapegoat Carnivale—and teaches design at the National Theatre School. CharPo is enormously pleased to be sharing his essay on one day in his life.)
Monument National; 4:30pm; National Theater School of Canada (N.T.S.);
2nd year students’ Central project, day number eight.
“Central’’, as it is commonly called, is the major project that fills the second year’s student syllabus for the production program at N.T.S. It consists of every student in the class having to be director, designer (sound, lights, costume, set and props), production manager, technical director, stage manager, sound and lighting board operator. Everyone changes their role every day for number of days that there are students in the class. ‘’MADNESS ! ‘’ you might say and correct you would be. The project is designed to help the student understand every part of the creation process and its production as well as to help her or him learn about the pressures that accumulate on everybody’s shoulders during the course of the aforementioned processes.
As a second year student at N.T.S., you are asked to be a workable technician and execute the actions that director, designer (sound, lights and set), production manager, technical director and stage manager need done in order for the show to go on. ‘’Central’’ is an evaluation of what they have learned (from teachers, show experience and on their own) as well as being a week-long rehearsal for the year to come when the students will have to handle those same production roles by themselves. The project also involves the student in a more complex social dynamic than that the one they were in up to now. They now have to personally face up to the (major or minor) consequences of their decisions (and, in fact, learn that they have to MAKE decisions) and to face up to other people in the production pyramid; in this case, their classmates. So it is a team building exercise as well… Ok, call it group therapy ! They hopefully will discover that being a better person will make the whole process easier and more productive for all involved.
Every year the quantity and the quality of the work offered by the students are as different as every class is different. It can be a reassuring test that helps the group identify the strengths and weaknesses of all its members and give the class confidence about the future or it can also be a wall-hitting cold-shower that shows the student/class how much work and learning there is still left to do for them (let me underline wall-hitting and all it stands for). It truly is theatre boot-camp. No professional I know would accept to spend a week in such a difficult setting, or maybe just as a training exercise. It is a physically grueling and emotionally demanding project that, as any other boot-camp, will certainly weed out the people for whom theatre and its stage crafts are not a passion. It is a lot like life, in the sense that the tools the students will work on (communication, prioritizing, setting and respecting deadlines, accepting responsibility for your actions and common sense) are the ones they will need to go farther.
I have to go, my 8th consecutive cue to cue is starting…