I have often found that good design decisions can always be dissected after the fact, but seldom before. Development of the act 2 fly cues is a case in point.
Act 2 of John Conklin’s La Boheme is unique. He designed 7 flying scrims and doors and 2 sets of hanging lamps. These flying pieces work with a large rolling unit up stage right (Café Momus) and 2 free standing posters. The total effect is a collage of Toulouse-Latrec posters plastered on a wall that matches the joy and diversity of the bohemians.
The scene can be set in many different ways. I was fortunate to be able to watch a piano tech of act 2 without lights. Garnett Bruce, our director, turned to me right before the rehearsal started and asked me if I would think about the fly cues. He turned around and we started the rehearsal. The tech started with just about all of the pieces in view, at their low trim. My first jolt was that I was not looking at a night scene, as written by Puccini, but at the Bohemian’s world of art, joy, and laughter, mixed in with a little jealousy and heartache. My next thought was that the Bohemians bring this world with them.
My scheme started with the Café Momus. The 2 free standing posters and the Paris street scene on the scrim backdrop alone, made for a beautiful night scene. As I watched the rehearsal I started to make notes about which scrim should fly in and when. All of these cueing moments were based on action on stage such as Schaunard’s entrance, Colline and the coat, Mimì and the hat. We found later that these moments were also spot on musical. Dispel the night and bring on the light!
Au vista fly cues have to be handled with exact timing and a skillful fly crew. My hat is off to Pat, our head flyman. We provided the timing. My hat is off to us, too, for that matter. We were finally completed by the time the Bohemians entered the Café. We were no longer in a Paris night, but in a world of light – the Bohemians world.
Magic time in the theater. We set the cues in a lighting rehearsal and then ran them while listening to a CD I asked that each of the fly cues be slow. It was better than I ever imagined, smiles all around. At one point while setting these cues we heard somebody practicing on a piano in the lobby. They were working on act 2, about 10 measures behind us. This situation could have been very confusing, but I suddenly understood that the cueing, slower than the music, could not quite catch up to the musical world of the Bohemians. Nothing could catch up to them that night.
I, like the Bohemians, had a blast!