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A whole new world

By: Peter Yao

My daughter Cana, a 14-year-old freshman, became interested in theater production since she took a theater course at school. Cana and her classmates produced a show of their own by overcoming a lot of obstacles, not the least of which was COVID. Intrigued by the fun she had, she wanted to further explore the theater world and surprised me by getting a volunteering opportunity from a new theater company named StoneSoup for a production of the Broadway musical Into the Woods. She got a theater tech volunteer position – lighting design assistant.

In preparation, she faithfully attended almost every rehearsal or set building session in August.

However, with the show dates approaching fast, the company still couldn’t find a lighting designer. Since everyone was impressed by her dedication, she was promoted to the lighting designer, even though she was equipped with zero knowledge about how professional lighting worked. Luckily, they found a mentor for her just for tech week, the one hectic week coordinating the play’s tech.

Diving headfirst into the show production, Cana dragged me into a new world of worry, fear and wonder within two weeks!

First, I was in constant fear that Cana might get hurt. The venue was the Forest Theater, a hillside amphitheater built in 1916. It was surrounded by trees, a good match for the show but it was dark with no lighting. Moreover, there were huge sharp stone stairs all over the place.

Not only was it easy to fall from the stairs in the dark, Cana also had to climb up tall ladders to set up lights, something she hadn’t even done under normal circumstances. One night, like watching a horror movie, I saw Mark, the tech director, falling from the stairs with a thump and a cry in pain. It was several days before he finally recovered. After that, my heart was always in my throat whenever I saw Cana climbing the ladder in the dark. It’s not an easy task to fight my urge to save her from the peril and send her home. Fortunately, she made it through safely, probably because I kept threatening her that this would be her last show if she got hurt.

Second, I was always worried that Cana was not getting enough sleep. She had school during the day and they had three tech rehearsals and six shows, which usually lasted between 5PM to midnight. Even worse, she had to make up a couple days for swimming. On the night of tech rehearsal, I told Cana we had to leave at 10:30 PM since she had swimming at 5AM the next morning. Little did I expect that I was summoned by the director telling me Cana should stay till the end. I had to yell at her that no opportunity was good enough for Cana to get killed. The director finally relented and let her go.

Throughout the tech week, I witnessed total chaos -- audio broke intermittently, Wi-FI for lighting kept dropping, actors forgot their scripts, and everyone was stressed and tired! Three times I had to help Cana find misplaced equipment. There was no chance that it would work, I thought to myself! Then came the opening night, when somehow magic happened! The beautiful songs, the lively music, the fun performance, and of course the colorful lighting, all came together, making the opening night a great success. Watching Cana smiling ear to ear after the show, I was overcome by a surge of relief and pride! It was worth it!

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