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15 February, 2011

Working on Vancouver Island as a theatre tech, you get used to a wide variety of houses: the Erector-set thing that is the arena stage, pouring out of trucks, throwing steel links into the sky; the spacious mid Seventies modernity of the Cowichan, where the temporary soon becomes a twenty-year fixture; the Macpherson’s strange lobby, tacked-on fly systems, and humorous allusions to wings; the Belfry’s awesome maze of studios, shops, storage spaces, offices, and stairwells (and excellent sit-down light grid…); the frightening improvisations of some of the more isolated or amateur houses.

The crown jewel, though, is the Royal Theatre. One of the last few hemp houses in North America, using tall-ship style belaying pins and sandbags, clove-hitched wooden battens, and a great deal of muscle power in place of the arbor counterweight system found in newer spaces, the Royal gives even the lowliest grip-carpenter a new appreciation for ropework.

For the flyman, it’s a journey back in time (check out the FB gallery). Tying off five or ten lines to a belaying pin, figure eight, then again, half-hitch on the last turn over the pin; grunting pieces out to “show out” so as to counterweight them. Catching a nap on a nest of sand bags, while the carpenters and lighting types haggle over use of the deck.

Holding the pin while someone lets a set piece in, lest the lines, running around the pin, rotate it out of the rail.

Wearing gloves. Ditching the gloves. Putting the gloves back on. Discovering that the palms were worn glassy smooth on that last pull. Ditching gloves for a final time, resolving to bleed rather than let the line slip. Wishing you got enough fly calls to develop calluses, and some actual ability with the lines.

Trying to remember the order of the lines: white short, green short-centre, red centre, blue long-centre, and black long-line. Hoping that, today, neither you, nor some carp, will sky one of the lines, running it through the blocks, and requiring someone to amble about on the grid re-threading everything.

Fighting with elderly cast trim blocks; steampunk-tinged devices: two pieces, one with five channels and a clip-off point for sandbags, the other with five sets of paired, sprung teeth; the two being held together with nasty, eternally stripped bolts and wing nuts.

Discovering that some hundred-pound bags weigh more than others. Playing “guess the weight” with the old-pattern unmarked bags.

The place is outrageously cool to work in.

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