Ah, the tech table — my home away from home. When I am working on a show, and we are about to go into tech rehearsals, I always try to spend an hour or two organizing all the stuff that I like to have at my table. Aside from my trusty PowerBook, I usually bring my Apple MightyMouse and mouse pad (you never know what kind of surface the table will actually be), a blank yellow legal notepad, and plenty of pens (I like the ultra-fine point Sharpies). Other gadgets and gizmos that I usually have in my “tech kit” include a Kensington USB Flylight, because you never know when you will need a little extra light on the table, my digital camera (I currently use a Canon PowerShot G6), my external portable Firewire hard drive, and lots and lots of bottled water!
I asked some of the top names in projection design today what kind of gear they like to bring along. Designer Jake Pinholster brings a spill- and impact-resistant Western Digital USB hard drive (a very smart idea, since the tech table is often both your office and dinner table), which he preloads with stock footage and focus/calibration utilities. He also uses his iPod with an iTalk voice recorder to take notes when he is working without an assistant.
Sage Carter usually packs at least two six-port power strips in her bag to make sure there are enough outlets at her table. She almost always has a minimum of two computers at her table: one for research and manipulation of imagery, and one for rendering. Carter also always brings a bag of miscellaneous adapters and cables. As she says, “Whenever I forget it, I need it.” She and Jake both pack Wacom drawing tablets in their kits.
If you are lucky, at some point, you will have the honor of employing Paul Vershbow to program your show, as many of the designers I spoke to have. They all say to bring the same thing for his tech table: “M&Ms — plain, not peanut.” Vershbow agrees and says he also likes to have plenty of lights on the table, wide tabs for cueing the script, and yellow big mechanical pencils.
A high-speed Internet connection was on everyone's list. Don't have the perfect image for the scene? One can search and buy stock imagery on the web right from the tech table. Elaine McCarthy also uses her connection to run Skype (www.skype.com), a VoIP application, and run a webcam.
Ruppert Bohle uses an Auravision Eluminx keyboard with his Shuttle PCs. It boasts bright LED backlighting to improve the keyboard's visibility in a dark theatre. Bohle also packs his compact Canon Lide30 scanner for last-minute image capture.
In addition to computer hardware, actual hardware also manages to find its way into many kits. “I'm usually doing something silly like butchering a microwave to stuff a TV inside of it,” Pinholster tells me, so he carries a Leatherman Surge. Carter keeps a little screwdriver/pliers set with her to be prepared for all kinds of repairs.
The hottest topic of discussion at many tech tables is food. The tech rehearsal is like a veritable buffet. Each table is laden with different treats. When I work with Wendall Harrington, I can always look forward to her bringing a slew of great organic produce from a local farm near her home in upstate New York. Carter likes to keep a protein bar around “for emergencies.” Trail mix, chocolate covered raisins, popcorn, and chocolate bars are on many lists. And above all else, everyone (including me) likes to have coffee around, although I think Carter spoke for many of us when she told me, “It generally gets cold before I finish it.”
I am currently considering bringing a small printer to keep at my table. Since most of us have little USB keydrives, it is easy to shuttle around a cue sheet and print it wherever we can. Many times, the stage manager has a printer for updated script pages, but I am starting to think it would be helpful for me to be able to print things like notes, cue lists, and contact sheets of images right at my table. I am currently looking into two portable printers and will report back in a future installment of the Toolbox with my findings.
All in all, I think that the underlying concept I learned from my quest was that one can never be too prepared for any tech table situation, including those involving low blood sugar.
Got a problem that you need solved or a cool trick that you'd like to share? Looking for a recommendation on hardware or software? Email Zachary@Borovay.com.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS COLUMN:
Western Digital: www.wdc.com