There is nothing quite like being in New York City during the holidays — Rockefeller Center, the Macy's windows, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Time Warner's stars display. The song even says so: “It's the most wonderful time of the year. With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, ‘Be of good cheer.’” Humbug! I know that I sound like the Grinch, but this is the time of the year that everyone starts sharing colds and competitively making claims that they've got the most dysfunctional family unit ever.
One of the more egregious violations of my holiday season peace is the age-old tradition of trimming the tree. By early December, I had already been rope-a-doped into trimming two Christmas trees, neither one mine. The second host had the common decency to make a party out of the ordeal and have the tree prepped with lights. My first trimming was not so smooth and involved family, who naturally insist that I should install the lights on the tree, which just shows how out of touch with me they really are. I don't physically install anything on full productions, much less in my personal life, so why they think that I'm a good candidate for putting lights on a tree is beyond me. Regardless, this all just makes tree trimming the worst one-off production of the year for me.
One-offs are interesting productions and an area that I've always enjoyed mainly because they come with specific challenges, not the least of which how fast-paced they tend to be. There are exceptions to the rule, but you normally don't get much rehearsal time on a one-off production, and this leads to a frustration. The level of quality that you're able to provide is usually proportional to the amount of time you have and, by nature, the one-off usually doesn't offer much time. With this in mind, flexibility of both attitude and console layout tends to rule the day.
A great attitude is key, especially given the crammed schedule and fast pace of the average one-off. You'll find that positivity is contagious and keeps things moving along. The other keys to success on these productions are your playback options. One-offs tend to offer the potential for playback disaster due to the lack of rehearsal time. The shows run sort of loosely, so the more playback options you have, the better your chances are for success.
I often see concert touring directors excel at this because they tend to have a good knowledge of laying out cues on a console that allows them to “busk” the show — basically piecing the show together using all available physical playbacks, as opposed to playing back the show as a single cue list. These guys find themselves in one-off situations quite often, so they're usually really good at laying out consoles in this way. There's no wrong or right way to do it unless you can't pull it off when you're sitting at the helm. It's a personal type of layout, and it often involves the operator's muscle-memory of where he/she will instinctively reach when in need of something specific.
Choice of equipment also plays a major role in one-off shows, not as much in terms of the actual lighting fixtures or projectors but more so with console and media server choices, both of which are best chosen by the people who will be operating them and not necessarily by the designer. Trust your programmers when it's time to specify the console and media servers. In many cases, they'll want a console that offers the most physical playback faders/buttons and a media server that…well, there's a lot that comes into play when choosing a media server. Some prefer a server that can cross-fade movies on a single layer so that you can jump out of a cueing sequence seamlessly, while others prefer servers with on-board cueing capability that doesn't require a console for playback. Still others will just want a server that can import and playback QuickTime movies quickly to expedite last-minute changes in show content. Sadly, no media server currently offers all of these options in one package. Hopefully, someone in the manufacturing end will read this and change that.
When the house lights finally go down, there is little you can do other than your best. You simply have to hope that you've done the best preparation you could in the limited time you had and be on constant alert for the surprises that will inevitably pop up. Just keep smiling your way through the show, and roll with the punches. In most instances, you'll come out relatively unscathed, despite the best efforts of the production Grinches who are bound to descend from the top of Mount Crumpit and land their ramshackle sleighs downstage center.