The Superior Award that Almost Wasn’t

As the drama club competes for its 14th straight superior award at the State One-Act Play Festival, junior Caden Lefler recounts a tense moment from last year, when a lighting malfunction pushed the club within seconds of disqualification.

By Caden Lefler

It was a brisk, icy morning in Aberdeen, South Dakota, when we took the trailer over to the venue to unload our things. When going to the State One-Act Play Festival, we don’t take much. Lights, props, and costumes. Four of us began to unload the trailer into the cluttered shop. Today was performance day. Everything was ready to go, the countdown to show time had begun.

We were to take the stage on Friday at two, but the One-Act Festival began that Thursday, so we rehearsed Bavaria twice that day in preparation. Everything was running smoothly, rehearsal was going great, the festival was alive and thriving, and we were ready for showtime. The lights crew and I had made sure we wrapped everything up nicely in their cases so they could easily be unwound and set up when we took the stage.  We spent weeks pre-planning how set-up and tear-down would go. Everyone knew their job by heart to ensure efficiency and speed, which was essential, because when performing a State One-Act, each school is allotted only forty-five minutes. That includes set-up, performance, and tear down. We had practiced a set-up time of seventy seconds and a tear down under sixty. We thought we would clear the time limit with no issues.

lighting bavaria
Bavaria used intricate lighting.

The dash read 11:45 as we pulled up to the loading dock of the venue. Icicles hung from the railings, and snow covered the concrete. We entered the building through the scene shop and greeted the technical director of the venue. We began loading the set into the shop. Once inside the lights crew and I got to work removing the lights and their cables from the road-cases and lining them up in an orderly fashion. We checked all connections and cables to ensure a smooth run-through. The actors arrived a few hours later and began warming up and getting into costume. Around then a few members of the lights crew and I finally got a chance to see the lights board which I would be running in less than an hour. I was immediately disappointed when I saw the layout of the lights, but I studied it knowing there was nothing to be done. We then returned to the back-stage area in preparation for showtime.

Behind the scenes anxiety built in all of us as the backstage crew watched the timer deplete.

Now it was time. We stood behind the line in the doorway. Once we crossed it the timer would start. I was part of the team that took the “Moving-Head” lights to the front of the stage. After I set my light fixture down I was to sprint out the backstage door, around the theatre to the front door, and into the lights’ booth. I was able to make it by the time the other technicians should have been done with set up. I awaited the flicker of the front stage lights to signal backstage was ready. But as time ticked away, I waited. And waited. Minutes passed. And then the lights’ booth door was suddenly thrown open and Mr. Speck burst in, yelling, “The lights are out!”

We were eight minutes into our time before raising the curtain. I was told that the lights would not turn on and I would need to run the show with overhead lighting only. I was overtaken by a solemn state of mind and did not speak for the rest of the show. I was locked in concentration. The show itself went as planned, and, to the audience, everything was going well. Behind the scenes, however, anxiety built in all of us as the timer depleted. While the last measure of the final song played I slammed the blackout button and bolted to the stage. When I left the lights booth, the timer read forty-five seconds. I burst onto the stage to find it almost bare. I was able to help Ross Oyler drag the rest of his things out, and we crossed the line with only seconds to spare.

Bavaria earned a Superior Show award, the 13th in a row for Central High School. We received great notes from the judges and made a final note for ourselves as we loaded the trailer to return to Rapid: we noticed one of the cords had been stripped, exposing wire, likely halting the electrical current and causing the lighting malfunction.

Looking back, I don’t know how I remained so calm in the midst of chaos. It truly was a team effort. Now, as we make our way to Brandon Valley to perform our 14th original one act, Belfast, I am thinking of more possible interruptions that could prohibit a smooth run through. This year the crew and I took all the precautions necessary, and then some. With a new light design, and a new start, I think we will be okay. Regardless, Belfast is a powerful and beautiful piece of theatre that will move every soul who sees it, with or without digital lights.

crew bavaria
The Superior Winning Cast and Crew of Bavaria.

One thought on “The Superior Award that Almost Wasn’t

  1. I was in the audience that day in Aberdeen. It was tense, as the audience, even those familiar with the show did not know what was wrong. It was a testimony to the trust Mr Speck and Mr Lore have in these young thespians. They sat. They did not run in to rescue, but rather waited as the team saved the show. Well trained. Well done.

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