Shanghai, China – Lighting the Show

My first trip out of the country was to China.  I was going on tour with my friend Brett Daniels’ show and we were scheduled to be in Shanghai and to travel to several other large cities to perform for about two months.

You can imagine how many stories and eye-opening experiences that you can have living and working in a foreign country for that long.  I’ll tell you this right now…you get a much different experience than tourists do when you are living and working alongside the locals for months at a time.  Being on that tour gave me a perspective of life in China that I never would have gotten if I had just visited for a few days.

One of my most memorable experiences was right before the show opened.  We had arrived several days earlier and had been busy building props and preparing show equipment.  We were only about a day or two away from opening night and we had just spent the last three days getting very little sleep while we lit the show.

Basically, in order to light a large illusion show you have to go from cue to cue with the lightboard operator and have him program which lights are supposed to be on and which lights are supposed to be off for every single cue.  While you go through this crazy long process you are also making sure the lights are focused properly and aren’t giving away any of the secrets.  This also means that all of the performers have to be onstage in order to make sure the lights are lighting everyone correctly.

So, we had just finished lighting the show late the night before and we were at the arena getting ready to go through our first rehearsal.  As we started the rehearsal we quickly noticed that none of the lighting cues were being hit.  All of the performers and technicians were in the right spots in the right moments and yet, the lights didn’t look anything like the were supposed to look.

My first thought was that we would have to put a translator at the lightboard to help the operator know when each cue was supposed to happen.  But things started to get weird when Brett asked the guy to show us the first light cue.  When he pulled up the first cue it didn’t look anything like it looked when we initially programmed it a few days before.  The same was true with the second and third light cues.  This didn’t make any sense.

We finally figured out that the lightboard operator had been making manual notes of which lights were supposed to be on at which times and he was expecting to turn on each light manually at the proper moment.  In other words, he hadn’t programmed the lightboard!  And this was for a grand illusion show that had more than a hundred light cues!

You have to keep in mind that we had spent days programming the lightboard with the correct cues and the show was scheduled to open, basically, the next day!  I thought I was going to lose my mind because I knew what this meant…

You see, when you are in an arena in China and a lot of people (including the government) have spent a lot of money, you are going to open the show on the date that you have set.  There isn’t any room for negotiation.  In any normal world, we would have postponed our start date and spent the next several days re-programming the lightboard.  In the crazy world of China that I was living in, we had a day to get the show launched successfully.  So, what did that look like you ask?

I’ll tell you what it looked like.  It looked like we got zero sleep that night or the next day after we were already suffering from sleep deprivation.  It also looked like we got no time to rehearse the show.  We did do a cue to cue rehearsal so that the lighting guy would at least have us, more or less, in the right cues at the right times.  And he actually programmed the board this time!

Thank goodness that Brett, his crew, and his team of dancers were crazy talented and ridiculously good at what we did.  I remember that afternoon, several hours before the show, we were all looking at each other, seeing a roomful of zombies, and there seemed like there was zero chance of having a successful show.  But we rallied.  And we rallied big time.

That night, when the arena filled full of dignitaries, special guests, VIPs, and audience members, the adrenaline started to flow because we knew this was our moment of truth.  We had flown halfway across the world and had spent nearly a week preparing.  If this show didn’t go well, the whole tour was at stake.

Our rallying cry, and the thing that pushed us through our deliriousness, was something that I had said a few days earlier…”Let’s knock this bitch out!”  And that is exactly what we did.  We kicked that bitch-of-a-show square in the teeth!  Was the show perfect?  Probably not.  But was it an outstanding show considering that it looked impossible to do just a few hours before?  Absolutely!

I learned a lot on my first trip to China.  One of the biggest things that I learned, that has helped me tremendously throughout the rest of my life, was that I could accomplish anything.  I learned that no matter how big the challenge that I was facing at any point in time was, that I could attack it head on and come out victorious.  And I learned that when I am facing something that looks truly impossible to overcome that I should lower my shoulder, walk firmly into the fire, and “knock that bitch out”!

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