If you’d been sitting in the mid-orchestra section of the Beaumont on a Wednesday afternoon this week, an hour before My Fair Lady’s curtain, here’s what you would have observed: a half-dozen ushers, sitting in the aisles, slipping inserts into Playbills; Michael Williams, the production’s dance captain, at the back of the stage, taking a new cast member through the steps of a musical number; and a technician in the orchestra pit, tuning a piano.

The bulk of the preparation, however, the hour-before tasks known as the “pre-set,” are undertaken by the production’s crew. To understand what that means, I made my way from the orchestra seats to a small office, just offstage in the wings.

Paul Smithyman, LCT’s production manager, was there, and he provided a “pre-set” definition. “We check all the equipment, to make sure everything’s working. We check the speakers, the lighting. We run sound cues.”

And as if on cue, right at that moment I could hear the sound of the horses in the Ascot scene being run onstage.

Smithyman turned his attention to the set. “Before the performance, we have to put all the pieces at the right spot. Pieces stay where they are at the end of a show, and that’s probably not where they need to be at the beginning of the show.”

The “pre-set” also involves checking all the automation, including the Higgins Unit, which I wrote about in a previous blog entry. Patrick Merryman, the Beaumont’s Production Electrician, commented, “We hope that on any given day we don’t have an automation problem, because something like that can be tricky to fix fast.”

Merryman gave his own description of what’s involved in a “pre-set.” “If it moves, we have to make sure it’s moving right. We’re always tweaking something, and we’re glad we did, so it’s addressed before the show, not during the show. “

Smithyman said, “It would be an interesting exercise to count how many moving parts there are in My Fair Lady.”

I agree, but I think I’ll save that toting up for a future blog entry.


Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com