The room jitters with excitement as undergraduate college students bustle into Ballroom B of the Kentucky International Convention Center. In a truly Arizona State University (ASU) fashion, we are hastily searching for our last team member to join us and sign up for the 2019 Tech Olympics minutes before the official start of the event. Earlier that morning, we rallied up a group of seven students from ASU with experience in lighting, rigging, sound, costumes, and props to participate in Tech Olympics.
What is Tech Olympics? It's an event where student teams compete in a timed series of events that are designed to challenge our skills in various disciplines involved in theatre production. Also, PURE CHAOS in one room.
Featured events this year were a solo lighting, knot tying, sound, and props event, as well as team competitions for stage management and the "mystery event" involving rigging. I have strong skills in rigging, so I only stood a chance in that event, but I'm seriously competitive and decided to try almost every event...
After haphazardly placing our items on a row of chairs, our team split off and began to tackle our individual strong suits. I hopped into the solo lighting challenge (which I planned to wing) and began to practice knots on our team mom's arm.
"Again," my friend demanded as I finished tying a sheet bend. I undid the knot and he began to count down, "Five, four, three, two, one... good, now faster." The lighting line inched forward, I skimmed through the rules and jumped into my first event.
Once finished, I dashed over to rigging knot station and tied four knots in 36 seconds! Unfortunately, I received a 5-second penalty for long tails on one knot, BUT I felt extremely accomplished with my time.
Afterward, my partner and I went over to tackle the "mystery event": rigging a truss with four slings and two bell shackles.
"Perfect," I thought, "I am a rigger for PSAV and I do this on the daily." Roping in my friend with no rigging experience, we talked out our strategy and created a plan of action.
Pouring the contents out of the bag and onto the floor, we quickly assembled the metal truss and hammered in the pins. As I finished the last connection point, my partner jumped to the table to begin setting up the bell shackles and checking which ones were rated (ALWAYS use rated shackles when rigging as a safety precaution), as well as separating the slings. Gripping the metal truss between my hands, I slammed the assembled mass of steel onto the table and scrambled to wrap the slings. We completed the challenge in 2:27 seconds!
Next, we took a stroll over to the sound area, the challenge I had been dreading the most. Why? Technically, I am a sound person in my theatre program but I didn't feel confident enough to set up a system successfully. What was the challenge? Set up a sound system with speakers, a microphone, and an iPod.
My head began reeling as my lighting friend ran through the set up of a console/ system. I nodded and watched as other individuals were competing in the event. With a false sense of confidence, I walked up to the starting line.
"Go," the judge said in a bland tone.
I sped walked to the board and began placing cables into the board, speaker, and power strip. I pulled out the microphone and began spinning knobs on the board, pushing buttons, and playing with faders.
"Hello... hel- Oh my god, it works!" I exclaimed as my voice rang through the speakers. My heart was bursting with pride with the success of part one of the sound set up. Next, I began connecting cables together in an attempt to get them to the iPod shuffle playing. Pressing buttons weren't working and faders didn't change anything. I kept hitting the play button on the iPod shuffle but nothing was coming out of the speakers.
"What am I doing wrong!? What am I missing?" kept flashing through my mind as the clock ticked.
"You have one minute," the judge said. I let out a sigh and turned on the mic.
"I would like to take this minute to thank everyone for coming out here....my adoring fans... the judges..." I joked. I accepted defeat and walked up to the judge.
"Can you please explain to me what I did wrong?" I asked (remember, learn from your mistakes). He walked me over to the board, scanned the knows, and showed me in one swift move that I forgot to turn on the stereo button to allow music to play through the speakers.
"Dang it," I exclaimed. Well, now I will never forget STEREO...
Lastly, my partner and I decided to tackle our last event: stage management. There were NO stage managers from ASU at USITT so we decided to wing it and it was a HOOT.
The judges handed me a piece of paper with a ground plan that we were supposed to tape down together. I scrambled to the table with the ground plan and began marking out dimensions with a scale ruler. As a technical director, I knew my way around a scale ruler and quickly began shouting out dimensions to my partner. Once completed, I grabbed a roll of spike tape and began to measure out stage left while my partner completed stage right.
"Oh no," I thought. My mind began to wonder if I had ripped my favorite pair of "Kim Possible" green pants, BUT THERE WAS NO TIME TO CHECK. I continued to rip spike tape and the judges and my team laughed as I ran out of tape in dismay. I raced to the table and was unable to finish taping the ground plan before the judges shouted, "TIME".
Defeated, I lied on the carpeted ground with my ripped pants and a partially taped out ground plan. It may not have been our best work, but we had fun doing it and we made the judges laugh.
The next day, I sat in the audience as the award ceremony commenced. Although we didn't prepare to win anything, anything at all, my lighting friend received second fastest sound set up and third overall technician! We roared with excitement when we heard his name called and we were overjoyed how successful our last minute sign up attempt at Tech Olympics ended up going.
We may not have had any training or prep, but everyone had fun and we showed other universities that they need to watch out for these ASU Sun Devils next time. Look out Houston, Texas because we're taking the USITT 2020 Tech Olympics by storm.
(Shoutout to James Spray for the photographs)