~what they are and how to survive them~
Cue-to-Cue: occurs before the tech run and dress rehearsal of a production. This is when the director (with the light and sound crew) set light and sound levels. Actors or 'bodies' may be asked to stand in certain areas onstage to ensure that they are properly lit, not standing in dark spots as well as delivering some of their lines to ensure any background noises (ie. thunder) does not overpower the actor's voice.
Tech Run: occurs after the cue-to-cue and before the dress rehearsal. This is when the actors go through the entire play with full energy, volume and at the proper speed for the benefit of the tech crew (commonly known as the 'techies' or 'techs'). The crew will ensure (or try to ensure) all light and sound cues are timed properly to coincide with the actions of the performers. Tech runs will include all light, sound effects, atmospheric effects (like fog) and music.
More often than not, a cue-to-cue will take hours to prepare for and sometimes days to get through. All set pieces need to be placed in their proper places to ensure they are properly lit and if the people at the back of the theatre setting the light levels are the same people moving the furniture around on stage, it can be a grueling task.
All actors can assume that a cue-to-cue will mean a lot of starting their lines or a scene and stopping, starting over, jumping ahead and skipping lines, a lot of standing around, moving around and waiting until the director wants you to do something or needs you to do something else. A cue-to-cue is similar to a traffic jam or a 30-car pile-up.
In order to get through a cue-to-cue and a tech run, the best advice I can give to actors is to SHUT-UP, LISTEN and do exactly what you're told to do WHEN you're told to do it. Do that, and you'll be fine :)
We all know how actors can get excited, carried away and lost in the magical world of the play they are in. During cue-to-cues and tech runs, it is imparative that all actors are patient and listen carefully to instructions in order to ensure a smooth and drama-free time.
It is also imortant to have fun! I can't say it enough! You can have fun and still listen for instructions from your director or the stage manager. If you have, for example, 30 actors onstage acting as pirates, the stage manager has informed them that they need to reset gunfire sound effects and it could take 5 minutes, the actors should have the freedom to laugh, giggle, make jokes and maybe sing some pirate songs in the meantime. I tip my hat to any director who can relax, laugh and encourage their cast to bond even if it's during a 5 minute black-out during a tech run.
Jokes always seem to come up during cue-to-cues and tech runs whether it's someone in the booth forgetting to let the actors know that the stage is about to be plunged into pitch darkness OR fail to warn them that a sound effect for a large explosion is about to go off, fun happens. As long as the techies, actors, crew and director can work together to communicate, express concerns and laugh; cue-to-cues and tech runs can be a wonderful experience during a production for all to remember.
*NOTE: Speaking from experience, if you are planning on holding or attending a cue-to-cue or tech run that will last longer than 3 hours - please organize a potluck lunch/dinner with all attending. This will ensure everyone is fed, no one gets cranky and forces everyone to take a break around the 3-hour mark when the brain begins to slow down. Everyone knows an actor with an empty stomache can only play "the dead guy".