When it comes to After School Activities (ASAs), the students of the International School of Lausanne have over a hundred to choose from: from art, beekeeping and chess, to volleyball, watercolour and yoga, there is something for every passion.

For the members of the Auditorium Tech & Backstage Team ASA, this passion lies in learning the process of bringing a production or event to life in ISL’s state-of-the-art, 400-seat auditorium. Working in the control room and coordinating with production directors or event organisers, the crew learn how to operate professional industry-standard audio visual equipment, and use 4K video cameras to ensure that the magic is captured for the performers to keep afterwards as souvenirs.

Keep reading for a sneak peek behind the scenes of the technical team that helped to create ISL’s recent dazzling production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream… (All photographs taken during the play’s final dress rehearsal.)

“And sleep, that sometime shuts up sorrow’s eye, Steal me a while from mine own company.” William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

For anyone seeking sanctuary from their own company, or refuge from the drear and dark of the cold November nights, the solution was to escape into the world of comedy and magic in ISL’s vibrant production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Directed by Mr Fessler (Teacher of Drama), and performed by International School of Lausanne High School students, Mr Fessler’s vision of Shakespeare’s Athenian forest, and its inhabitants from the fairy and human world, was a razzle dazzle of rave dance, black-light make-up, and inventive props, including a jazzy cocktail bar, olive trees strung with fairy lights and hammocks, and a set of mix-decks dominating the stage as its centrepiece. (Puck was DJ, in case you were wondering…)

Playing a key role in the performance was the very meta soundtrack itself, with witty narrative-enhancing song choices chosen by Mr Fessler, ranging from Metallica’s Enter Sandman (as Puck applies potion to the sleeping lovers’ eyes), to pulsating dance beats that, combined with strobe-style lighting, plunged the characters into dynamic nightclub settings at various points throughout the play. Mr Fessler had given particular consideration to the diverse cultural context of the play’s intended audience when curating the soundtrack:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play I have always wanted to work on, but it can be trapped in a sense of ‘otherworldliness’ that makes it hard to relate to. I thought the idea of a dream fitted with partying, music and losing one’s self, and so the nightclubs of Athens and The Forest were born. I also really wanted to use music to underscore key moments and help the story be communicated to an international audience who might find the language challenging; the soundtrack therefore became a vital part of the storytelling.” (Mr Fessler)

Mr Fessler praised his cast for how well they coped with the demands of learning how to effectively deliver the original Shakespearean dialogue, revealing that “the secret is to trust Shakespeare, as the words are chosen so well that if the actors commit to the sounds, the meaning emerges.”

Meanwhile, the complexities of the production’s sound and lighting demands meant that while the actors honed blocking and performance, the Auditorium Tech & Backstage Team were kept busy behind the scenes, programming software and coordinating cues with the cast and director.

For Mr Capes, who has been ISL’s Audio Visual Technical Coordinator since 2015, managing the auditorium and recording studio spaces, and running audio visual for events throughout the campus, the “ultimate highlight” of his role is working with the student tech team.

“There is a really strong sense of camaraderie; we have a great time and good laughs working together, and I can really see that they are motivated and fascinated by the tech stuff – when they do something in the control room and see the result happen on stage, it’s pretty special. They get a real sense of achievement from these events.”

There is a lot to learn for the members of the Auditorium Tech & Backstage Team. ISL’s auditorium control booth is equipped with professional industry standard audio visual equipment, including a digital audio console, Sony video mixer, Panasonic video projectors, and ETC lighting console. There is a full range of theatrical lighting fixtures, including moving lights, lasers and smoke machines.

“The really dedicated students get stuck in; there is no limit to how much they learn: as much as they want to learn, they can.” (Mr Capes)

An integral part of the control room is the QLab software installed on a Mac computer – the same software used by The Royal Shakespeare Company itself. Mr Capes compares this powerful software to “the brain of the control room; and the ASA team is the little voice of consciousness that programmes it, and then it sends signals to all the limbs.”

The QLab software communicates with the networked consoles and projector to trigger cues, with the programme timing carefully coordinated with the cast: “Add in sound cues, video cues, light cues; make sure that everything fires up in the right time and in the right place; fade ins, fade outs…” (Mr Capes)

The technical team students learn in after school sessions about the basics: different types of lighting fixtures, cables, microphone techniques, audio processing techniques, principles and fundamentals for sound and light…

“But where they really start to learn is in the events themselves – in ‘on the job’ training. It gives them real world experience, and puts them in a situation in which they are supported, but with the responsibility and possibility to experience the technical and backstage side of events.” (Mr Capes)

 For Rishan (Year 8), who was one of the show’s Camera Operators, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was just one of several ISL shows that he has worked with the tech team on, including the primary productions of Star Wars and Wonderland, and the secondary Battle of the Bands:

“It was fun last year, so I signed up again! Mr Capes supports everyone in the booth – light, sound, camera – and communicates with Clara, the stage manager, and the lighting crew. It’s great being a part of the team because you learn a lot of new things: everything that seems so complicated at the start, Mr Capes and the more experienced students teach us, and make things simple. Then, from understanding the simple things, you start to do more complicated stuff – but once you’ve done it, it seems simple too!”

There are a number of ISL students who have gone on to study audio or music, with an emphasis on the technical side, and several who are now developing careers in the industry. While Clara (Year 12) started the ASA as a hobby, as her passion and interest have grown, she too is now considering the possibility of pursuing a career in the music industry as a sound technician or studio manager. Meanwhile for Ben (Year 9), the team’s camera director, who already runs a successful YouTube channel, the role gives him the opportunity to develop skills related to his passion for film-making.

Reflecting on the key skills that the tech team acquire, Mr Capes believes that one of the most valuable things they learn is the importance of organisation.

“I try to give the team an idea of the overall objective and the level of organisation that will go into it; for them to recognise the amount of planning and technique that is involved in an event, which might not always be immediately apparent. Sometimes they get to see the difference between when we have enough time to organise something really well, versus times when, for a variety of reasons, we’ve had shorter schedules, and that’s when they can truly appreciate the difference organisation makes between a stressful event, and a smooth and relaxed one! At the same time, even the more stressful events give them the experience that they can handle challenging situations calmly by staying solution orientated.”

For both Rishan and Clara, the highlight of the show came after their hard work was finished. “The best bit was the end, when everything had gone well,” reveals Rishan, with Clara echoing his sentiments: “I’d say the best bit was the smiles we all shared at the end of the performance.”

Following the two successful performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Mr Fessler praised the professionalism of the Auditorium Tech & Backstage Team:

“The tech team were brilliant. There were a lot of sound and light cues, and it was particularly important to manage the sound so that the timing was on point, as well as adapting levels to ensure the actors could be heard. The best compliment I can ever give them is that we did not notice them during the performances, and they were bang on in all their decisions. Mr Capes, Finn (Year 11, projection) and Clara (Year 12, stage manager) were particularly important in supporting the production. Always solution-focussed and positive, they were a pleasure to work with!”

In addition to working with the tech team on events, Mr Capes particularly enjoys coordinating with ISL’s talented performers themselves – musicians, instrumentalists, singers, and dancers: “The older they get, the more focused and dedicated they are. When I see a student’s passion, it’s infectious, and I want to help them realise their performances on stage.”

Discussing the subject of our most recent ISL Alumni blog, Irene Kholeva, Mr Capes shared the video on the ISL YouTube channel of Irene’s interpretative dance to support the Black Lives Matter movement

The team’s commitment to capturing productions and performances on film not only provides those involved with a special souvenir, but also plays an important role in contributing to the ISL community. During the Covid pandemic, the technology became invaluable where this sense of community was concerned:

“In 2018, we bought three Panasonic 4K cameras and a video mixer, which was fortunate timing, as it was not long before the Covid pandemic and subsequent restrictions and remote learning. Having this technology meant that we were still able to maintain a sense of community and highlight student talent by having virtual performances and live streams, such as the Virtual Spring Concert, the “homeroom hustle” events like the Game Show and Just Dance competitions, and not to mention numerous virtual assemblies, all of which were livestreamed directly to classrooms.”

The Auditorium Tech & Backstage Team is just one of many After School Activities that give the students of the International School of Lausanne the opportunity to pursue talent, develop skills, and forge friendships. To encapsulate just how valuable these activities are, the last words must fall to Ben (Year 9):

“I felt that I was suddenly a part of the school; being new to the school, I had felt that I hadn’t contributed anything to the school yet, so participating in the A Midsummer Night’s Dream team helped me to do this. It made me feel more confident, and that I now belonged at the school. Everyone that participated in the play was extremely helpful and understanding. My older brother, Aedan, played the character of Oberon. I loved being able to see him act in the play so many times, and hang out with him and his friends. To anyone thinking of joining the tech team, I would say that it takes a lot of commitment, but it is completely worth it.”

Click on this link to see more of the Auditorium Tech & Backstage Team’s brilliant work on the ISL’s 2022 French play, Game Over / Replay. Keep scrolling for an image gallery from A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself.