Friday, March 9, 2012

You Don't Detect Any Traps on the Door

This was a typical moment in the old paper-and-pencil D&D games.

"Have the thief look for traps on that door."

"Okay, I'm looking for traps. I rolled an 8."

"You don't detect any traps."

"Great, there's no traps on the door! Oh, wait. Or are there traps, but my roll was too low to detect them? Which is it?"

"You don't detect any traps."

"Damn. Hey, guys, can we let the Halfling open the door this time? I'm kinda low on hit points."

I am, right now, repairing wireless elements. All I know is that something failed in performance. It might have been a bad connection, RF interference, the element might have sweated out. All I know is the element was suspect and was removed for testing.

Right now, on the bench, it works just fine. I connect it up to a mic pack, connect my scanner or a spare receiver to speaker or headphones, and shake it, twist it, tap it, etc.

It appears to be working.

Does that mean it isn't broken? No. All it means is that any problems it may have were not detected at this time.

All in all, I prefer it when it fails. Because then, even though the job takes up to forty-five minutes of squinting through a magnifying lens and working with very small tools, I can try to fix it.

As it is, all I can do is wrap it up and put it in the list of "Tested, presumed working." Until it fails in the place you don't want it to fail...on an actor, in the middle of a scene.

But that is the nature of all equipment. And that is why you really don't want an honest answer from an engineer if you ask "Will this work for tonight's performance." Reality is that problems develop over time, and not all of them are predictable (if we could predict them, we'd have already fixed them). So we can't validate the notion of perfection. All we can state is that, in our experience and professional opinion, the chances are against anything failing on tonight's performance.

This is not what Stage Managers want to hear, of course. Which is why we too often have to fall back on the white lie of "We fixed it." And when something does fail down the road -- because something always will, and that is why we have a skilled sound crew, not a random volunteer, running the board -- management types are all too likely to point fingers and say "You PROMISED it wouldn't break!"

Remember, those weasel words are there for your protection.

"I didn't detect any traps on the door."

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