Community, or the twelve people in Theatre

Our business is a small one.  Everyone always says "There are in only twelve people in the theater business." It's true.  No matter where the theater is, you know everyone. It's all one big, happy, dysfunctional family. We spend too much time and emotion in small, cramped spaces to get along all the time, but that also creates a bond unlike any office job. And in just like any family there are certain roles that have to be fulfilled. You'll find one in in every community of theater. I find these to be the most common archetypes found in the theatre world:

The maternal/paternal figure: This is the person who will find you the ibuprofen or tissues if you mention the slightest headache or stuffy nose. He or she will go out of their way to know everyone's name, preference in baked good, and hometown.  This is the first person to start a conversation in the green room over coffee. Usually this role is filled by a stage manager, or company manager. This person could be on the admin side of the team, but willing to sit through a long day tech to make sure everyone has what they need to produce their work.

The loveable jerk:  Yes, every theater has one.  Kind of like that Uncle that would throw you in the pool as a kid, then laugh about it.  But would also make the best hot chocolate at Christmas. This person usually has the surliest comeback, the dirtiest joke, and the best laugh in the room. Sometimes getting them to laugh is a tough job, but it's always worthwhile.  I find that this role is typically filled by either a technical director, props master or master electrician.  They work long hours, complain about it, but do it everyday all while trying to I hide the fact that they love every minute of it.

The whiz kid: kind of like that cousin that can fix anything; maybe it's a car, a computer, your dishwasher or your phone. They'll be able to fix it without a second thought.  Typically the youngest in the the group, this person is full of enthusiasm, and energy, usually willing to lend a hand. If the theater world, this is usually the sound guy, sometimes an electrician.  They always have gadgets and doodads that can measure, analyze and fix whatever you need.  Need a battery? They have a bucket of them.  Need that tiny screw driver for your glasses? They have five varieties.  Networking problem? They can fix it.

The fashion forward one: You know that cousin that always makes you feel like the ugly duckling?  The one you wanted to go to the mall with, because just being seen with them made you seem cooler? Yeah, we have those too.  They're usually costumers and props people.  They are sassy, snarky, and will tell you when you look like shit.  But, they are also the first to demand a dance party on a break, and tell you that you look fierce.  

The anti social one: there is a shy one in every family.  Theater has plenty too.  We all got into theater because we were the weird kids, so we're all anti social to a degree, but there is another level of shy.  This is the one who wants to be at the party, but quietly sitting in the corner watching.  The wall flower, the delicate daisy, and probably the nicest person you'll rarely talk to.  Sound folk usually fall into this category, sometimes it's lighting, and occasionally the younger stage management members are here too.  Take the time to say hi to your loveable introvert, they'll appreciate it on some level.

I started this post because I feel like everywhere I go, I meet different variations of the these types.  And it may sound like a bad thing, but it's really not.  I like to travel, and I like to work outside of NYC.  I prefer regional theater because I get to see other cities, try new foods, but most importantly, I know that when I leave each theater I'll walk away having a new family to visit. I get to be the cousin that you get to see every few years and catch up.  They're a part of your family, even if you don't talk every week. I like knowing that I have theater cousins all over the country.

This past week or so, I was hosted by the lovely City Theater company in Pittsburgh, PA.  A new city to me, and a new theater.  I had such a wonderful time there, and I truly hope I get  to go back soon.  Thanks for being a lovely family to me.


On a somewhat different topic.....

One of the weird things that I love about my job is show often it interacts with my life. Life events often synchronize with the shows on which I'm working. Let me try to explain....

I mentioned in my last post about shows coinciding with each other, and that there is sometimes a thread that ties all of them together.  This happens with life too.  For example, this show I have been working on tells the story of a shoe shop owner and his impact on the community in which he lives.  It tells of his relationship with each character, and how his untimely death brings them together.  It's a beautiful piece of theater that not only challenges the audience to think about race, religion, and stereotypes, but also it defies the traditional structure of a "play".  It's a one person show that requires an immensity of emotion and thought from the actor.   The frame of the play is of a young girl, passionate about designing shoes, and her journey with Mr. Joy.  Mr. Joy takes her into his shop, teaches her his trade and watches over her.

This got me started thinking about the mentors in my life. Mentor relationships have been huge part of my upbringing in theatre. I have had a number of people that I gladly call my mentors.  Whether they were in my life for a few weeks, or continue to be a part of it, is irrelevant.  They are people who have inspired, educated or otherwise made an impact in my life.  It's something that I continually cultivate in my relationships with my superiors and peers.  

Something that I love about my job is that I with every new project, I instantly get new mentors.  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's true.  Typically, if I am assisting on a show, I am the youngest person on the creative team.  This means that I often have it sit back, shut up, and know when to express my opinion.  Sometimes I'm not very good at that last part....  Watching directors, actors, and designers interact and collaborate is a wonderful thing.  I have to tell myself that if I want to keep doing this job, I need to observe these relationships and try to emulate them in my own relationships.  These directors and designers have been working in this business for many more years than I, and no matter what I say, it won't be news to them.  I have to stop and think more than just going with my gut reaction.  

The truly beautiful thing about this is that it doesn't matter what the relationship is, or what position the person holds.  There is something to be learned from that person.  Observing the way a question is asked of a director, and how the director answers varies is important.  The answer may be the same, but the manner in which it is conveyed can be completely different.  It's a wonderful thing to observe a conversation between a director and a designer, and then watch how the ideas sparked in that conversation are transformed into a completely different idea when communicated to another member of the team.

I realize that as I type this, it seems as if the director is acting as a gateway for the flow of conversation, like a dam in the river.  While this may be partially true, I don't think that it is a negative thing. In fact, I think it is a very positive idea.  There must be someone to oversee the whole idea, and make sure that the reservoir doesn't overflow. Terrible metaphor, but hopefully you get the idea….  

This past week I found out that one of my former teachers  passed away.  Her classes were some of my fondest memories of middle school.  She was an ornery, stubborn women who demanded excellence.  We rarely agreed on any topic (this being a social studies class, politics came up often), but she was a staunch defender of civil debate.  She saw the goodness and ability in every student, and drew it out (whether they liked it or not).  I hadn't thought a of her in a very long time, and that made me very sad.  I hadn't realized how much she brought out in me. I wouldn't be the assertive, sometimes loud mouth that I am without her support. And I know for a fact that my handwriting wouldn't be the half cursive that it is today, if she hadn't strictly enforced a cursive only policy that every student hated. Mrs. Wells was a great teacher.  I'll miss her more than I ever knew I would.

More recently, I've had several people that I consider mentors step and speak on my behalf.  I won't go into detail, but needless to say, it's been a humbling and rewarding experience.  In addition to my personal life, there has been a huge surge in the Sound Design community at large.  Last year, the announcement of the decision to eliminate the Tony award for sound designers spurred a frenzied rally of designers, directors, actors, and more to come together for a single cause.  This movement has brought together the most respected members of our field together in a way that I've never seen before. I've never known so many people in a usually solitary career bond so fervently and passionately in such a short time frame. It has been an incredibly joyful reward from a decidedly sad event.

This idea of community has been in my mind a lot recently, for the reasons stated above, but for many others as well. I love my nomad lifestyle, it brings me into many families.  I have many circles that I float in and out of, and I am glad to have such wide variety in my life. However, there are moments that I wonder if I need a closer community.  One that I can continually evolve and grow with.  A company of people that learn from each other, support each other and create together.