Every profession has a few quirky things that “go with the job,” which insider language for “this pisses me off but I’m raking cash moneys so screw.” The parade of human misery in Legal Professions. The endless font of body fluids for Doctors. The parade of human misery through endless fonts of body fluids for Educators. Theatre is hardly immune.
Although I tend to think we pull this shit because we’re bound and determined to enjoy ourselves. If you pulled Doctor/Lawyer hours for Substitute Teacher cash, you’d have jokes too.
Needless to say, these piss me all kinds of off but I grudgingly adore them.
• “Blinded by the light!”
If you have the modest blood alcohol level and boastful proprioception of a ladder-monkey, you might get roped into hanging lights and slinging cable for a pathologically lazy lighting designer. If you show up with your own crescent wrench and pair of gloves, you’re instantly a caste above the helpful company members that rescheduled their shift to hang out, farm hours and grow ass.
Once the fixtures start getting locked down and the juice starts flowing, you’re bound to be treated to a spontaneous rendition of the haltingly relevant Bruce Springsteen (and later Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) tune. Everyone honestly believes it’s the first time this joke has ever been made. Everyone does it. I wish you the necessary strength of sphincter not to rain liquid-hot halogen lamp hate from above on the struggling showcase production you got roped into supporting. I suggest pumping the brakes on personal hygiene, rolling up your sleeves and showing some burly arms; sparkies always get first crack at the ladies.
• “I want the soundtrack to this show!”
Be a sound guy. You’re trying to score that juicy musical theatre show that you know will line your purse and slay the Rent Demon for a couple months. You may even stoop to working on a production of RENT. In the meantime, you’re going to have spend a lot of time on iTunes listening to soundtracks from movies from which your director has cherry-picked their two-minute-transition tunes.
Invariably, two-thirds of the way through tech, someone is going to get all up in your business about getting the soundtrack from the show. Someone else will hear this and then someone else will have the brilliant and totally unique idea that “they should sell the soundtrack in the lobby!” You have one out: claim your macbook doesn’t have a CD drive and don’t even bother trying to explain the complicated nuances of copyright. You’re already well aware of the fact that nobody understands the concept anyway. If you can tolerate the smell of stale Cheetos and palpable misery over outsourcing of VFX jobs, you can commiserate with the video guy.
• Upstage Background Crowd Scene Mugging
We’ve all played “Spear Carrier Number Two.” We’ve all served time as the non-canonical superfluous army of innumerable Other Wise Men/Shepherds/Sheep. We’ve all been in crowd scenes with the requisite given circumstances to fully inhabit our unnamed character with a verisimilitude befitting the mise-en-scène.
This has not kept certain people from acting their dick off in the incredibly funny conversation they’re not really having with the cute girl that’s been directed to look at them during the extended soliloquy. You may even be this girl. I think the only thing you can do in the arms race of background one-upsmanship is play dirty. No bra. Tight slacks. Boys or girls, you’ve got goods to show. If you’re going to break out of the cyclorama Siberia of marginalized photogenicity, you’re going to have to prove that you’re more interesting to look at even while some guy is busy chewing the scenery. If all else fails, you can also chew the scenery.
• Tits out.
I know I just said above that you should showcase the goods. Ignore that. The only reason anyone should ever have to bare their genitalia or secondary sex characteristics – no matter how gifted they may be – is that they damn well feel like everyone they ever took a class with should enjoy it. It hasn’t been the seventies for a mathematically embarrassing age; we no longer have anything to gain artistically from self-exposure. It is purely an exercise for the exhibitionist that unscrupulous directors will take advantage of. If it’s what you want, get down with your bad self. If you harbor any concerns about revealing your body to a meager paying audience, don’t let anybody talk you into doing it. You are in control of your own body, you are the ultimate arbiter of your comfort in the expression of your art and too talented to stoop to what has become nothing more than a hack shock tactic.
Unless you really don’t care and aren’t talented. Then do porn. It pays and you get treated way better.
• GOING BLACK! (not going back!)
After dimmer check or at various points in tech, it may be necessary for the lighting board op to call out “Going black” to avoid plunging a room full of people unaccustomed to the jagged scrap metal set into the costly liability of blessed darkness. This is a safety concern (and occasionally a nifty check to see what half-busted dimmers are still ghosting). Only an indefatigable phallus would tack a lazy joke onto this.
Actually I do it all the time so it’s totally cool and you get a total pass.
• The Food Order
At a certain level, you may rely on the fact that someone always asks for the vegan, gluten-free, hypoallergenic, fair-trade, locally-sourced meal. Curiously, this person is also pathologically incapable of planning ahead and attending to their fringe dietary needs. This is an attention stunt and worsens with the financial compensation of those involved with the production.
You can out these people by placing the crafty standard Red Vines on a table in the break room/green room/communal toilet/dressing lobby. If they make a go for it, liberally bacon their privately catered meal and watch the lie dissolve. They all use cosmetics colored with insect- and seafood-derived additives anyway. Oh, did you not know that was a thing? It’s totally a thing. Read a label sometime.
• “Video guy! We should TOTALLY WATCH A MOVIE ON THIS SOMETIME!”
Only if you bring beer, popcorn, fried chicken, pizza, the DVD and don’t talk to me. But that’s cool.
• Spontaneous Cue To Cue Ballet
Cue to Cue is one of the biggest bummers for a performer. You’re up there struggling to remember lines out of sequence while sweaty dudes that haven’t slept in days blast way-too-loud sound cues, way-too-bright lights and way-too-complicated-to-program video at you. Sometimes, you’ll be standing there for an hour and a half while some half-drunk dude with his shirt sleeves rolled up makes eyes at you from the top of a ladder, occasionally pawing at a chunk of metal you’re half-convinced will later crash on your head.
Sometimes, all a girl can do is dance.
Reach down deep inside, to the time when the future was ahead of you and it seemed like everything you did was important and worth the effort. The commitment instilled through years of ballet classes barked by long-retired, stout professional dancers with a lengthy resume of Broadway choral roles – BROADWAY! – resonates with this endless moment of physical strain. An invisible force pulls the dance from inside your patched-yet-broken heart and you feel yourself moving in place, feeling the vibe of the stage.
Someone shouts at you. “Please don’t move; we’re focusing lights right now.”
It’s hard to believe that you’re the one at fault here. Nobody wanted to shout at you. You’re still pretty and your hair smells like strawberries. We just have to get through this one sequence so everyone can get back to the bar. In moments like these, anything that interrupts that is tantamount to setting fire to the painstakingly rented scrim walls of your stock Manhattan apartment set. Keep the dance inside…for now.
• “Is it really gonna be like that?”
We all know what you’re asking. Whether you’re the director, actor, designer, producer, playwright, theatre owner, publicist, child of parents too poor to afford rudimentary daycare or treasured pet of any of the above. You’re not happy. We feel for you.
Unfortunately, it’s not our job to make you feel happy. It’s our job to deliver as much radness as feasibly possible with the meager resources of no time, no money and a rapidly diminishing give-a-shit. If this truly will end your life and unravel the gossamer web of theatre magic we have so painstakingly sought to conceive, you are welcome to have that conversation in private, but only after the first time it is attempted. You are most likely not alone in your taste, but coming in hot and shouting that in front of everybody achieves the secondary goal of saying somebody is a failure. You’re not that mean.
Or if you are and don’t realize it, this might be why people don’t work with you more than once.
You can believe I have way more of these quibbles, hastily-scribbled in the dim light of a dozen low karaoke bars across this and other cities. I’ll be back with more.