Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Does someone smell sawdust?

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Joe Mathers.

Hey folks, Joe Mathers again.  Thanks for reading the last post I wrote, and if you didn’t, well, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.  Or the internet.  There’s a lot of funny stuff out there.  You’ve seen the one with the kitten, right?

Ever notice that when you’re in rehearsal for an OOB show, and you show up in the rented theater space a few days before opening and you start running the show, and there’s a half a set there, and then the next day there’s a whole set there, and then suddenly its all painted and decorated, and has working doors and doesn’t fall apart on you (hopefully)?  And then someone makes it look even cooler with lights? 

Most of us know that there are a bunch of dedicated super beings doing the work there, and we’re aware that they’ve worked hard.  Hell, in some cases it’s the same people who are in the show, or producing it.  But what I want to talk about today are the people who bust their butts and really don’t get to take a bow. 

We’ll start with designers – a lot of the time the designers are yes, paid.  Let’s face it.  There are fewer designers than performers, and they have to be really good.  By which I mean, you can do bare bones theater with nothing but a space, a little light, and people saying lines from a play as directed by someone else, but if you want to do something more, producers have to pay to play.  And good designers aren’t as dime a dozen as good actors.  (I know.  You are a unique snowflake.  Just like everyone else.)  Set, lights, costumes, sound, effects, props, fight choreography and so on – that can get expensive.

Designers get credited in the program at least.  Electricians and carpenters… not so much.  Sure, they get paid – usually – and often it’s just another job… but seriously.  Let’s stop and think for a moment about the people who actually do the heavy lifting and the dirty work. 

I’m not taking the place of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs or anything, but I bring up these people who climb the grid, swing the hammers, cut the lumber and bruise, slice, bludgeon and work themselves into a filthy grimy mess all so we can look so so pretty onstage (and we do.  We’re all going to prom!) because I think it’s worth remembering them. 

It’s worth remembering that while we’re talking about the community of New York’s OOB scene, we should be cognizant that there is a virtual army of unidentified workers who bust their butts to make that show as awesome as it is, and all for less than a few thousand dollars.

I don’t want to start a revolution here or anything… but do we give awards to our run crews?  Our electricians, carpenters and those mysterious geniuses called technical directors?  Those people who take a designer’s drawings and translate them into physical reality are – and I really think this – as valuable to the art form itself as the actors who perform the writer’s words. 

Wouldn’t be something to see a guy like Jason Paradine or Elisha Schaefer win an “Independent Theater Carpenter of the Year” award?  Mostly because I think he’d give a funny speech, but I think you folks know what I mean.   Our community of theatrical artists is so much bigger than just performers and writers.  More than that – it’s the technicians, designers and front of house teams.  We’ve actually got a sizeable population here, all of us working (paid and unpaid) to make something we believe in. 

A few years ago I was a partner in a small business – a scene shop that built for independent theater – No Time For Love Productions.  I recall late one evening (or was it early one morning?) we were tired and grouchy, complaining about how damned tired we were; no one cares, there’s no money in it… blah blah blah… when my biz partner and buddy Joe Powell said something I’ll never forget.

“If everyone who worked in independent theater was instead searching for the cure for cancer, we’d have it done in no time.” 

Now obviously, that’s not totally true – but it was a clear statement about when this community decides to do something, it gets done because we will work until it gets finished. 

That is another reason I love doing OOB theater.  Even the biggest jerk in the scene shop is here for the same reason as everyone else.  To make the best show we can.  And because I can say this… the biggest jerk in the scene shop is usually my pal Brian Smallwood, because he’s a big jerk.  Who, like a jerk, taught me much of what I know about technical theater, and carpentry.   What a jerk.  

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