Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Paths Not Taken

I was just reading the chapter on wigs in Rosemary Ingham ("The Costume Technician's Handbook") and I was reminded again that theater gives us a chance to try on a different life.  For the audience, perhaps more vicariously, but even they have the chance to spend some time in the company of people of another place, another time.

Our lives are shaped by choices, many of which we may not have even been aware of making at the time.  In all drama, we get a chance to try on a different life path and see how it feels.  It can be argued that all drama is essentially about humans, but I feel theater is even more focused this way; it will always be human beings in the same room with you, sweat and spittle and all.

For the actor, it is exploring a different skin.  A different set of choices, part of a different environment.  As any designer you are also part of that exploratory process; you make choices about the clothing that imagined new person wears, how their voice sounds to others, what their dwelling looks like and what objects they surround themselves with.

But we are also exploring the larger world they are part of.  This to a designer is the most exciting part; creating a place on stage.  It may be a faithful echo of somewhere real.  It is more likely (forced both by reasons of Art and reasons of Contingency) to be fanciful.  But the good ones -- when all the designers are working together -- will have that ineffable sense of a real place.

Even as a tech you get access to these other worlds.  You visit in the houses you create.  (I've made breakfast in more than one box set -- helps when the designer has asked for a fully functioning sink and kitchen!)

And the process of doing theater gets you a visitors pass to other places and other fields.  The cast of Mr. Roberts took a field trip to an actual W.W. II cargo ship.  (I went, too, to record the sounds it made.)  I very much enjoyed my techie days when I was driving a truck, picking up welding gas cylinders in the industrial zone on the other side of the tracks, and otherwise hanging out for a short time with tradesmen in the craft of the moment; plumbing, tile, finish carpentry, laminate, etc.

Via theater I've been backstage at fashion shows, in national parks palling out with rangers, in the kitchens of classy hotels, even amongst the scientist-engineers within the workshops of The Exploratorium.  Been at a skii lodge in the off-season, helped tear down a fence on a cattle ranch, been inside private schools both Catholic and not and been on more than one Army base.

And that's exciting.  Vicarious, but still a comforting way of having been able to at least dip your toes into what it would have felt like had your life made different choices.

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