Saturday, January 16, 2016

I Miss Theater

Five months now at the first full-time job I've had since the early 90's. Still not quite settled into the routine.

I miss theater schedules. Not so much the late nights -- I miss working in a scene shop equally, and that's basically a day job as far as hours. My major client of previous years I usually served with six hour shifts without lunch break, followed by 10 hours on the weekend (with a short dinner break). And then two or three days off. Meant you got a lot of your 40 hours over with in one bundle, and then had several consecutive days off to pursue personal projects (or just to recuperate).

More than that part of it, though, I miss the cycle of crunch and ease. Even a scene shop located miles from the theater feels the show cycle; the early days of anticipation as the first drawings begin drifting in, the solid weeks of constructing the bread-and-butter, then overtime hours and weekends as the show gets closer to load in, tech, and opening. Then time off for everyone, followed by a relaxed week or two of infrastructure maintenance; cleaning the shop, re-ordering supplies, doing odd tasks for the Box Office and so on.

We do have big orders which come in to the factory I'm at now, and we do have times when the orders are piling up. But there's not the same feeling of a goal to push towards, climb the peak of, then relax a little after.

I also miss the kind of work. I sort of gave up scene shop work because it tends towards the physically grueling. Access is limited in theaters, the tool set is small, and urgency is everything; this all means a lot of the process relies on brute muscle power. And not a little of it takes place in cramped conditions, and/or in the dark. So you sweat a lot, and your clothes (and limbs) get scratched and torn quite quickly.

Lighting also is a lot of hefting heavy and awkward loads with sheer brute force up precarious ladders and is even more likely in the dark. Add to this the ever-present dangers of shock and burns.

But the lovely part of theater is the sheer variety. I have a lot of odd little skills, and theater touches upon most of them. It also almost always requires you to invent something new. So there is a lot of brainstorming and on-the-fly problem solving. As well as every now and then quiet contemplative sessions with a calculator and a blank sheet of paper trying to figure out how to pull off a particular effect.

What I'm doing now is mostly less interesting. Leave it at that. Enough carpentry to keep my hand in, enough variety to not be completely bored, and some of the tasks are wonderfully zen-like and let me drift off following archaeology podcasts on my headphones while I work away. But it ain't like building scenery, or building a sound cue.

And there's the most essential part. We make precision equipment at this my employment for five months. It is used in theater -- or more precisely, in live venues. But it isn't the same as putting up a show. There's a lot of scutwork in any job, and theater is no exception, but when I sweep up a floor at a theater I feel I am contributing to the audience's experience when that show finally opens. And when I'm actually building or hanging or writing, I am creating a jeweled crown, the facade of an Egyptian temple, the light that filters through the bare winter branches or the sound of insects and frogs in a swamp.

Creating a jig for an engineer, as interesting as it can be, is not the same.

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