An Epiphany of …..

My stress level has been growing over the past year.   In some ways, it came to a peak last night and that made me realize something.    Last night I was in tech for a dance version of “Wizard of Oz” featuring over 100 kids between the ages of four and 18.    I am the lighting designer and also calling the show.  Tech was stressful.  The theatre is a rental, and the budgets are (like in all arts) tight — the producer cannot afford overtime.   At one point we were 40 minutes behind schedule. For lots of reasons, I am less prepared on this show than I like to be (although in this case I am as prepared as I can be).  I worked through our first two breaks of the evening (which is not uncommon).   Durring the third break, i decided to get up from the tech table, hit the restroom and water fountain. Those important tasks completed, I returned to the tech table and saw I still had a few minutes left, and decided to check my messages.

The messages had nothing to do with the show I was working on, nor any other show I am working on.  In fact they had nothing to do with my work or art at all.   They did send my already high stress level through the roof.  I quickly realized what was happening, and in trying to de-stress myself from the messages so I could focus on the show, I just sent my stress level even higher.

Well, I made it through the night.  We actually got back on track and finished 5 minutes early.  On the way back to where I’m staying through the Los Angeles traffic I reflected on what happened, and how to make it not happen again.  I came to the following conclusions:

1) Lighting dance (especially with talented dancers and great choreographers) is one the the most joyous exciting things in my life.   Yes it can be stressful, but the rewards are so great it is worth it.

2) A large part of my stress seems to be coming from a lack of releases for my stress.

3) I constantly decide that my time to do art for arts sake, and my time to get physical exercise should be subjugated to other commitments (i.e. they are just for me, and therefore selfish and therefore unimportant).

4) I’ve never been good at saying “no” to requests.   I have gotten better.  I have learned to figure out when I just cannot do a show, and I try to help the producer that wants to hire me to find someone else.   For a long time, I did what ever was asked of me at work regardless of what it meant.  In the last year or so, I’ve gotten much better at saying “no” there as well.   I need to get better at saying “no” in other areas.

5) My “selfish” stress relievers are not selfish, they are actually important.

This whole process got be back to thinking about a time several years ago when I no longer wanted to attend theatre in my free time.   Somehow my involvement and love of theatre resulted in me avoiding going to the theatre.  I found a solution to that — I stopped going to the shows that I “really ought to see,” and started going to the shows I wanted to see.   I’m now going to the theatre more.  (In fact, now the biggest things keeping me away from the theatre I want to see is the 3 hour drive to San Fran or LA, and the cost — not my dislike of theatre).  I’m enjoying going to the theatre more now as well — even when I am attending for professional/work-related reasons.

I found a solution to that problem that made me a happier person and a better artist.  I need to find a solution to the current problem, and I think I can.

I’m very simply going to set goals, and find a way to track them.  The draft version of the goals are three fold:

1) Art for arts sake 5 times per week.   Writing articles for theatre publications counts. Working on my text book counts. Composing music counts.  Painting, other writing, photography, etc.  counts.    Designing shows I’m being paid to design: Does not count.   Painting/building a set/hanging lights/installing theatre gear (paid or not): Does not count.

2) Exercise 5 times a week.  Riding the bike around Woodward Park or to Central Fish, or around down town: Counts.   Riding the bike to/from work: Does Not Count.   Going to the Gym: Counts.    50 Sit ups and 50 push ups at home: counts.  Long walks with the dog: counts (i.e. not just around the neighborhood).  I think the minimum requirement is 30 minutes of exercise per attempt at exercise.

3) Eat healthier.  I’m not sure what that means.  Less cookies.  Less red meat.  More vegetables.  This combined with goal 2 will help me loose 20 pounds by Christmas or 4 inches off my waist measurement.

With these goals, some other things in my life are going to have to give.   One organization that I volunteer a good bit of time with is going to be told “no.”   When my husband and I are on different schedules, if that means exercising without him, then I have to do it.

SO What does all this have to do with theatre design? (Since this is a theatre design blog after all.)

Well, the answer in one simple sense is:  Dying from a stress related heart attack at age 40  is not good for my attempt to become a famous writer about theatre or famous designer.

In the broader sense, every job in the world has its own unique demands and stresses.  Much of the work of the artist has the stress of the job *plus* the stress of the next job.  (If one design sucks, you have a harder time getting the next design gig.)  Forcing myself to have less stress allows me to focus on those things that are most important to me: My shows, my teaching and my family.

Healthy people have less stress.   I would feel better about myself if I weighed 30lbs less and could fit into mediums again.   I am happier and have great feelings of accomplishment when I work on my art and my writing.

Being happy and excited about design makes makes my designs much better than when I’m angry and bitter about designing.  I need to make myself happy.

Doin’ It Right

My summer has been super busy — designing, home improvement  and of course prepping my teaching for next year.   My goal to write more has been put on the back shelf again.   BUT…. I have something I want to write about.

My last post was about what happend at Arcadia at ACT.  For regular readers of this blog who missed what happened, Carey Perloff responded to my blog.   What happend at ACT that day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read the previous blog post), was a bad experience — but one that showed what kind of folks ACT is made of.   Aside from commenting on my blog, and having ACT staff respond to twitter and other social media, ACT wrote a very nice letter to the audience members in the theatre that day.  The letter was a heart felt apology which indicated that they were reviewing policies and procedures  and a generous offer to those people affected by what happened.  ACT admitted what went wrong, and is looking to not let it happen again.   I don’t think I can ask more.  (I could be grumpy and say I wish it hadn’t happened in the first place — but that would be petty and pointless.)   

I would like to contrast that with another theatre company.    In this case for many many reasons, I’m not going to name names (although those who know me will know exactly what company I am discussing).

Last season a local company did a production of one of my favorite shows, Candide.  (I know the show has lots of detractors, but I get to like the shows I like.)  The production, though advertised to be a full production, was more of a glorified concert staging.  The program listed with the list of other designers “Scenery constructed by” instead of “scenery designed by.”   And looking at the set, i can see why.  The set was a large platform, and for most of the show it was not used in a particularly interesting manner (the  one ocean voyage being a notable exception).   This was not the biggest tragedy of the show.  The biggest tragedy was the orchestra.   An opera company chose to use the reduced orchestrations (for 13 players) instead of Leonard Bernstein (the composer) and Hershy Kay’s original orchestrations (for an orchestra of 20+Members).     For next season the announced another contemporary opera.  (In fact, I would call this show a modern musical, but my husband, the opera buff, declares it an opera, so I’ll defer to him).  This is another show with two prominent orchestrations associated with it– the original 22 member orchestration, or the more recent touring production’s reduction to 14.  I need to confess I’m a bit of a nut about live professional orchestrations and knowing about different orchestrations of shows.   Due to the orchestra I was grumpy through all of Candide from the thin overture  to the the weak sound just before the glorious a capella section at the end of the show.  (The vocals were great, so I at least left on a sort of happy note.)  

I recieved an email about this company’s season with the announcement of what was coming.  I decided before buying tix, I would write and ask about the orchestra.  I received a prompt response, but I wasn’t thrilled with it.   The first thing was a defense of why they choose to use the smaller orchestra for their production (the full orchestra wouldn’t fit on the stage — I’ll discuss that more below), before assuring me that they would use a larger orchestra for the upcoming opera.   I noted that they did not specify which orchestration the would use — and even the smaller orchestration would be a bit larger than the measly 13 used for Candide.

The thing is, because they were not clear about what orchestra they are using,  and  I was so unhappy about their last show, I am just not going to buy tickets.   Questions from audiences should be respected and answered well.   I would rather have waited a couple of days for a response with the real answer, than the “we will use a larger orchestra.”  It makes the company sound either deceitful or uninformed.  Neither is an attractive quality.


OK, let me quickly discuss the argument that the orchestra wouldn’t fit on the stage.  This company typically rents their scenic and costume designs.   Again, I understand that this is not unusual for opera companies — but I do prefer shows that are designed for the theatre they are playing in and for the audience they are playing for.   For Candid, the company commissioned the set to be built.  If the set was properly designed, I suspect the full orchestra could have been seated, and had room for interesting staging.   (To see how to cram a huge orchestra onto a stage, and have great space for musical staging in a concert like presentation, look at the video of the San Francisco production of Sweeney Todd In Concert with George Hearn and Patti LuPone — which does it fabulously!) I suspect the true reason for the small orchestra was the cost.  Like too many productions lately, the place they think they can save money is on the orchestra.  The other place they think they can help the bottom line is by not letting the audience know what really is going on.

Good customer service is important.   Good theatre companies know about it.  ACT knows about it, and that is why I have renewed our subscription there.   The opera company — I’m not so sure about yet.