Double-blind, peer-reviewed research was conducted world wide to determine which job had the most spiteful, mean, rude behavior amongst its workforce and without even a bit of competition, the prize went straight to sound technicians. To which I say, you fucking betcha.
When asked why sound techs have to be such dicks all the times, I usually peer sagely at the sky in mock thought, and nod while I say, “because we have to work with god damn artists.” I am kidding of course, except I am not. You have no idea what it’s like to work with artists.
In my 15 years in different positions I have had ample time to analyze the matter. I’ve seen old hands that got stuck in a permanent state of asshole, I’ve seen newbies’ jaws drop in their first “what the fuck is even going on” moment, I’ve seen certified teddy bears turn into yelling bastards at the first moment they touched a sound board. While it’s easy to blame all that on musicians, I admit that would be too easy. It’s also the theater directors.
It all boils down to one key dynamic, which I’ve begun calling the “economy of effort”. It’s simple as tap water and at the same time, complicated enough to get lost in it and lose track of the way out.
Almost exactly a year ago, I was having a conversation with a woman at work. She was quite attractive in looks and aura, but perhaps mostly in the love that she expressed towards the man sitting next to her. She adored him, even though they were a generation apart and their relationship was strictly professional.
We had called on the phone before, and she asked if we might have room for an intern. The question had been dropped before (many schools are now including stage-related stuff to their classes) but I had never felt ready before. But when she rang me up, with her enthusiasm and obvious care for her work… Why not.
Let’s call him Frank.
My name is Maarten and I have a problem. One that never once in my life, I thought I’d have.
Early on in life, I started to feel a most peculiar thing when involved in some project, sometimes given the most mundane and repetitive tasks: I felt useful. I never really fit in at school so being someplace where people were happy to see me, was quite novel. Little by little, I began to see labor as my merit to others, and because I got good at it, conveniently used it to measure my worth.
In the end, I managed the ultimate success: I made my hobby my job, and I never worked another day in my life.
What they forget to include in this woefully simplified slogan though, is that you’ll find yourself fresh out of hobbies.
If you are working towards this state, good. It’s a wonderful life and I hope you get there. But it’s not all great: As your job grows to be a part of your personality, it gets increasingly hard to separate one from the other. Already I define myself as a “stage technician” more than anything. I take my work home and I am at home at work, until the two become hard to distinguish.
Amberdrift. Is there a term more poetic in any branch of showbiz? I doubt it.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because it is quickly disappearing. It’s an effect inherent to tungsten and halogen lighting, both of which are making way to new LED technology. You see, both technologies are some of the worst things mankind has ever created and frankly, we should have made their redundancy a priority on the first day after they were ever invented.
Overreacting, say you? What if I tell you that in the best case, halogen has a 3.5% efficiency? You might think now that the quick little sum that your brain just made is based on wrong assumptions, but it isn’t. The most efficient halogen light bulbs waste 96.5 percent of the energy coursing through them, almost all of it on heat. The worst ones waste 98%.
The first boarding school I went to -I’m looking at you, OLV Ledeberg- was nothing short of a well-constructed prison and you will never hear me say a good word about it. It’s a place where childhoods come to die.
But lock up a group of individuals long enough and somehow, someway, they’ll start to build a small community. One with a hierarchy, a culture, and norms. In its dynamics, it rewards certain character traits (in this case, for example, an unhealthy dose of sadism) and punishes others. Given enough time and social skill, you learn to play the system and rise through the ranks.
So I grew up with a certain sense of community and I caught myself being sensitive to it. Growing up, I always wanted to learn some useful skill that would allow me to be of use in such a group, and given time (not so much social skill), grow not only accepted, but respected.
“Sometimes,” She said, squinting upwards into the lights. Marc’s lights.
“Sometimes you find yourself exactly where you should be.” Under a murmur of approval from the audience, she plucked the few first notes of the next song.
As she had struck me as a remarkably observant and intelligent person before, the words hit home. As, it seemed, they did with everyone else.
It was quiet this summer and apart from a single actress who insisted she’d have the place to herself to “concentrate”, I had free reign. It was our official vacation period so technically I wasn’t even allowed to work, which made me chuckle and ignore in equal measures. Some things just needed to get done and aren’t possible with a crowd of people walking in and out every day.
Here’s a word neither one of us ever thought to find in a first-person sentence on anything I ever write ever:
When you are done laughing, bear with me for a minute or two.
“But Maarten, you grisly item of attraction, didn’t you love your job? Best job in the world and all?”
Yes. And yes and thanks.
Working with your hands, head and heart in roughly equal measure is how I feel everyone should work. This was my dream job and I stand by that, even though only about 20% of it turns out to be stage work. The rest is maintenance of the building and logistics. 0% is maintaining social relationships and the plants and furniture outside our front door- there is room for improvement there, to put it with a gross understatement. (more…)
I am a simple man, and I like simple things. Butts, mostly, and Star Trek. Pineapple on pizza and knobs on machines. Toothpicks and iced tea and mountains and friends, these are a few of my favorite things. ♫
I managed to hold my job as a stagehand because it was simple. And despite my personality and lifestyle then, I never got fired because I was good at it. Progress happened but it was slow, at my own pace, so that I could keep up and chances of anyone finding out that I was totally faking my skills and confidence were kept minimal.
So yah, after all that, when someone walks up to me and goes, “here’s a budget to invest in our lighting grid, pls upgrade the whole thang to LED in the spirit of a national, subsidized effort to lower the power consumption in the cultural sector. The proposal will be judged by 2 different committees so also prepare a defense in a month or 2 and did I mention the budget was small so yah make it count,” I have a LITTLE problem keeping the screams inside my mouth.
I’ve been diagnosed with all kinds of abnormalities, by professionals and not-so-professionals. Psychopathy, ADHD, I had one girlfriend pushing me to consider the possibility I was somewhere in the autism spectrum. Another friend called me a juggalo. I took well to neither.
Perhaps they’re all wrong, or maybe right to some degree. I just like to call it my warm and cute personality.
If there is one thing I might be leaning towards, I think it might be sociopathy. Especially when I was a teenager and young adult, I had the hardest time caring about how other people felt. It served its purpose well, keeping the influence of teachers and educators to a minimum while I walked my own path. Many thought I was lost.
Change is the name of the game. If you went from art schools to boarding schools, squats to an army base, freelancing stagehand to technician in a city theater, you’ll know what it means to adapt to the situation. One survival strategy will not work in another environment and unless you get to changing your behavior, you will start moving in the opposite direction from where your goals are supposed to be.
Friends who know me long enough often mention that I’ve changed in just about every way, several times over. And when I thought I was finally comfortable in my skin, a baby boy was born and I had to start all over again.