Spot-lightenment

Face your fears!

Photo by Marcelo Jaboo

His eyes are piercing, a deep ocean of emotions. Emotions that are, at present, flowing openly in a torrent of powerful vocalization, all seemingly aimed straight at me. We make eye contact, if only for a moment. I feel his pain. I am empowered by his depth and knowledge. His strength gives me strength. He looks away, but my mind reels from that one moment. One solitary moment, a brief instant that suddenly made everything completely worthwhile.

The truth is, the moment was all mine. He wasn't looking at me at all, not really. For he was an actor upon a stage, and I, a solitary figure cloaked in black, holding a spotlight. Two people merely doing their jobs, existing in two separate worlds, but working together to create something incredible. 

I'm an actor, first and foremost. That is my calling, and my first love. I have had that moment, just like the one I described above, with many an unsuspecting audience member. I am very well aware of the power an actor holds in their hands. I love it, nay, crave it. 

I just returned to my home in Indianapolis, Indiana from a contract in Pittsburgh, where I performed as an actor with a musical murder mystery troupe. Did I have the time of my life? Yes. Do I miss it? Daily. However, all good things must end, and here we are. When I got back, I performed a New Year's Eve show with the old dinner theatre I worked at for... oh heavens, almost a decade now. But afterwards, I moved onto something that, even a year ago, I never would have seen myself doing.

While in Pittsburgh, I saw a posting on Facebook regarding a sudden need for a spotlight operator for a production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" in Indianapolis. In a moment of intrigue (mostly brought on by boredom and perhaps a bit of desperation, as I had spent every day looking for my next contract), I clicked on the post, just to see what it was all about. Special run of Indy best seller, in need of spot op, runs first two weekends in January, good, good... Then I saw the magic word: Paid.

Did I contact the producer purely based on that word? No, not purely. Only around 98 percent of me was influenced by it. The rest had to do with the timing of it. Would I have even bothered with it had it been voluntary? As much as I would like to say yes, of course, I'm the best person ever... the answer is no. In fact, I would have "noped" out of that post faster than me at a vegetarian buffet. No me gusta. 

So why am I a horrible money hungry person? Because I am, first and foremost, a working actor, which means I do a lot of work for very little money, and this boy has bills to pay. So it's either take a job in my field that pays those bills, or serve people their overpriced steaks and have enough money for my bills while I work my craft on the side. 

"But Preston," you say, "I thought you were an actor. This is a spotlight job." You are correct, Voice-I-Created-For-Blogging-Purposes! Why would I take an offstage job when I prefer to be onstage? Well, I have three reasons. Let's explore them, one by one.

The first reason: IT. IS. A. JOB.  

Yes. It is a job. I mentioned earlier that I had spent every day searching for my next contract. I will tell you that I still have not found it. And most jobs don't start until February-March for spring seasons, anyway, which meant that I would be out of work in January, regardless of my next contract. Finding work is hard in this business. Ask anyone who works in theatre. For every "yes" you receive, you will hear, on average, fifty "no's". So, when a job in the biz pops up, you take it. Side note: One of my many mantras that I tell the younger generation that I know well... "Nothing in this world is free. So when someone offers you something, you take it. Regardless if you want it or not. It's one less thing you have to fight for." Likewise, when an opportunity to work in the field arises, and it's something you can do, GRAB IT! It might well be the only thing you're offered. 

The second reason: It's in the biz.

I am making a very valiant attempt at making a living in the arts alone. It makes little to no money, and I scrape by, week to week. I have learned how to make pancakes out of flour and water; I have learned to plan for months ahead; I have learned to pinch every penny within an inch of its life, and even then, something will come along and destroy every single plan I made. But so far, I have not had to stray from a life in the theatre. I have been an actor, director, producer, playwright, historic interpreter, ballroom instructor, acting coach, and yes, I have even worked tech—because it is still in the field, and I get to be a part of something magical and important, regardless of the task to which I am employed. And for me, that's valid. It counts. 

The third reason: Tech scares the sh*t out of me. 

Yes. I have been a board operator. I have designed lights. I have run followspot. I have created sound cues. I have done all of it before. Do I like it? Not at all. I have very little aptitude for that side of the theatrical world. I greatly admire those that can do it, and do it well. Because that is part of the magic to which I will never truly be privy. However, I have come to a point in my life where I realize that I'm too old to be scared by silly nonsense like a spotlight or a sound board. And to grow, I need to do all of the things that scare me. (That does NOT mean that I will be handling a snake anytime soon. One step at a time.) People don't realize how important lights and sound are to a production. The actors get most of the praise, but truth be told, if it weren't for the backstage and booth crew, there really wouldn't be much to see. And I am constantly terrified that I, as a person, am going to screw something up when I run tech. I can manage a stage. I can have the audience in the palm of my hand... but put me on a big board with lots of dials, switches, numbers... I freak out. That's not my world, which is the very reason I decided to take the job. It was a new challenge, and I took that new challenge by the horns.

Why? Because, as a dear friend of mine and I once discussed, it's better to know a little about a lot of things, than to only have knowledge of one thing. On that same thread, it is better to be able to jump into any part of a production than to be the one standing off to the side, unsure of how to help. Knowledge makes you marketable. It makes you hire-able. "Hey there! I notice I'm really only right for certain roles in this particular production, BUT I also have experience running lights, if you need a light board op for your other production!" Boom. You have two jobs, as opposed to one, or perhaps none. Or, perhaps there is a crisis, and suddenly your spot op finds themself unable to work, and within the production, there is a crucial scene that is only spotlit. And guess what? You aren't in that scene, or the scene directly after! "Excuse me, I'm actually pretty good with a spotlight, and I have time to get there and get back for my next entrance." WHABAM. You have just endeared yourself to most of the crew. You've also done yourself a favor, and showed your marketability. 

I was terrified going into this contract. Yes, I had run a spot before. Yes, I had more than enough experience with it. But it was out of my comfort zone, and what if I wasn't as good as someone who does it all the time? Guess what? I'm not as good as someone who does it all the time. I'm just not. But now, I am one step closer to being that good, because I swallowed my fear and took the gig. And now, I actually have enough professional credits to create a technical resume, which is INSANELY cool. I never thought that I would have that. Yet here we are! Also, I get the privilege of getting to spot an insanely talented group of performers every night, and bear witness to an incredible show. I have a front row balcony seat to the hottest show in town. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

The point of my insanely long-winded post is this: Do the things that scare you. Teach yourself new things. Break your habits and leap into the unknown. You will become a more well-rounded and marketable person because of it. That, I promise you. Also, refrain from vegetarian buffets. Kidding. You do you, boo. 

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