With all of the forward motion in the entertainment industry over the past few years, I just can’t believe that we still live in a culture of “Us vs. Them.” I’m talking about actors, musicians, “the talent,” vs. technicians. Even in my list, I’ve used a term I’m used to hearing: The Talent. Here’s the thing, I am also the talent. The spot ops are also “the talent.” The stage manager is also “the talent.” The deck crew, the A2, the board ops, the wardrobe techs, etc. are all “the talent.”
We’ve stopped thinking about what language that has been used for generations actually means. I cringe every time I hear “actors on a ten” during tech rehearsals. What about technicians and designers? Should we just power through? Obviously, this announcement actually means that this is the time everyone should take a break, but the language just needs to change. What about the rehearsal report that refers to the actor as “Mr. Smith” but refers to the technician as “the board op?” It only perpetuates an already unspoken and uncomfortable divide between those that work on the stage and those that work just off the stage.
This is not a one-way street; the sentiment goes both ways. We always hear about “actor-proofing” gear for the stage. What does that even mean? Does an actor suddenly lose all ability to think logically about the thing they are holding, or sitting on, or walking over once they hit the stage? I mean, we’re not actor-proofing an actor’s day to day life, are we? If what we mean is we are going to make sure a cable is run propelry and taped down so that it can be crossed over many times without being a trip hazard, we should probably just say that instead.
The theatre conservatory that I taught for the better part of a decade has a policy that all acting students must serve as a technician on at least one show during their training. I love this policy, and honestly, a few of my best A2s were actors. Why just hear about the other side when you can actually experience it? The benefits are massive. The actor learns a bit about a technical trade, will be able to incorporate that new knowledge into their craft, and hopefully has a newfound respect for the life and work of the technician.
The tech crew also benefits from working with the actor-tech. One of the coolest and most functional homemade mic belts I’ve ever used was made by an actor-tech who used his prior experience of uncomfortable mic placement to develop a beneficial design. Also, an actor’s knack for memorization has come in super handy when I’ve had to rattle off a list of instructions that needed to be performed in a timely fashion. And let’s face it, actors almost always know every character and every word to every song way earlier in the process than a technician. It is so much easier to be able to say, “Fix that mic on Sibella” without having to add, “She’s the girl that’s always dressed in pink.”
Acting conservatory classes often feature a lot of exercises that include self-reflection, group trust, and team-building. Over the years, I’ve heard tech students talk about how awesome it was that they didn’t have to take classes like those, and that has always boggled my mind! Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of free therapy? I know (possibly more than anyone) how uncomfortable and difficult it is to open up about feelings and stuff, but think of the personal growth! If we were all taking team-building classes together, actors and techs, US and THEM, just think of all of the positivity that would come from it. If nothing else, it would let us to get to know one another. Maybe get coffee together, maybe collaborate, maybe learn from each other. My challenge to you all is simple: Cut this phrase in half. There is no Us vs. Them; There is only US. It takes all of us to make a show.
“Symbiotic relationships are a special type of interaction between species. Sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, these relationships are essential to many organisms and ecosystems, and they provide a balance that can only be achieved by working together.”
I really can’t do better than that. So just keep reading that definition, and thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Elisabeth Weidner is a freelance Sound Designer/Composer and Audio/Video Technician based on the Central Coast of California. She holds a degree in Commercial Music from Florida State University, and has been working professionally in the live sound industry over 15 years.
Prior to being a full time freelancer, she served as Sound Director/Resident Sound Designer/Composer for PCPA-Pacific Conservatory Theatre from 2009-2019. While in residency, she also served as Faculty for PCPA’s Technical Theatre Conservatory. Elisabeth sits on the USITT Sound Commission jury for Current Practices and Research in Sound paper/article submissions and is a proud member of ASCAP and the TSDCA. www.elisabethanneweidner.com