Monday, March 18, 2013


Another installment of Drive To The Curtain
When I get into a jam and have to forego an aesthetic choice, I often think to myself, "THE AUDIENCE WON'T KNOW THE FUCKIN' DIFFERENCE". That’s not a good  perspective for craftsmanship or the effort of making better experiences for, ahem, paying audience members but…it’s likely to be true. It may also be practical. When is it O.K. to let it go?

For a start, look at the calendar and the clock. Check your other resources,  including other people working with you on this thing. What is it going to cost  you to either force this aesthetic choice into existence or cook up an adaption that will approximate it? Another couple of hours? Twenty minutes? Somebody has  to go get a ladder, move a lot of chairs out of the way, set the ladder and climb  up there? Extra crew have to be called in and it gets done….when? Tonight after  the scheduled shift? In the morning? Is somebody else coming in then? Oh… the stage gets painted overnight… Can’t do it then. Or is it just as simple as this: You have an hour to finish the load-in, about that much time’s worth of regular stuff to do, but this thing might take fifteen minutes you can’t afford. How much difference in quality will this make to the show, what will be missing in the communication of the story to the audience?

“I’m the only one who’s going to know the fuckin’ difference…”

This isn’t easy because you count, too. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t think of yourself as a professional, you wouldn’t get these gigs, you wouldn’t get paid, you wouldn’t get the other gratification that keeps you in  this line of work. Your opionion, your sense of craftsmanship, counts. You’re the  last one you can, or should, dismiss when having to make difficult decisions about craftsmanship…even if no one else is really going to know the fuckin’ difference… this time.

“Disregard for details is the first sign of doom.”
– Kai Krause

It’s a tricky prospect but one that people have been wrangling since, probably, they were barely hominids. You learn which things you bust your ass to do well and which you let go, primarily by busting your ass to do well a lot. Eventually,  experience puts you in positions from which you have a pretty good perspective on when to… let… it… go. Given, you will misjudge this. You’ll screw up. You’ll get caught out, people will fuckin’ know the difference and you’ll look  bad. If you’re not basically psychotic, you’ll learn from that mistake and prevent yourself doing it again. You’ll make a different mistake but, one can hope, it’s not as bad as the last one because of shared conditions. You will be reminded that craftsmanship is that important and that compromising it really can hurt.

photo: Cassandra Phillips
Sometimes, you just can’t do anything about it. The venue doesn’t have the gear, or the stuff is falling apart. The stage, sightlines, something isn’t suited to your show. Tech support is crap or just non-existent. You don’t have enough time.  You’ve torn out some hair making some things turn out well, at least. Some of  the other things are just beyond reach. In your big picture view, they’re all of about the same importance in your show, so that the shortcomings are going to  look, to you, like big potholes of neglect, even though you have neglected nothing. In the same load-in, you’ve made some things work out really well. They’re moments of thoroughly professional, high craftsmanship. You can do this, goddammit. See?!

Yes, somebody sees. Somebody notices. Maybe even consciously. I’ve had plenty of people over the years walk up to me after a show and compliment me on some design, some technical element. To be honest, some of those times I didn’t think I did that great a job. I was having craftsmanship issues, or I had potholes in my artistic decisions. From an Off-Broadway production, I got positive and negative mentions in reviews, and I disagreed with most of them. Since  then, I’ve gotten good ink for a few different disciplines in several different productions. Some of the criticisms I didn’t quite understand. What’s this tell me?

It’s all indicative of a fundamental. Caring about what you do, caring about craftsmanship, is part of professionalism. Exactly how that plays out from show to show, scene to scene, isn’t always predictable, but it’s clear to me that if it’s important to you, that’s enough. It’s part of the drive to get better. One way or another, if you care, it pays off.

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