Archive for January, 2012

The End of the Rainbow set as seen from my spot behind the light board.


I spent this week in tech.


For the theatrically minded of my readers, you know what that means. For those of you who aren’t (bless you!), let me ‘splain. No, is too long. Let me sum up.

A play goes through several stages (ha!) before it opens to the public. First, the actors and director sit around a table, talking about the script and learning about the world it takes place in. Then , the actors get on their feet and the ensemble begins to put together what eventually will become the show. After two to four weeks of this (depending on the theater), the show goes into technical rehearsals – and that’s where I get involved.

Different theaters handle this process differently, but all of them do it. It’s the time when the work that the actors and director have been doing in rehearsal meet the work that the designers and technicians have been doing, sometimes for months ahead of time. The actors put on their costumes, pick up their real props, and walk on to the set for the first time. And this is when the lighting team kicks it into overdrive and makes sure that the audience can see what’s happening on stage.

Of course it’s more complicated than that, but you get the basic idea. For a week, we sit in a dark room figuring out how all these disparate pieces fit together. It’s when a play ceases to be about one thing and becomes a conglomeration. Each department does their job so single-mindedly for so long that by the time we get here, it’s a struggle to let go and commit ourselves to the group process – but we do, every time. Art is all about ego, but theater has to be all about letting go of that ego for it to work.

As a lowly technician, I get to be pretty devoid of ego most of the time. I show up, I type like a madwoman on that weird computer for ten or twelve hours, and I go home so I can do it all again the next day. As a stagehand, your job is to sit on your ego as hard as you can in the service of someone else’s vision. And frankly? That’s ok with me, most of the time. I’ve worked on this end of things for about ten years and I’ve learned a lot about myself in that time. I’ve worked on the other end, too – the designer end, the vision end – and both have value.

There’s a certain kind of poetry in sitting back and facilitating the process for someone else. It took me a long time to figure that out. When I started this job as a fresh-out-of-college know-it-all in 2001, I was two things: cocky about my artistic ability, and terrified that someone would figure out that as a technician I was a fraud. In the intervening 10 years, I’ve flipped sides. I’ve worked for some of the great geniuses of American and European lighting design (as I am on this show), and I’ve learned something new each and every show. Sometimes I’ve been able to use those tricks in my own work and sometimes I’ve filed them away for later, but what’s become starkly clear to me is that there is still SO MUCH I have to learn, and so many amazing people to learn it from. At the same time, I’ve pushed and worked and struggled to become a better technician, a better programmer, and a better stagehand. At this point in my career, I think I’ve done pretty well. There’s always more to learn, new things to try, and new technology to get my hands on and tinker with. Still, I’ve developed what I’ll call the Stagehand Soul – the ability to sit with the same show day in and day out for 40, 50, 60, even 90 performances and make each one matter.

There’s a lot to be said on that topic that will wait for another post. My point is that it takes skill and care to work ten- to 14-hour days for two weeks straight creating something, and then relax into doing the same exact thing every day, exactly the same way, for the next six weeks after that. When I describe my job to other people, I tell them that it’s 90% boredom and 10% sheer panic. It’s not quite that stark, but the sentiment is there. It’s about being able to focus all your attention to a pinpoint and hold it there for longer than we humans are naturally inclined to do, and then turn all that intensity off and find a zen state from which to operate for the rest of the run. It’s very primordial in its purest form, very evolutionarily relevant. We undergo stress and engage our fight-or-flight reflexes for a period of time, and then we get to enjoy a period of relaxation. Tech is a bit like running away from a lioness on the veldt – you focus, or you get eaten. But you can’t stay that way forever. Eventually, the gazelle finds a safe place to eat, to drink, to rest. She stays there and gathers her strength, because she knows eventually the lion will come back. Both of those states are essential to the process. They create a normal rhythm that brings us artists into tune with the rest of nature.


Of course, I make all of this far more grandiose than it needs to be. Functionally, we’re all a bunch of kids who have somehow gotten someone to give us money to do what we love. We show up every day because we don’t want to know what the world would be like without someone to tell its stories. Or to tell it stories. We’re grateful to be those people.

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Chinese Year of the Water Dragon

Semi-Calligraphic Script for "Water Dragon"

Happy Year of the Black Water Dragon! We celebrated at the dojo this year in our traditional way – with a calligraphy class from Shifu. I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about Chinese calligraphy, and I’m sure that anyone versed in proper technique or who reads Chinese fluently will look at my little piece of paper and find a million things wrong with it. Still, I’m pretty pleased with what I was able to learn in just two hours, and this sign will go up in my workroom to remind me to keep the spirit of the water dragon with me until next year.

It was a great class, and we had plenty of students this year participating. Everyone made a beautiful piece in their own way, with a mixture of styles of script and ability levels. Some of my fellow students have studied this art form in-depth, and you can really tell in their work because they have a masterful control of their brushstrokes and are developing their own styles of writing. Us noobs are just desperately trying to get the bristles facing the right direction and the basic strokes down. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and made me want to practice more on my own. (Because I need another hobby.)

FEMA students and their projects!











The Water Dragon is said to bring prosperity and great change, and I know that there’s at least one HUGE change on my horizon, with R and I getting married in September. We’re hoping for a little prosperity this year, both for us and for the world as a whole. A little certainty and comfort this year would be a blessing; it’s been a long time coming. R was well under-employed for the better part of a year, and with me covering his health insurance, it’s really taken a toll. Now that he has a job and I’ve gotten a promotion, I think things are looking up for us!

Happy Chinese New Year to you and yours, and best wishes for positive change and prosperity in the coming months.

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…Not at all like Pinky and the Brain, sadly.

Stumbled across this article today about how repeated major life stressors, like breakups, violence, or trauma can actually decrease the amount of gray matter in the area of the brain that regulates emotion. It seems that these kinds of stress, at least according to the findings of this one study, can be a precursor to the development of mental illness.

What I wonder about, and I hope they can look into next, is if these brain changes can be reversed. I know that generally neurons don’t spontaneously regrow, but does the brain find a way to repair these damages and work around them? If so, I’m hopeful for the future of my own case.

In 2007 I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, a milder form of manic-depressive illness characterized by depressive episodes and periods of hypomania. With meds and therapy I’ve been largely symptom-free for a couple of years now – in other words, I feel normal. (Except for the seven-pills-a-day bit.) I still struggle with sleeping too much and the occasional bout of feeling paralyzed by the to-do list, but these seem like minor hassles in the face of what things used to be like. My hope is that someday, I’ll be stable enough to go off the meds entirely and I’ll be able to function more or less “normally,” at least for some values of normal.

So hence the fascination with brain research. There were a plethora of traumatic incidents in a seven-year time span for me, and I wonder if the damage from those can ever be repaired – if the broken bits of brain can be worked around and tucked away. Articles like this that show that researchers are identifying the causes of these disorders give me hope. If we know why something happened, we can start to identify how to prevent or undo it. I know that this is just one study, and that this is just the beginning. But maybe it’s the start of a way out for me, too.

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Yesterday marked our first attempt to integrate the two cats. We’ve had them separated for the last week – one upstairs and one downstairs. Smee’s been transitioning nicely to his new home, and has come to trust me and R completely. Inara, on the other hand, is not happy about this new development, and hasn’t been fond of the idea of having a brother.

We opened the door to the basement last night and let Inara find her way up on her own. There was the expected hissing and snarling, but they seemed to be tolerating the other for most of the evening. Smee chased Inara upstairs at one point and she hid from him under the bed – and then he hid from her at the other end of the bed! Later on, Inara chased Smee into the basement and took a swipe at him, and that’s when we called off the experiment for the night.

Today, things were a little rougher. There was much more growling and snarling from both of them, and I had to break up the beginnings of a cat fight. I’ve isolated them from each other again, and tomorrow, we’ll try to feed them together on opposite sides of the basement door. Hopefully taking a small step back will make everyone happier and more comfortable. All-in-all, though, I don’t think it was too bad for a first try.

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FOAMing Along

One of the delightful knitting blogs that I subscribe to is Alice Yu’s lovely Socktopus. I love reading the work of such talented sock designers (as I’m an addicted avid sock knitter myself).  Today on the blog is the beginning of her FOAM-along; that is, Finished Object A Month. As I have quite a few WIPs languishing around in baskets gathering dust and cat hair, I think I’m going to play along, at least unofficially.

Of course, January’s objects (yes, two of them) are secret knitting, since they should have been done in December in time to give to my brother and sister-in-law. SIL’s project is actually done except the end-weaving, but Bro’s has a long way to go yet. Once they’re done and in the mail I’ll post photos and descriptions of the machinations of these two objets d’art, but you’ll just have to guess in the meantime.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m immune from the annual wicked case of Start-itis; and I’m itching to get my fingers on this pile of Classic Elite Pirouette. (So is Inara, check out the little paw on the left. She’s helping.)








My plan is to hold this together with a dark charcoal gray cashmere from a thrift store sweater I’m unraveling. I’m hoping that will tone down the GREEN a little. First thing first, though — FOAM!

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I’ve been kicking this idea around for some time now, wondering what I could add to the blogosphere that isn’t already there. There are dozens of great knitting blogs (I know, I read a lot of them). There are industry-specific blogs and blogs about wedding planning and “here’s my life, look at how I run it really well” blogs. In other words, I’ve held back because I didn’t think I had anything to offer.

So why now? Perhaps because I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t journal the way I used to, but I still have the urge to write things down before I forget them. Maybe because the on-line format lends itself well to adding in the photos and video that punctuate the words I write, and make the ideas and memories all the more visceral. Maybe because all the cool kids are doing it. Maybe because I know there’s a community of like-minded, completely disorganized people JUST LIKE ME out there.

Last night in martial arts class, our Shifu was talking about training in deep internal arts, and asking us how it is that we know chi is moving, how we learn to trust what we feel and see when everything in Western culture tells us that invisible energy is stupid. After doing a couple of exercises trying to manifest an external representation of an internal process, we decided as a class that the answer to learning to believe in chi is to have others, outside of our own experience, witness and describe to us the same things that we’re feeling. Knowing that chi is there comes from the validation of our community. Perhaps this is a part of why the art of the blog has come so far in the last 10 years, and why I am taking back to the screen for the first time in a very long time. We seek to validate our existence, our choices, and our experience with the love, support, and commiseration of our community. It’s great to share our joys and sorrows and disappointments and triumphs with others.

So welcome, bienvenue, salut! It’s great to have you here tagging along with me as I figure this all out from one day to the next. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions or let me know if I get boring. I’m just going to be as honest as I can, and share the stuff that I think is fascinating.

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