Why do theater jobs suck?

The show I’ve been working on opens tomorrow.  Friday.  At 8:00 p.m.

I’m beginning to wonder if I just say yes to the wrong projects or if I actually attract crazy people to work with.

This show has not been much different than most.

I got to the theater Monday morning.  At 10:00.  I don’t like mornings.

I spent the next five hours hanging lights.  And when I say lights I mean clip lights.

So the light you use for cleaning up the basement.  I’m using to light a play.  Actually not A play.  Four plays.  Four one-acts.

The reason it takes so long to hang the lights is that first the clip part of the light really needs to be redesigned.  They don’t like to stay clipped and they definitely don’t like to stay clipped and point exactly where you want them to.  It also takes so long because there are no pipes to hang them on.  All of the lights are clipped to either conduit or sprinkler pipe.  A no-no no matter how you look at it.  I also have to run extension cords from each light to a table where the stage manger is going to sit.  They don’t make brown extension cords in 50 foot lengths.

I also have to hang lights to be used for house lights (the lights that are on when the audience comes in).

By 2:00 I’ve gotten twelve stories about what the shows are supposed to look like.

One play is supposed to be at sunset.  No it’s not it’s at 1:30 in the morning.  No it’s not, it’s a sunup.  What the fuck.  Somebody make a decision and decide on something.  This is just for one play.  There are four.

This might be a good time to let you know that the space isn’t really a theater.  I know, you’d never have guessed.  In fact it’s a rehearsal room.  And it has windows everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  You can’t see the lights when they are on, because the sun is coming in from three sides.  I have no idea if what I’m doing is going to work.

Finally rehearsal starts.

The first director is a little difficult.  It’s the play with three scenes and the one that is supposed to have a sunset.  I’ve actually gone out of my way to make this happen.  Whoops.  He doesn’t know where I got that idea from.  It’s the middle of the night.  In fact all three scenes are the middle of the night. Fuck.  Cut that idea.

Second show is directed by a friend from grad school.  The play is ridiculous.  It borders on offensive.  I’d tell you what it’s about but Chuck is going to the show with me tomorrow night and I want him to be surprised.  This show should be easy to light.  If they’d just decide where on the stage it’s going to take place.  First it’s here. Then it’s there.  And then the chairs are turned this way.  Then that way.  Fuck.

Third play is up next.  Director reeks of cigarettes and booze.  Actually every time I’m with in 50 feet of her all I can smell are cigarettes and booze.  She doesn’t care.  She doesn’t care.  Anything will work.

At the start of the evening director number 4 has stated that his play will be the easiest.

Famous fucking last words.

By the time I left last night I was ready to put my foot up his ass.

He wanted to know if I could do this?  And that?  And this?  And that?  And why is it dark over there?  And over there?  And over there?

Fuck you!!!

I’m lighting a show with clip lights@#!

I get through the night.  I’ve taken lots of notes.  I’m told the schedule for the next day.  I will have 10 minutes to take care of my notes before we start rehearsal.  Fuck.

So the next day we start rehearsal and I spend the next five hours apologizing for things looking the same as they did the night before.  Director number 4 is hearing none of that.  Why does it look the same?  Is it going to look like this?  Why isn’t it different.

All of this is made worse by the fact that the set hasn’t been painted and it’s all white.  As I tried to explain to all four directors.  It’s not that the actors aren’t bright enough.  It’s that the back ground is white.  It doesn’t matter how much light I put on the actors the back ground is going to win.

Director number 4 never gets this concept.

Fuck you!!!

Wednesday I show up and I take care of my notes.  It’s been announced that tonight will be a preview.  It’s usually nice if you tell the designers and cast that an audience might be there.

So rehearsal starts in the afternoon.

And it’s full sun.

And you can’t tell how the show looks.

And director number 4 runs over with concerns and questions.

Shut the fuck up.  It’s as bright in here as it is outside I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.

And this is as good a time as any to let you know that I’ve figured out that it’s theater by committee.  Seems that any of the four directors, two producers, 9 actors or stage manager can give notes at any given time to anyone they please.  I don’t even know how to respond to them.  Director number four is now giving me notes about all four shows.

At this point he’s also not grasping this idea that I’m lighting a show with 10 clip lights, brown extension cords and dimmers that I stole off the lamps in our living room.

Fuck you.

So we get to the run last night.  No one shows up so it’s not really a preview.

Before it starts director number 4 wants me to bring up the cue for his show.  He looks at it and says that it’s not bright enough.  How the fuck do you know?  There’s no one on stage.  You are looking at light on a blank stage.  Shut the fuck up.

And we go through the show.  And we get to the middle of the second piece and the producer gets up in the middle of the scene and gets a chair and changes the focus on a light.


Okay.  In a couple of hours it will be fine.

So we get through intermission.  And the first play of the second act.  And the second play.

And the show is over and it all went well.  And in just a few minutes I’ll be done.

And so I’m standing around waiting for notes when I hear director number four talking to the producer.  I can only hear parts of the conversation but it has to do with the lighting of the third piece.  Director number 4 leaves and I go up to the producer and ask if there are lighting questions.  He says no.  They are actually directing questions.  I know this is bullshit.  But in a few more minutes I’ll be out of here.

I stand there as the woman reeking of booze and cigarettes comes up and proceeds to have a conversation about her show with the producer.  He starts talking about repurposing lights and changing the focus etc.  I stand there with my mouth open, expecting at any time they’ll come over and ask me to make changes.  Without asking me my opinion at all.

And I turn around and go back to talk to the stage manager and when I turn back around the producer is moving lights.


At this point I’m done.  I pick up my stuff, put on my jacket and start out the door.

The stage manager stops me and asks if I’m leaving.

I look at her and tell her I’m done.

I was furious by the time I got home.

So furious that I was ready to send an email asking that my name be taken off the show.  Luckily Adam suggested that I call Chuck.  Chuck has experience in producing plays and so I ask him how I should proceed.  He tells me to stay calm, go to opening, be gracious, pick up my money, and leave and be done with them and remember to say no next time one of them wants me to work with me.

And that’s what I’m doing.

Just for the record.  The problem they were trying to fix.  The third piece is directed so that the actors are as far from the clip lights as they can be.  Of course they aren’t as bright as the other scenes.  Of course it’s supposed to be 3 in the morning so exactly how bright is it supposed to be.  And I’d already fixed the problem of them being dim but my solution involved making a design choice, not just turning the lights on brighter.  And if it involves lighting, it’s not a director note, it’s a fucking lighting design note.




5 thoughts on “Why do theater jobs suck?

  1. Lemuel March 26, 2010 / 05:20

    Make a list and put it on the ‘frig. “I solemnly swear that I shall never work with these people again: …” And list the names. Review it daily. 😉

  2. Peter March 26, 2010 / 13:45

    J, I was wondering when you would do a play like those you did before, it turns out you ended up in one again. Swear to your hearts content and promis yourself never to do such a fuck-up ever again!!! 😉

  3. Urspo March 26, 2010 / 23:05

    Is there any joy in doing this?

  4. Tom March 29, 2010 / 22:14

    That sounded aweful… Seems to me that waiting tables is more predictable… But I know you love the lighting thing… Hope all goes well!

    Love ya MD


  5. Java March 30, 2010 / 21:17

    That’s a very sad story. I feel for all the people who had to work under those conditions.

    Are you back in NYC?

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