Block 235: October 17, 2013



Yesterday was fairly amazing. I was genuinely happy.

Date: October 17, 2013

Crane: 235

Days Spent on Project: 242

Location: Apartment, Washington Heights, NYC

Person I would have sent it to: Barbara R.

Barbara was the director of the entire National High School Institute program. She had to oversee the many different areas, each with their own division director, their own staff of teachers and groups of students. We, in the Theater Arts Division, were the largest group on the Northwestern campus each summer… When I first taught there in 2000, there was a Dance division, one for Journalism, another for Debate… there might have been one for film too. I forget.

Strange to think that most of Northwestern- and by extension, Evanston- was overrun with “Cherubs” every summer, but I never really interacted with any other division faculty member or student. We were too busy trying to create theater as fast as we could!

And Barbara was always there, making sure everything was running smoothly.

Music I listened to while sewing: I’ve been listening to “Hey, Brother” by Avicii on repeat. It started last night, and has continued through the morning! Maybe I need to listen to the entire album at some point.

Thoughts/Feelings behind the block: I spent some time in a theater yesterday, like most days. Except this time, it was for a production I wasn’t involved with; I was just visiting on off-hours for a quick meeting. Seeing the space with the lights on, seeing people who normally “aren’t” seen but are integral to the production, seeing how things look out of context, it’s eye-opening.

Theater really is an act of Smoke and Mirrors.

At least, in my discipline, I only work on the clothes and accessories that are needed for a specific group of characters in a specific moment. Do I think of what other clothes come from someone’s wardrobe? Not really. Do I spend time shopping for other occasions that the character might be found in? No. All my energy goes towards helping an actor (and director, I suppose) complete a visual transformation so they (the actor) can walk into a space, whatever space that is, and show the audience someone they haven’t met yet.

The set designer only works on what physical world you’re physically going to be able to see. If wall extends beyond sight-lines, is it necessary to continue the wainscoting or the paint treatment? No. If the drawers will remain unopened, will they necessarily be filled with documents or dishes or food or clothes? No.

We focus our work on what you’ll see in the hopes that you’ll suspend your disbelief with us, for us, and follow a story that we want to tell you.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that a life worked in Theater is really about Smoke and Mirrors.

I met a few young actors yesterday, and as the meeting went on, we started to talk about what we’ve done, what we’re doing, where we live, etc. It struck me how much of a carefully choreographed dance that is- sharing only as much information is necessary to keep the conversation going, letting people know what you’ve were most recently in, downplaying the day job or temp job that you might have. It’s strategic.

It’s partially about protection, in ways: do we tell someone who we’ve just met about the tedium of a desk job or staying up too late the night before watching TV or going to auditions or doing research or “networking” or sending out resumes and emails when you’re not sure if you’ll be seeing these people again after two weeks? No.

We let people in only as much as they need to see to keep up the Appearance we need to portray. I guess that’s true for all of us, in all our different careers and lives.


It’s possible Life is a series of illusions, of Smoke and Mirror acts, and we choose what audience members we play to every day. It’s possible that we adjust our act depending on the audience that we need to entertain, not based on choice exactly but the simple nature of Life giving us an audience.

Sometimes, when I feel like I’ve got a few plates spinning in the air on sticks, I think about all the things I *could* be saying as a parlor trick. I’ve done this. I’ve met this person. I’ve been there. I was involved in this. I can do this. I was there. I have this. It’s not an attempt at braggery- not always anyway- but I sometimes think I’ve got better Acts that I could start doing. There are more entertaining facets to show. I could “wow” people. I could.

But I don’t. Because, really, why?

My Audience came here to “see” this. Why would I show them that?

I think about that a lot. And it gets me: am I not selling myself enough here? Should I be a better Carnival barker myself, instead of thinking someone outside the curtain will bring a new audience in every night?

It’s humbling to realize, it is. It’s even more humbling to think that each audience member, paying attention to you as you spin your plates, has their own magic trick they’ll respond with. They have an Act that they’ve practiced, that they know to show when your Act concludes and the attention shifts back to them.

That Act is most likely just as carefully composed and tried as yours. You watch them walk a tight-rope in front of you, and it’s impressive because you’ve never seen that before or maybe it’s not impressive as you saw it last week done twice as high.

But that Act? There’s probably a more exciting one they aren’t showing you, just as you’re keeping one inside you until you find the right time.

It’s weird to think that so much of theater defines my life. This is how I spend my time. This is the money I earn because of it. This is my resume. These are my friends and coworkers and acquaintances. I let theater define who I am because it’s what I do.

Yet the “other” acts that are hidden by the Smoke and Mirrors: how do they define me? If they remain hidden, are they a part of my definition?

What about yours?

So many people have really interesting stories behind them, and how many of us get to tell them fully- or even at all- as we practice spinning plates in the air?

Just something to think about.


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