To be a real world dancer in this day in age one needs to be able to do more than just dance. They need to be able to think creatively, work collaboratively, and most importantly need to be self sufficient enough to put on their own performances. To do so requires knowing how to do behind the scenes work. Whether the work is artistically stimulating like lighting design, or menial yet essential like filling up cups of water or cleaning orbs before they go on stage, every little element is integral to the overall production of the show. Without having that man pull open the curtain, no one can see the show. Without having those students switch out gels on the legs, the lighting would lose its flavor. Even if the creative aspect seems the most rewarding from an outsider’s perspective, after experiencing hands on work during Production 2601 I have realized a newfound appreciation for the importance of even the most menial tasks. While they may be basic, knowing they’re helping, and making a few friends along the way, is easily one of the most memorable way to spend a Saturday night.
When I found out about the casting for this semester’s production of Dance Downtown, I will not lie, I was a bit disappointed, even knowing that the odds of freshmen being cast is slim to none. The human part of me still had a slight glimmer of hope that was crushed. But I knew I wanted to somehow be involved in OSU Dance’s biggest performance of the academic year. Through Production 2601 I signed up to work backstage at the Riffe center during the production. Many of my peers moaned and groaned as they begrudgingly entered the process. Maybe I was just being an overly giddy freshman, but I entered the experience bright eyed and bushy tailed. I was so excited. I was going to work lighting boards, adjust sounds, maybe even help give cues. However, as the semester went on, I began to feel nervous. I certainly didn’t know enough about production to take on such serious rolls. Previous shows came and went, as my peers told me all about their important tasks and their weekends spent working with cues in a small lighting room in the Barnett Theater. But this performance was not in the Barnett theater, this was downtown at the Capital Theater. So naturally, I grew even more nervous.
The moment finally came to receive our tasks. I anxiously awaited what we would have to do. As much as I was still nervous, the excitement returned. What exciting job would we have to make this massive production come to life? What little element would I be able to point to and say, “I did that”? The big assignment would be… filling up Dixie Cups of water and changing gels. The glamour was completely stripped. But the second I got to work, I realized how badly I felt for my peers working other shows. Changing these gels in the short period of time was stressful enough, I could only imagine taking on serious tasks like enacting lighting cues that could in one swift movement soil an entire effect the choreographer worked so hard to create.
Nevertheless, that feeling of triumph came over me in the end. I got to experience the old thrill of show week I grew up to know and love, but from a brand new angle. While the dancer makes magic by moving their bodies, I helped make magic by allowing the lights to look as luminous as they did. I helped make the orbs look crisp and clean so to not muddle their effect. I helped make sure dancers didn’t sprint behind delicately placed projections and swiftly destroy a carefully crafted artistic intention. In this situation, how different was my roll from the roll of the dancers? While the dancers were slaves to their choreographers, I was just as much a slave to the lighting designers (and of course also the choreographers). Just because my face could not be seen, does not mean my presence was not just as sure as that of a dancer. Even so, one might think that just changing the gels seems like a very minimal thing, and if it’s messed up it isn’t the end of the world. This is because the most obvious aspect of the lighting is usually whatever is being projected onto the scrim. What the trained eye will realize is that the different colored gels are entirely responsible for the luminosity represented on the stage. Every little element is important. Even the nitty gritty experience of tearing apart the stage at the end of the performance is a striking (pun intended) experience. To see the magic of the stage stripped to rows of lights and boxes of miscellaneous tools is transformative to anyone working in performing arts. It was both educational, rewarding, and even fun, to tear apart the pretty surface view given to the audience.
Also, while it may seem juvenile, to me one of the best parts of this experience was social. I got to get closer to my crew buddies and spend more time with them. As dancers one of the coolest factors of our art form of how closely it relies on multiple people. The smaller scale the work is, the more intimate an experience the production. Granted, this was a fairly large scale work. Union members and large government run theaters were involved. However, even while the Big Man’s presence loomed overhead, underneath his cloud the dancers, teachers, choreographers, and stage crew of OSU Dance huddled and grew closer. I got to know many people whom I’d previously only recognized by name or face on a much deeper level. I had bonding experiences backstage as minimal as coloring with friends in a coloring book, but the smallest of things can have the biggest impact. While it is rewarding to say that I had a hand in creating the elegant monstrosity that is Dance Downtown, on a much more personal level, and as an extroverted person, it was rewarding to make so many connections with people. This in it’s essence is the humanism of art that I have always been attracted to.
Being the little guy of the production is a thankless yet rewarding job. There is no job so small that the show could go without. Yes, jobs can be condescend and production crews need not be as populous as a union run government theater’s. However, every small task is necessary for creating one cohesive experience, and I’m proud I finally stopped dancing (again, pun intended) on the surface of that, and dove deep into the seas of theater.