Rod Dreher

My favorite article in the current issue of In Character is the Peter J. Marks piece about the work ethic of Broadway stagehands. He saw it up close when the actress Julie Andrews took him backstage to observe how the collective act of theatrical production works. Marks writes:

In my theater-world travels, I’ve seen the collaborative ethos reinforced again and again. It is not a wholly selfless pursuit, working in the wings, aisles, construction shops, dressing rooms, and lighting booths of the theater. The pay is not bad, certainly not at the highest levels of commercial, unionized Broadway. (Of course, at lower dramatic altitudes, the salary drops to as low as zero.) And there can be ample psychic income in the commitment to the craft of play-making, from sewing the costumes to hanging the lights, as well as in contributing to an artistic endeavor that may have a lasting impact on the culture.
Still, much of the activity in the beehive of theatrical life goes on without even a minimal sort of public acknowledgment. It’s a strange dichotomy. For an art form so reliant on applause, most of those who work in the theater only hear it as muffled noise from another room. Propping up a star’s halo, the behind-the-scenes folks hardly bask in a sliver of reflected light.
It takes a special kind of humility to devote yourself to being backstage for the creation of a play, to knowing from the outset that you will receive little of the credit. There is, of course, a certain safety, too, in being out of the line of fire. But we are a culture that more and more seems to define success as the aggregation of renown, as the cachet of a boldface name, as the catalyst for a gazillion clicks of a mouse and qualifying for a sizable personal entry on Wikipedia.
So toiling anonymously in a public profession such as the theater translates for me into something rather noble. You know from the outset that there will be no fanfare for you, that the satisfactions will on some level always be vicarious. The good of the whole is what matters. Absorbing this reality requires an acceptance of modest status — a true spirit of deference.

One thinks of the unknown medieval craftsmen who gave us Notre Dame and Chartres. In his piece, Marks talks to a carpenter who says outsiders don’t often understand how much pleasure it gives him to work behind the scenes on crafting a thing of beauty (a play). Excerpt:

“The reason most people do theater is because of the community,” he says, taking a break from work on a Studio revival of the rarely performed ’50s comedy The Solid Gold Cadillac. “It is an art form where together you create something so much greater as an artist than you could do by yourself.
“People say to me that I could do [home] furnishings, work on interior design and make a lot more money,” Cook continues. “And that’s true. But theater satisfies a deeper creative passion and drive in me. One of the greatest things about this job is that you solve problems and overcome challenges. Each show is going to be unique, and it’s something you don’t get, learning to build cabinets in the quote-unquote real world.”

Read the whole thing.

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