I Believe Empathy Comes from Experience

Marina - Snellville, Georgia
Entered on May 9, 2009
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: creativity

I live theater.

From early morning to late at night I am hanging rigging, building miscellaneous boxes and rolling staircases, working the lighting plot, and anytime in between, you can find me backstage or in a wing rehearsing a monologue, scene or practicing a song for the upcoming musical production. Am I an actor who techs or a techie who acts is a question yet to be answered. In any case, I see the inside of theater more then I see my own bedroom, meaning most of my time is spent observing people in the theater and trying to understand their dynamics. Theater, much like life, is made of up many components, from the designers to the directors, to choreographers and dancers, all which are vital to creating a successful, audience pleasing performance. At the end of the day, though, these equally important groups are separated into the techies vs. the talent. Having experience in both of these units, it’s easy to see where actors and techies deal with misunderstandings and certain disagreements. There is a competitive temperament between these two groups, possibly competition built upon a certain lack of respect and rapport for one another. This is not to say that these feelings are just naturally antagonistic, but these two groups deal with different jobs, their own kinds of chaos, chaos that they, as people often do, mistake as the only existing chaos in the world.

Technical crew has specific duties; they make sure the actors can be seen, heard, have props, a set, and costumes. They are responsible for the actors, the other members of their crew, and themselves. Actors have specific duties as well; learn the blocking, lines, songs, whatever is needed for their part in the performance but they are typically responsible for themselves. Techies, usually carrying ladders, taping down cords, or hanging up lights, often find themselves aggravated with performers, who always seem to be conveniently standing in the exact spot something has to be placed. They are never quiet enough backstage, and are often complaining about some technical flaw that they don’t understand. From the actor’s point of view, the technical crew is always messing up. Groans can be heard across the stage when the audio guy has a late audio cue. The techies always seem to be in the way, always yelling to pick up costumes, never having the set painted soon enough or the props ready fast enough. They are always speeding past everyone, never speaking in a pleasant tone, always pushy. They surely have a hidden agenda to screw up the actors and ruin the show.

Maybe the problem with theater and the problem with life is that everyone is so busy thinking about their own needs, their own lives, and their own chaos, that they dismiss those of others. Maybe it’s merely the lack of empathy that’s the issue. Being on stage is extremely stressful. Having to complete an entire set change from a living room to a shoe store in 30 seconds can be equally stressful. Actors reword, skip, and entirely miss lines so many times through out months of rehearsal but the audio crew cues something up late once and it seems all hell brakes loose. Actors rehearse for months; the tech crew rehearses for weeks. If the aim is to crown a winner of the group working hardest, this match will go on forever.

What is the point of the competition, the fighting, and the back-handed comments? Are we all not working hard to put on the best production possible? We all hope the actors don’t mess up their lines; the stage crew doesn’t put the set in the wrong place; that lighting gets all their cues correctly and no actor is left in the dark. Most Actors and techies have no idea what the other side endures; they need to experience this. An exchanging of shoes must take place. Techies can slip into some character shoes and perform under scalding lights that feel as though they are slowly boiling the skin. Actors can lace up their sneakers and deal with a cordless microphone breaking down one minute into a four minute duet. The eternal lesson – walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – may need to be employed so each side can gain some understanding. Take a couple laps around the theater – actors, coil some extension cords; techies pick up a script. Until we each take a step back and examine theater and life from a different angle, we can’t begin to understand the difficulties endured by others. This I believe.