Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, September 7, 2015

Working Class in Academia II: Blame the theatre

The other day I wrote about being working class in academia and how it affected both how I viewed work and how others judged me.

This past week I've been working on my chapter 4 #DevilDiss revisions, the Shakespeare chapter, and it's been hard going. Not because the notes weren't good (they were) or because I didn't know how to fix the larger issues (I figured that out on day one) but because I'm getting worn down, and stressed. I've never internalized stress before in my life, but I am now. To the point where it's affecting my eating habits, and I'm chugging these all the time.
Since I've been working non-stop on #DevilDiss my DVR has gotten pretty full. When I'm working I like to have the tv on as background noise, but I quickly tune it out, so it can't ever be something I need to pay attention to. So the DVR keeps recording, and filling up. This week, since revisions, notes, and looking up research is a different type of writing for me, I've been trying to clear out the things I have on the DVR.

The other day it was Whiplash and I jokingly put on social media that anyone who thought the treatment in the movie was harsh never got a theatre degree at ECU.
I was only partially kidding.
And it led to an epiphany.
My work ethic only partially comes from my background. The rest comes from my indoctrination, sorry, I mean training, in theatre at 18.
Yes, my mother worked retail, often six and seven days a week. And as a manager, they were long days, often first in, last out. And she would have died at work if she hadn't gotten disability, she certainly worked for a lot of years. And I often saw her juggling two jobs to support us, a paralegal or retail job during the day and working at a restaurant at night. I thought every one did that. And we were still poor all the time.

And all of that got absorbed in my brain, but it was what I learned my four years at ECU in their technical theatre program that cemented these things.
These are the things that I learned there:
  • On time is late and 15 minutes early is on time.
  • There are no sick days. In fact, calling in dead wasn't an option.
  • There are no days off. There are changeover days.
  • There are no holidays or vacations.
Now don't get me wrong, I LOVED working in theatre. And I miss it a lot. I particularly miss the friends I had then. But there are more than a few horror stories that impacted my work ethic.
  • I once when running a crew jumped off the pit cover onto the floor, landed on a plug and rolled my ankle. It immediately swelled, and was instantly painful. And I waited until the end of the four hour call to call 911 because I knew that if I left crew call early I'd be in trouble. I was put on crutches and told to stay off it for weeks. I returned to work the next day because I knew I'd be in trouble otherwise.
  • Once on tour I had a horrible stomach flu. We moved the set piece we were assigned in the show further into the wings in between scenes so I could throw up in a bucket during down time.
We were taught that if you ever missed a crew call, no matter the reason, you would fail. That there was no such thing as time off, holidays, or vacation. Quality of life was not really a thing. Off time wasn't either. We were taught that our work ethic would serve us well. That ECU's reputation for only producing dedicated techs would serve us well.

And it did, kind of. I worked from the day I graduated, first in Atlanta, where I worked freelance, then as the master electrician for Georgia State University's roadhouse the Rialto. Then making the move to NYC where I worked freelance, then for Manhattan School of Music, and finally ending up at the Public Theatre as their production electrician.

But from 1994 when I started at ECU and 2001 when I quit theatre to become a teacher, I worked 6-7 days a week. When I worked at the Public we had Nextels we were expected to on call 24/7. Many nights I'd just get home to my apartment at 210th and Broadway only to get the call to head back to the theatre. I never had any holiday off except Christmas. There were no weekends, no vacation days.

I share this because this attitude, this habit of working all the time, is as ingrained in me as my mom working two jobs. I don't share it to inflate myself, or disregard others. This was MY experience. Where I got things from.

But maybe too, the point of this is to consider how much of an impact what we tell 18 year olds has. That the culture of our programs can have lasting effects on our students.
I don't regret my time at ECU, or in professional theatre later. But I can not regret it at the same time that I can also acknowledge that it impacted how I don't feel comfortable not working. That I don't know how to take down time. And that the learned behaviors I have can be traced to this time.

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