High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006


In college, A and I worked with a group aptly named "Shoestring Theatre." University Theatre, which I wrote about some time ago was the "real" theatre group on campus. Shoestring, as the red-headed stepchild, had a two-ply schtick: (1) We were supposed to do plays that focused on social issues; (2) for every production, we paid a professional director.

Other than our director budget, which was paid by the Episcopalian thingamy on campus, we had very little money to work with. We also had no permanent space (either performance or rehearsal), no stock of costumes on which to draw, and only the most minimal stock of props. We did have home-made light trees consisting of buckets filled with concrete with one 1x2 stuck into it and a complicated series of other 1x2s connected to that by wingnuts and washers. To go with these, we had a random collection of clamp-on lamps that could hold majestic 2.5 watt bulbs. We also had disposable pie plates for holding gels. Not that we had gels.

The trees themselves appear to have been cut from some kind of sacred Native American wood based on their murderous tendencies toward anyone so foolish as to try to use them. Oh, and we had a giant backdrop cloth thingy, half navy blue, half powder blue. Yes, it was useful for sound dampening, but that's about it.

Whenever a production was in the works, people really should have known to stay away from us. We no longer had friends, relatives, employers, casual acquaintances, or bitter enemies. We had potential sources of bakshish. And we were never too proud to beg from UT. I borrowed crystal goblets from my bosses. I called every business within a 10-mile radius of Hyde Park, demanding any and all wooden crates they might have. I appeared at one person's door at 2 in the morning declaring: "I need a straight razor. I know you have one. Give it!" I brazenly went to the counter at Uncle Fun and declared, "Your toy guns are ridiculously overpriced. You want $15 for these four. I'll give you $10. I'm going to lay the $10 on the counter and walk out of here with these guns. Keep your hands where I can see them. IT'S FOR THEATRE, DAMNIT!"

Because we had no permanent space, things got increasingly difficult as productions approached. Such props, costumes, and set pieces as we accumulated had to be toted to whatever random space in which we might be rehearsing that night. At the end of every rehearsal, up to and including all tech week and dress rehearsals, everything had to be broken down and stored in whatever nook we'd managed to wrangle out of the physical plant folks. During the course of the productions I worked on, I had stolen: my iron, a duffel bag, the world's rattiest black heels (which, amazingly enough, turned up in the drawer of a buffet in a different room in the same building, more than a year later), the crystal goblets (borrowed from bosses), an ax (can't even remember from whom that was borrowed). Sadly, no one ever took those fucking lighting trees, or if they tried, we never found the body.

Needless to say, what we needed most desperately as we inched toward performances was pack animals. L and his wondercar were conscripted on more than one occassion for such duty (in fact, I have a vivid memory of jogging along behind his Golf holding in the red and blue wooden cubes that didn't quite fit in the tailgate). But we also just needed people at rehearsals to help with the breaking down, packing up, and transport. And I don't know if you've ever tried to get an actor to do physical labor, but unless you're holding them at lighting-tree-point, there's little hope there.

One night after either a rehearsal or performance (probably of Old Times), A and I were trudging dormward. We and maybe one other person had just moved every fucking thing ourselves and we were sore, tired, and possibly less than our usual composed-entirely-of-sweetness-and-light selves. Suddenly, A declared, "My retainer is gone." Well, crap. We headed back to Ida Noyes and began a search starting with the lost and found. We trudged upstairs and down stairs. We rifled through crates full of props and costumes, desperation mounting.

I think we had gotten so hopeless that we'd actually moved outside to scour the courtyard when suddenly A sat bolt upright and said, "It's in the elevator shaft." To this day, that moment is hilarious to me. Not "Pan Pipes Scream Fag" funny; not "Use the Fuzzy End" funny; not even "Oooooooh, the car won't stop!" funny. But hilarious nonetheless. Ah that combination of utter randomness and complete conviction is hard to beat. And, of course, it was in the elevator shaft, having fallen out of her pointless breast pocket when she bent over to lug a crate into the elevator.

I have a habit of wandering around the house, leaving things in completely random locations. Ninety-nine times out of 100, all I have to do is pause for a moment and picture the object in my head to know exactly where this is. This is no way to live life, and it's is hell for m. "Where's our butter dish?" Pause. "In the crawl space on top of the hutch for the desk I don't use anymore." That kind of thing. It's related to my entropic bookshelving approach, but more likely to get me killed because it involves things one is likely to need everyday. (In my defense, M is sadly camped out at the other end of the "finding things" spectrum, particularly with regard to anything in the refrigerator. If I ever had a crack habit or a boy toy or anything I didn't want him to ever find, I'd just put it in the fridge.)

In addition to the dangers to my husband and marriage, this quirk (see? It's adorable if you call it a quirk) sometimes bites me on the ass. If I'm distracted, the item's location might not get written to easily accessible memory at all. Then I have to push the need for the object out of my mind and sneak up on the elevator shaft when it least expects it. This enhances my crazy cat lady persona greatly when, for example, I'm in the midst of ordering at Panera: "I'll have the pick two. Fiesta con queso---great googly moogly, my headphones are in the pocket of my opera coat!---the bistro steak salad, and a whole grain baguette." At the moment, I'm waiting for my elevator shaft epiphany on a number of things, though, including my silver cuff bracelet, which I'd really like to wear today, please, Ms. brane.


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