This week turned into many things it was never supposed to be. Primarily, insanely fucking busy.
It wasn’t slated to be a bad week. A corporate at the beginning of the week, a men’s choir’s Christmas concert midweek, round out the weekend with a couple rock concerts. Two days off spaced through the week, so there would still be time for laundry and dishes. Rather manageable, really.
But then, last minute, a government event got smashed in between the rehearsal for the men’s choir and their performance. Before, we were setting up the choir, rehearsing it, having a day off, and coming back to run the show before tearing it down. Now, it was set up for the government event, walk-through of governor’s handlers, strike that, set up the choir, rehearse the choir, strike that, re-set the governor, another walk-through by governor handlers, run the governor’s event, strike that, re-set the choir, run that show, and finally strike the whole damn thing and do a rock concert the next day. All this in about 60 hours. 60 long-ass hours. We alternated between endless stretches of waiting for the right people to show up and short bursts of frantic scrambling to get the next thing set up before the next people showed up. It was exhausting, physically and emotionally.
The roughest patch was without a doubt yesterday into today. Back on Tuesday, as we looked over the schedule for the next two days, we knew it would be messy. In at 9am to prep the governor’s event, followed by walk-through’s by various levels of the governor’s staff. He might be in to rehearse in the afternoon, he might not. (He didn’t.) Strike that event, have the choir set up by 6pm for rehearsal. Strike that at 10pm, re-set the governor’s setup. And if the governor didn’t rehearse in the afternoon, he might be by around 10:30pm to rehearse. (He wasn’t.) That could last until who knows how long, but a solid guestiment was at least midnight. (Shockingly, we were done by 10:30pm.) And back again at 6am for the governor’s event.
We didn’t know for sure what the turnaround time was going to be beforehand, but assuming that one needs at least 4 hours of sleep to be functioning at a minimal level, we needed at least 7 hours of turnaround time. (4 hours of sleep + 1 hour of commute time each way + 1 hour to shower, eat breakfast, etc. = 7 hours turnaround.) Anything less than that would hardly be worth the time and gas to drive home. And with a snowstorm predicted to drop 4-6 inches on us starting around midnight, we knew we’d likely need even more time.
Which is why when we left the house yesterday morning, we had a small suitcase, four pillows, and two quilts packed in the backseat. If last night’s call ended at least 7 hours before this morning’s call began, we would drive home. Less than that, and we would sleep in the theatre.
Which is what we ended up doing. Even though we had 7 hours turnaround time, the snow made us nervous, and being late to work this morning was not an option; the government event hit the ground running at 6am, and it was implied that anyone who came late should probably start prepping their resume. Add to that the fact that Kyle wasn’t 100% confident that he could make the 40 minute commute in the snow without passing out from exhaustion, and crashing at work just made sense.
And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. We brought a hamper full of spare legs (long, skinny curtains that mask the wings) up to our office and fashioned ourselves a little sleeping pallet of sorts on the floor. It wasn’t exactly our mattress at home, but it was of an equivalent comfort to a couch. Being in the building alone can be a bit unsettling; even if I’m working alone during the day I like to have music playing because the space being so massive and empty makes me jumpy. But in our little nest in our office it felt cozy. (Plus, this way we could still cuddle!) We woke up at 4:30am and showered in one of the chorus dressing room showers. Not something I’d like to do everyday, but certainly not impossible.
Despite the success of our overnight adventure, I can’t help but think about our willingness to crash out at work. As soon as we realized that this was a possibility, it was immediately accepted without a second thought. Sure, it wasn’t the ideal option; passing out in our office on a pile of soft goods and showering in a shower of gym-caliber never is. Not to mention the fact that by the time we leave work today we will likely have been inside the building without seeing daylight for 30 hours or so. But it was what it was and we’d do what we had to do. After all, my previous boss, who was commuting 2 hours each way, slept at work on a couple of occasions when the turnaround time was short. And there are countless stories among theatre vets of excessively long workdays and epic feats accomplished without much sleep or food. So while ideal, it wasn’t unheard of. Within our industry, that is.
Maybe I’m just uninformed. Maybe there are legions of poor, unsung martyrs, crashing out on couches in offices everywhere. (I hope not for your sake, because sleeping at work ain’t fun.) But I’ve never heard of it happening outside of the tech theatre industry. I’ve never known other fields where it wasn’t uncommon to keep an air mattress or a fold-up cot in one’s office. Where the promise of at least 6 hours of sleep wasn’t a given, and less, unacceptable. Where you sometimes get to eat only if you remembered and managed to grab a quick bite. And yet, when it is required of us to give of ourselves beyond the level of heath and comfort, we don’t hesitate; we just do. There’s an old (and very over-used) saying that goes, “The show must go on,” and the reality is that it must, even if it means sacrificing our health and sanity.
And I don’t know what it says about us. Well, I know what it says about us: it says that we have chosen to work in a field that sometimes abuses us because we love what we do with such intensity and passion that our well-being becomes secondary to the needs of the show. We are in the business of making magic, making the impossible happen; sometimes magic requires extraordinary work that doesn’t allow for sleep or regular meals. What I don’t know is whether this is a thing to be proud of or not. Does it mean that we’re the lucky few who’ve found jobs that we love so passionately that we don’t mind sacrificing ourselves? Or does it mean that we work in an industry that willingly abuses us because they know that we love what we do so much that we’ll take the abuse in order to keep our jobs? Is this just part of the gig? And is this level of selflessness something that later in my life I, like so many other aging stagehands, will find myself unable to maintain?
What I do know is that this stint of insanity is going to make for a very nice paycheck. That it would be much harder to get through if my coworkers weren’t some of my favorite people on this planet. That it would be nearly impossible to get through if my husband weren’t right with me in the trenches. And that I am fucking grateful as shit to have a steady, if unpredictable, job in the field of my choice. Beyond that, I don’t have any answers, and at the moment I’m just too damn tired to think about the questions.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a show to put up.