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Professionalism

Monday, 10. December 2018 0:16

This weekend I got to experience two strikes. Strike, for those of you who don’t speak theatre, means to take down the set. It might be to move the set to another location, as in the case of a traveling show, or it might mean simply to tear down the set and clear the stage. The latter I witnessed—twice. The first was the Saturday night strike of a play that closed. The concern was to get the stage clear for a concert on Sunday afternoon. Then I got to watch the strike of the concert (although I’m not sure musicians use the term strike). Both of these events happened in a collegiate setting, and although some of the musicians were union musicians, no unions were involved in either strike.

What was obvious in both strikes was the professional attitude of some participants and the less-than-professional attitude of others. Almost everyone involved had participated in a strike before, so the very few who were complete novices were noted and not considered in this observation. It turned out that those whom I labeled as having a professional attitude, were, in fact professionals, or had, at least worked professionally prior to this weekend. And that fact was evident in their approach to the work at hand.

What marked the professionals was pace and persistence. They worked at a consistent pace, neither too slow nor too fast. They were obviously concerned with safety, but they were more concerned with getting the job done. Unlike others who were less practiced, they did not stop to chat or stand around waiting to be directed or play at the job. They moved very smoothly (and cheerfully) from task to task to task. (Let me reiterate: almost all of the participants were experienced, so the attitude of the professional was available to all. All, however, did not adopt this approach.)

And that attitude, the on-going ability to stay focused and on-task, is, I think, one of the hallmarks of the real professional: the ability to keep working whether there is the possibility for immediate reward or not. It’s an attitude that involves a commitment to doing the work. Strike is part of the gig, so you do it; it may not be the most enjoyable part of the job, but you do it.

It’s the same kind of commitment to doing the work that many, many artists in a variety of arts talk about. It’s the showing up—repeatedly to do the work. It’s the development of a routine that requires that you do so many pages per day or standing in front of the easel on a regular basis or spending so many hours a day working at your art.

And that commitment is, to my mind, one of the marks of a true professional in the arts: one who works at his/her art consistently and repeatedly, one who puts in the time, no matter whether a particular task is enjoyable or not. There are, of course, other characteristics of the true professional, but this is one of the most important. All it takes to be called a professional is to get paid for your art.  Professionalism, on the other hand, is not just a matter of getting paid, not just a matter of talent; it is a matter of attitude and approach.

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The Value of Strike

Monday, 21. October 2013 7:12

If you work in theatre you know about a thing called a strike. For the uninitiated, a strike is that time when the set is taken down and removed from the stage. Props are returned to storage. Costumes are readied for cleaning. Color media are removed from lighting instruments. The final act of a strike is the almost-ritual sweeping of the stage. This is a time, often late at night, when everyone knows that the show is finally, irrevocably over.

For some it is a time of some sadness, particularly if the show was a very good one; we always want the good to continue. For others, it is a moment of celebration, a signal that they will be moving on to the next project, knowing that this one, no matter how good or bad, has been completed. For everyone, it is a time of the recognition of finality. The show is over; it will not, cannot have another performance. Only new is available.

Tomorrow there will be new tape lines on the stage. Tomorrow we will begin in earnest on the show that is—for the time being—the most important show of our careers, because the current one always is—if we’re doing it right.

Many of us work on multiple overlapping projects. At times, there seems to be no end to it: start a project, work on two others, complete another. There is little in that routine to serve as any sort of a progress marker. And we need progress markers. Perhaps that’s why it’s so refreshing to participate in a strike. An ending. We won’t be working on that project anymore; now we can put our whole attention on a new project. It is almost a death-rebirth ceremony: the stage has been cleared for whatever is to come.

In my years in theatre, I have been through several hundred strikes. Each one is different. Each one is poignant. Each one carries a sense of new beginnings. And if there is one thing that we need as artists, it’s new beginnings. At a recent art show, an artist who was not exhibiting, commented that she was disappointed that some artists were hanging the same thing that they had put on the walls a year ago. Some theatre artists may do that too—but most do not; they start new on a clean stage.

As I walked out of the theatre after strike last night, I was thinking about the tear-down of the art show in which I had been exhibiting earlier in the day. The two were entirely different, and I thought that if I could wish one thing for not-theatrical artists, it would be that they too could experience strike. There is a recognition of finality and sense of renewal that cannot be equaled, regardless of what position you happen to have held in a show.

And there is value in that recognition; it marks our progress and provides us with new beginnings.  Perhaps those of us who are not now consciously acknowledging endings and beginnings, should.

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