Something that frequently gets lost on blogs is the nuance of life — the other side of the story.
When I recently posted a previously unpublished entry entitled Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on the trouble with the abundance of travel in American theater I asked my friend Lindsay Jones to help me understand the issue from the perspective of a theater artist who travels frequently to do his work as a sound designer. In some ways, I left off bits of what he said in the interest of brevity — or, rather, directness. But in the leaving out, I skipped over what Jones feels was an essential part of his point, and I’d like to give him an opportunity to explain it (in full) here.
He wrote the following to me in an email Friday night. I have not edited it, and have removed only the parts addressed personally to me.
It’s weird because I kinda feel like I’ve been placed in this role of the bad guy (which is not your fault), due to my line of work, and I kinda feel like there’s only been one side of the context that I provided, which was that I must travel to do what I do. That’s bad for the environment, and I understand that that was the point of your post, so I kinda let it go.
But, in seeing all these people picking up the discussion, I really feel like they’re missing the other side of what I wrote (and was not printed), which is that I think that a constant infusion of new artists collaborating together is actually very good for the future of theatre. Good art comes from new challenges and new ideas and, many times, that comes from new people and new situations. That happens by artists being in new environments, and, a lot of times, that happens through travel. I understand that your research shows that travel is now bad for the environment. And I totally see your point on cultivating a theatre that is based entirely in the surrounding community would be good for the community as a whole, but I thought that that kind of theatre already existed as “community theatre” (a term that has unfairly gotten a bad rap over the last couple of decades, but the principle and practice of it is still very strong, as far as I know). The type of theatre that I work in is different from that, and if you dislike the idea of outside professionals working in your community, that’s absolutely your prerogative. No one says you can’t make your own theatre your own way. But I do see some great theatre in the stuff that I do, and I believe that these theatres have a place in our cultural offerings. Not always, but quite a bit.
For the people who say that the future of theatre lies entirely in the hands of people who can do many different skills, I have to say that certainly sounds good, but only up to a certain level. I can guarantee that the person who thinks this policy applies to all situations across the board has never worked inside of a larger regional theatre or commercial theatre structure. The assumption that these theatres are just a bunch of dumbasses who never thought about combining people’s job skills in order to save money is simply ludicrous. Trust me, theatres are CONSTANTLY looking for ways to have less people do more work. They have the staffs they have because that is the bare minimum of what they need in order to get the work finished. I’ve seen what kind of hours those people put in, and I sure don’t see anyone in those situations sitting around, waiting for something to do. They all work very hard at the jobs they have. I honestly have no idea how they would consolidate their positions any further.
And, frankly, I’m no exception either. I have to justify my job to people all the time. Everyone has an Ipod now, everyone has a computer, and a whole lot of people think what I do is really a piece of cake or even completely unnecessary altogether. But my job is more than just technical skills, it’s a very specific craft that I have honed in over 500 professional productions now. And that’s the other point that I was trying to make, which is the one thing that I feel I was misrepresented in your comments to your original post. You say that “the implication that talented designers simply do not exist in certain parts of the country is nonsense”, but in fact, I only said that that was a possible reason why I might be hired. That situation has happened, the theatre told me that when they hired me. It hasn’t happened often, which I also mentioned in my email, but it has happened. But the larger point is that they may have talented people who do my job in their region and yet those theatres hire me anyway. Why? Because they hate locals? Because they love spending money? No. Because they believe what I have to offer them and their production is worth bringing me in for. They think that what I can do will make the overall product better. Am I the only one with this skill? No. But by this point in my career, I’m confident in what I have to offer. I feel like it’s worth it, and I work as hard as I possibly can to make it worth it. And while I’m happy to apologize that my air travel is ruining the environment, I won’t apologize for the work that I do. It’s good work, and I’m proud of it.
That being said, I’m not looking to engage in an argument with people who have an axe to grind. I feel extremely fortunate to have the career that I have, and I know that by even writing any of this to you, I run the risk of looking petty or egotistical or elitist. I know that you wanted to have an honest dialogue on this subject, and that’s honestly the reason that I’m sending this to you, because I really do respect your position and hope you’ll see my point of view as well.