“A part of the great tradition of the theatre is the code of ethics which belong to every worker in the theatre. This code is not a superstition, nor a dogma, nor a ritual which is enforced by tribunals; it is an attitude toward your vocation, your fellow workers, your audiences and yourself. It is a kind of self-discipline which does not rob you of your invaluable individualism”. (Taken from the forward to The 1945 Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers)
I’ve been working a show for the last month, “Guys and Dolls”. I use the term “working” loosely of course. It was not my show. I didn’t light it or design it. I was not the director, technical or otherwise. I wasn’t even full-time nor was I one of few who skulked around the wings and around back. I was one of many.
All I did was pull a rope. Well, lots of ropes. Lots of ropes at pre-determined times and places, the same thing every night without fail. Without MY fail anyway. Say what you want but I can pull a rope.
It’s not even that special, pulling a rope. There wasn’t any real magic happening; I assisted getting from one scene to the next. But it was my assigned job and I did it the best that I could.
And not just that but I was sick. Really pretty effing sick as it turns out. But I got there and I did my job. The rope pulls were heavy, almost too heavy at times. My hands are torn up and calloused. That first week, my muscles ached. I came home sweaty and dirty from every show.
Know why? Because I love it. I love it and when I consider what I want to be when I grow up, I can’t get past that love. I can’t even think about going and doing anything else.
A good majority of the rest of the backstage crew (and the people ON stage for that matter) are punks. These kids are just starting out their lives if they have even started at all. Some haven’t. Some are well on their way. Some are lost. And some still think this is a sort of club for misfits. Which, of course, it is but not in the way they think.
I was told once “The day you wake up and want to go and do something else, go and do it. Get out.” Something like that sticks with a person. It’s what I go back to when I re-assess where I want to go.
Nearly every time I worked, I encountered a teachable moment. I’ve been in the business for more than fifteen years so I feel qualified, no, compelled to spread out what I’ve learned. And so many, many times I wanted to say “Get out” and “You know what, this isn’t for you.” But I didn’t. All I could do is nurture the love in those punks that get it. And never had to be told.
Right before the show opened, I came across this: A 1945 Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers. Until I saw all of this in writing, I had no idea such a thing existed. There was not a single surprise in the “code” and I don’t remember ever having been directly taught or made to memorize the “code”.
It’s just how it is. I have lived it and followed it before I knew it existed. And if that isn’t love…then what is?
If you have any interest in theatre at all or have ever worked backstage, do me, no…do yourself a favor and read the link. It’s a small, small business. In this country, there are roughly 66,000 of us who do this job professionally and we’re better and stronger when we all work together.