the-overlook-theatre

Theatre technicians, overlooked and fearless magicians of blackout, set, backstage, are people you want on your side. They fade into the background, often, their work done out of the dazzling lights, but they work hard, and they don’t take kindly to not being acknowledged.

(It’s hard to tell when technicians go missing sometimes. The changelings are often very similar to the human they replace.)

Make allies of the costume shop—most costumes have at least some hand-stitching, and if you’re polite and friendly, they’ll make sure to knot their thread with three loops around a needle, and to tie it off in three neat motions. The costumers believe in threes, and their ability to ward off the Gentry. It’s not steel or iron or salt, nothing so powerful. It’s a little more insurance, a knot to tie you to earth.

Mostly, they do it automatically. Technicians are a practical and time-starved lot, and no one wants to frantically re-fit a costume at the last minute. But don’t push them. Go too far, and the threes will stop being a priority for their clever hands. They can’t and won’t make sure that you’re taken. But they can stop helping to protect you.

Among technicians, it’s carpenters and props people who are Taken the most often. Both groups are a special kind of strange, and they work with their hands to bring beauty out of nothing. Give a carpenter two pieces of plywood, some two by four and a mission, and they’ll overcomplicate it to impossibility and pull it off anyway. Props people are the kind who look at scattered scraps and trash, and see what could be, not what is. Swords of cardboard, fine chocolates of clay, embossed leather armor from foam. Illusion, for a props person, is king, and it’s no wonder the Gentry find them fascinating.

(Props has sent people onstage with bona fide magical objects, lost to the prop room years ago. It’s the ruthlessness in them, the mercenary way of taking whatever works.)

Electricians are safest, the ones who are closest to the technology of it all, who spend hours on high, calling information back and forth in a code unintelligible to the uninitiated. They chatter, and they clamp and tighten and connect and swear, and suddenly there is light, and color, and glitter. The Gentry are amazed, but do not understand. What you do not understand is best left alone.

(Still, some electricians go missing. Maybe they sing, or they see, or they’re thoughtlessly kind or cruel—no one is safe, here. This is the theater, liminal, filled with Gentry even on a good day, and being safe is so often at odds with doing things fast that it’s not unheard of for electricians to climb precariously, thank thoughtlessly, or strip off iron jewelry.)

Designers bargain most often, sometimes thoughtless and sometimes with clever words and clever research and a clever friend who knows contract law. Sometimes it’s for inspiration, which often goes badly—those are desperate people, and the Gentry are not kind to the desperate. Sometimes it’s for persuasiveness, or money, or, most precious of all, time.

(I need more time, is the motto of the department, the guiding light of a program always living under a deadline. Give me more time.)

Elsewhere University’s stage managers, the ones who make leaving stick, are good. Really good. Flexible, punctual, smart, good with names and at ironclad paperwork. They’re capable of corralling even the most difficult personalities with charming words and a refusal to back down, and that makes them valuable. But they never break old habits, of opening night gifts made from rowan, and closing night gifts of iron and silver, and they’re deeply superstitious.

(The fines, for touching props that don’t belong to you, are a serious business when an EU alum is stage managing.)

The few who learn to weld and build with steel from the metalworking students are safest, with steel shavings scattered in their clothes and hair, on their skin. They’re still not safe. All too often, they’re carpenters too, and it just takes one day, when the steel has finally washed away, and the rings have been yanked off to avoid losing a finger, or they ask, criminally careless, for help building or learning or understanding.

A good handful of technicians go missing every year. Most of them will make it back, better, or at least stranger, than before.

After a semester or two of working in the theatre shop, or a show or three, most technicians will go to Cat Eyes. Most of them, by the time they graduate, have a distinctly odd pair of safety glasses, never far from them. Theatre is about syncretism, about everything working, and if you can’t see it all, if you can’t see if the costume really matches the actor’s skin tone, or if the light is unflattering on half the ensemble, you can’t make it right.

With those glasses on, it’s never about seeing anyone. It’s about looking at costumes, light, paint, props. Nothing else matters.

(Technicians remember the most about The Play when it’s performed. The costume shop remembers the way the fabrics slipped through their fingers, bright and silken and gorgeous. The carpenters remember building, the lumber straight and clean and lovely. Tech is a blur, and no one remembers who stage managed, but it’s better than other shows. You don’t think about it in the moment—it’s just another six-to-ten tech, and you bring your coffee and your bagel and don’t think about the paper your history professor wants tomorrow. After, though. After, you realize it was The Play. Some few students can’t bear to give that seamless beauty up. The department faculty has to come from somewhere.)

A last word of advice: When the show is on, always be polite to whoever you meet backstage. You never know who they really are—Gentry, ghost, short-tempered technician who will spend two hours unpicking every single three-loop knot in every one of your costumes—and if you say the wrong thing, you’ll regret it. And pay attention to the show. Actors have gotten lost before, the crossovers stretching on forever, lost eternally in the moment right before their entrance.

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