October 2017

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October 2017

Thoughts from Mark Shanda

USITT President

Whenever the Institute surveys members about what they value in our organization, “networking” is always near the top. Through my years with USITT I have taken advantage of my network many a time. Whether connecting a student to an internship, helping myself or others in review situations, brainstorming design challenges, or taking advantage of international travel, the Institute has served me well.

People in our Institute networks often share the common language of production. From architect and planners, academics and commercial workers, we share an understanding of what it takes to put on a show. What I find fascinating is that all of us work so hard to make sure that our work goes unnoticed, to support the production, that simply sharing a conversation with someone who understands can be very gratifying.

Years ago, I was challenged on a production to provide a deus ex machina type entrance for a character in a Greek drama. The god was to enter, “from the sky,” land on the stage, perform a scene, and then exit “to the sky”, all… “as if by magic.” Despite the production being staged in our large proscenium theatre, with what some believed to be, ample overhead rigging space, the desired god entrance proved to be extremely difficult. Although an elegant flying god holder (think Glinda’s entrance in Wicked only without the bubbles), available tracking for lateral movement, safety harness challenges for the nearly naked actor, and the double-purchase counterweight rigging, all looked good on paper, once testing began, the system I designed simply would not work.

Of course, the whole effort had taken far more time than I had planned, so with each small advance and subsequent failure, we were getting closer and closer to technical rehearsals and opening. Finally, about 10 days before the show was about to open, I was forced to declare that I just couldn’t make it work and I called the director to explain my inability to safely bring god on and off from the sky. That was a difficult phone call to make. But my next call helped me get through the whole situation.

My next call was to a fellow technical director, who, at the time, was working at a major regional theatre. Although we had not talked for a couple of years, he was the first person in my network that I knew I could call who had the shorthand language and rapport to rapidly understand my feelings and provide some words of comfort. He supported me in a time when I was down and ultimately made the rest of the production go so much better, despite the god being grounded.

From time-to-time, all of us need the support of an understanding colleague who simply “gets it.” -- the colleague who doesn’t need the full explanation, knows why you feel the way you do about not getting the job done, and simply listens. Because USITT has those types of people that I know I need, I remain a proud member of this Institute.

Mark Shanda

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Mark at mark.shanda@uky.edu.