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"...sends the wrong message" ...sends the wrong message

By Bryan H. Ackler

Imagine a group of colonial shipwrights applying their trade’s art, skills, and materials to rig Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre in 1811 and finding themselves a new business sideline.

This industry, business, avocation, hobby, and profession has a long and treasured history of finding, adapting, and making things work for us; no matter what “… the show must go on.”

When the original Peter Pan flew, the flymen used the best available materials. When the director wanted the actors to be able to climb the walls, old surplus industrial cargo nets worked fine.

We as a profession have experimented, tried things out, asked for or made changes, all in the name of the art, safety, convenience, and budget. We asked and demanded the datasheets, the guidelines, the standards, but we still tried new things if they were appropriate for the show, if it was relatively safe, and if common sense prevailed. If enough people reused it, someone would redesign, build, and test it, or incorporate the material into their product. Very little of our equipment, hardware, software, and products are genuinely original to our profession.

However, to quote the old folk song, “…today a new crisis has arisen.” In the desire to send the right message, innovation and improvisation are being restrained. It appears that some of us are teaching, directly or by example, compliance to rigid concepts, not teaching safe innovation or safe integration of originality. Do not get me wrong, I applaud and support safety, standards, and enforcement, but I also support innovation and original thinking.

Have an idea, improve it, test it in the lab, test it in use, wade through the certification process, but don’t tell me that I can’t adapt a desire or product to our profession just because it wasn’t originally designed for that usage and hence “sends the wrong message.” If that were true, to stage a production we would still be using “two planks with our passion.”

Oops, sorry, planks are inappropriate. They were designed for house siding, not for actors to walk upon. Since we do not want to “send the wrong message," now all we have is passion.

Mr. Ackler's diverse background includes original professional staff at numerous new or renovated theatres including Virginia's Barter Theater, the Powerhouse at Vassar College, California State University-Bakersfield, University of Maine & Cerritos Center and several manufacturers including, Electro-Controls, Colortran-NSI, Strand Lighting, Electronics Diversified, and Genlyte Controls in marketing, engineering, and project management. He attended Virginia Tech and the University of Maine at Orono, and is an active member of the Institute.

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