It’s Important to Remember That You’re Totally Qualified to Do This

June 6, 2011

By Harry Watermeier

Arden Professional Apprentice

 My time at The Arden as a Professional Apprentice is hurtling to a close. My contract is up on June 19th, and, in these closing weeks, I’ve begun to reflect upon the lessons I’ve learned, the choices I’ve made, and any other pop song lyrics that come to mind. These “reflection sessions” morph into “uncontrollable wincing sessions” pretty quickly. Which isn’t to say that I’ve had an unpleasant time at The Arden, not at all—just that, well, this apprenticeship has been a real (and ultimately rewarding) challenge. Over the past nine months I’ve learned: I’m not particularly good with a copier, I’m kind of dangerous when driving in a city, basic Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel are extremely challenging, I might have a dog allergy, sometimes I simultaneously “talk too fast” and “stammer”—which, I guess makes me hard to understand, find multitasking a touch difficult because I think each individual task will get jealous of the others, and, when I’m nervous, get the neck sweats. However, every so often a seemingly insurmountable problem was laid in front of me, and I was able to conquer it. Last week, such a problem was presented to me.

 Around lunch time, I was sitting in the green room (that’s showbiz talk for “break room”) eating my daily ration of Ramen when Bryan— fellow APA and Assistant Stage Manager for The Flea and the Professor—burst through the door.

 “Harry, welcome to the exciting world of theatre,” Bryan said as he quickly unwrapped the cords of a microphone headset.

 “What do you mean?” I asked as little bits of Ramen fell from my mouth onto the table.

 “Keighty’s sick, and you have to operate the follow spot right now.”

 “That’s really funny, Bryan.”

 “Nope. I mean it. You really have to go up to the catwalks and get on the follow spot. Let’s go,” he said sternly as he handed me the mic pack.  

 “That’s super funny?”

 This exchange went on for a while until Bryan got kind of upset. I then dashed up to the catwalks, high above the audience, sat down behind the light, and proceeded to get the neck sweats.

 The Flea and the Professor is the last show that will grace the Otto Haas stage this season. It’s a kinetic musical comedy, reminiscent of the most madcap and sophisticated Warner Brother’s cartoons. I really adore the show, and feel like it’s a joyous way to end the season. Technically, the show is extremely complicated, and requires a large crew of sound technicians, stage assistants, and spot light operators (or follow spots.) These professional stage crew members are essential to the show—so essential in fact, that during the run of the show, apprentices shadow them multiple times. Basically, we have a number of training sessions with crew members to learn what functions they perform so that we can fill in if they were to become unavailable. I was assigned to shadow both of the follow spot operators— far more capable and intelligent people than I named Keighty and Ashley. As a follow spot (I’m italicizing it so you know that it’s an important vocabulary word that will totally show up on the exam. Totally won’t be on the exam.), it’s their job to operate a spot light. Keighty and Ashley light and follow various actors throughout the show, and execute several complex movements to achieve special lighting effects. It’s a difficult job—hats off to Keighty and Ashley, guys. Before the aforementioned episode, I had a couple of training sessions with the two of them—they showed me some basic elements of the lighting instruments, and took me through their responsibilities, light cue by light cue.

 These preliminary training sessions were interesting, and certainly helpful. They did not, however, make me feel as though I were a skilled spot light operator. 

 Bryan asked me to jump on the follow spot a few days after my training sessions with Keighty and Ashley. Of course I didn’t feel ready or capable to operate a spot light—a crucial instrument in the creation of Flea and the Professor’s aesthetic.

 I perched behind Keighty’s spotlight (see scary photo–this was my P.O.V from Keighty’s spotlight. Isn’t it a strange angle?), desperately tried to read her cue list, and listen to commands given to me by the stage manager over headset—all in an effort to execute Keighty’s lighting effects. And I, much to my and I’m sure the entire crew’s surprise, was able to execute said effects pretty gracefully. Now Keighty, being the trooper that she is, was able to complete the bulk of her duties as follow spot that day. I only had to fill in for a terrifying moment or two. Still, I will remember my follow spot adventure as a critical moment that encapsulated my experience as an apprentice. After crouching in the darkness of the catwalks, behind a searing hot light encased in a metal cocoon, executing lighting effects (an act which was totally foreign to me a matter of days before), and staying relatively calm while doing so, I felt pretty proud. I don’t often have that feeling (I usually confuse it with nausea) so when I do, I know something exceptional has just happened. I saw operating the spot light as an insurmountable task; I saw the lighting instrument as a machine with which I would be wholly incompetent. And yet, (with the help of a fantastic team of very smart people) I was able to execute all necessary lighting cues. The light didn’t fall from the ceiling, I didn’t fall from the ceiling, and the show didn’t fall apart. Therein lies the heart of the APA Program’s potential: at its very best, the program has the ability to endow the apprentices with a confidence and skill set that they would never dream of having.

I ran a real live spot light during a real live show. Who’d of thought?

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