- by Jacob Coakley
Art may be a hammer, but it takes a hammer to make theatre
Before I became an editor, I was an IATSE stagehand—a fact which I am sure makes my stagecraft teachers smack their heads with disbelief. But it’s true. I trained as a sound designer and that’s how I got my membership, but like anyone else trying to work in this industry I took a lot of calls that were outside my preferred field. I did this to prove my worth, my dedication, and yes, to make rent. So I took the calls where I mixed audio, but also calls where I did computer networking, focused lights, framed projection screens, and hung up miles of drapes.
One carpentry call I took required me to help build a set for a corporate event. It was a straight carpentry call, so I loaded up my toolkit in my trunk, and set off to work. Now, as I said at the top—my stagecraft teachers are probably still flabbergasted that I worked as a stagehand, and I can’t blame them. I’m not the greatest carpenter. In fact, it was on this call as I was trying to join a couple pieces together that another stagehand looked over at me and said “You hammer like an angry gorilla.”
I laughed, he did too, and then I went back to work, and he went back to watching me—because he didn’t have a hammer. I don’t know who comes to a carpentry call without a set of tools, but he hadn’t. He was let go early—essentially after the truck was unloaded. I got a week’s work out of that job. Why? Because I came prepared. Because I had the tools.
I have become a better carpenter through the years. I don’t claim mastery but I know how to use a level and a chopsaw. I have my cable testers for audio work; my C-wrench, gloves and even a DMX tester for lighting calls. I don’t take those calls anymore—I’m better with the writer’s tools of a pen, notebook, and laptop—but it doesn’t matter what job you do, tools make it possible, and make us better at what we do.
And we are in a golden age of gear right now, with new equipment and tools opening up new vistas of shows and what we can create—from lights that can produce multiple amazing effects, to new microphones, speakers and spatializiation technology for audio, to stage automation that allows scenery to become moving poetry.
Which is not to say that the tools are creators. It takes dedicated, talented people to use the tools to make art—but if you’re not bringing these tools to the theatre, you may not get all the work you deserve.