Patience is Proven

by Ross Jackson
Courtland Trapp
Courtland Trapp

An Interview with Courtland Trapp, Technician

Courtland Trapp is an African American Freelance Technician who has worn multiple hats since the age of 17. His first introduction to theater came as an actor in a stage play. During that process he took notice of the techs behind the scenes and their problem solving skills. Realizing he was up for the challenge he changed his position the following show. Since then, he has been a Stage Manager, Set Designer, Master Flyman/Rigger, and also a Teacher teaching kids set design at multiple performing arts centers in and out of the Los Angeles area.

In Los Angeles he has recently focused on conquering the television and film world. He has worked on stage at Ebony Repertory Theater for multiple shows and events and has been a technician backstage for multiple television shows such as Insecure and Key & Peele.

Stage Directions: How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?

Courtland Trapp: I don't think it's harmed it. When I was younger, doctors told me that I couldn't play sports—too sick, lots of breathing problems. Told my mother I wouldn't make it to 11 years old. Despite that, I did anyway. I played sports. If I want to do it, I'm gonna do it. Same with this. It hasn't harmed me because I fight for what I want and always have since then. It actually helped but sometimes I get that look like, "Oh that guy actually knows what he's talking about." Like some people think black people don't know about theater. I usually get my jobs because I know what I'm doing and pick up what I don't fairly quickly. It's not like being black gets me jobs. Being black has been a continuous fight, Nas said "The blacker your skin, the harder you have to fight." I feel like blackness is where a lot of my fight comes from. I watched my mom fight for the jobs that she has. My brothers and sisters were actually talking about this yesterday. We continuously worked and we work hard. I think that's all it is. Someone might be more talented than me, but I'm gonna work harder. And I'm gonna keep working until I know I can outwork anyone. I feel like when you're black you've got two routes, you have to battle against all of those telling you that you can't do something, or get stuck and have to accept them. I try to be that first one. The Alchemist was a book that changed my life and my perspective on chasing a dream. No matter the obstacle in front of you, optimism and patience can go a long way.

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?

I think it goes back to just me being willing to learn and teach. If my son wants to do this, all the knowledge I have, I can share. There's so much to give him if he wants any part of this business or I can introduce him to people that know. I look forward to learning new things and educating more people. That's the only thing that really influenced the journey, I'm just so adamant about learning. I've got other things that I love more than theater, but the fact that I am learning through this, that keeps me in love. My passion for education and educating are driven by God. I just love pushing people toward their dreams. If I could push somebody every single day, I would do that for the rest of my life. I literally have my mom getting up every morning and touching her toes. You know, she's getting older. I want to see her move fluidly and have fun with her life. I want her to be able to look back and say "Damn, if Courtland didn't tell me there, where would I be?" I get to do that as a technician. Support someone's dream… Wow, I'm actually learning new things about myself.

What would you like people of color considering—or in the early stages of—a theater career to know?  

No matter what the obstacle, if you want something, continue to chase it. If you stay on the direct path, the only thing you can do is succeed. If you stay on that path, the end result will always be success. The only way you can fail is to quit. Continue on the path.

Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?

There's definitely not just one person. Too many to name. I grew up without my dad so I literally pulled information and the things I saw grown men do. Grown men of color. My uncles and people I met on the job. Like Wren [Brown] (Founder and Producer of Ebony Repertory Theater)! Just how he's so vibrant when he walks into a room and steals the attention of anyone in there. How, as a man, can I be that way? And articulate myself the way he does. I literally pull from each person I meet and that forms me and shapes me into the person I am.

Can you tell me about the effect, whether positive or negative, having a black (or non-white) stage manager has on your work?

Having a black stage manager is great. Especially with the situation I just went through. Being able to express those things to another black individual and have them understand how I felt was amazing. I could only imagine what it would have been like to hold that back and let it boil for three to four weeks. I truly believe that God puts people in your life for a specific reason at a certain time.

Give us three reasons you love what you do.

1.To be completely honest, I feel like God puts us in certain positions. He knows exactly where we want to go. He puts us through trials and tribulations to mold us into the person we're supposed to be in the future. When managing a crew of say, 10, I know it's going to help me in the future no matter the task.

2. I love learning new things. So far, entertainment industry has taught me a lot of leadership. I was extremely shy when I was in a kid. But being in a theater… my first job was stage managing a show! A friend of mine who was my drama teacher at the time, trusted me to do it, broke it down, and I loved it! It literally brought me out of a shell that I was in. It taught my not only to be stern… It's the Four Agreements! Don't make assumptions, be impeccable with your work, always do your best, and don't take anything personally. That last is the hardest one to work on. Especially now, because you're always tested with that. We're looked at as second-class individuals, which bothers me a lot, or as a too young and uneducated.

3. I love challenging myself. You have to have an extreme amount of patience and be able to problem solve. There's always a problem.

Courtland on set for a film shoot.
Courtland on set for a film shoot.

Do you feel that you fit in more in the film industry than in the theater as a black man?

In film, I believe that blackness is being accepted a lot more. I can't say the same thing for theater, I'd have to experience a little more. But probably within the last 3-4 years, there's actually a search for us in all aspects of the industry, not just on screen. We have the capacity to take a $4 million film and turning into $150 million.

What qualities you appreciate of a good stage manager/supervisor?

Patience is a huge thing for me. When someone has patience, they believe a job can actually get done. Patience comes with trust. I feel that's what a lot of people lack—trusting the people you hire. If you don't trust them why hire them? It's that simple. Experiencing someone who doesn't have trust, it makes the environment a lot more stressful. When I've been asked "How do I get better? You're so calm." I have an extreme amount of patience If I ask someone do to something for me, I expect that that'll get done. If they ask any questions, I answer them and we move on. No second guessing that person like they don't know how to do the task. They're just confused, and if I can steer them in the right direction, that's what I'll do.

Do you think that the entertainment industry can be an effective means of protest, even in challenging itself?

I feel that it is a great way to send a message. Entertainment is a great way to send a message about how we feel. We can go to the largest platform, create what we want to create, send it out and it has to be seen. There's no escaping it.

What advice would you give to someone interested in transferring to film from theater?

Don't be afraid to take the lessons you learn from theater into film. Some people think they don't translate, but they do. There's a lot of discipline you learn in theater and that is valuable in film.