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Countdown to Return
By way of intro, my name is Tom Helmer, a 30-plus-year member of AEA, actor and stage manager, former AEA Councillor and a former Liaison for the Philadelphia AEA Liaison Committee. I’m primarily a stage manager now; I’ve been the stage manager at InterAct Theatre Company in Philly since fall of 2009. I am a long-time subscriber to the magazine.
Back on Friday, March 13, 2020, at about 4:25 p.m., I started my stopwatch on my smartphone to time the length of Act Two in our designer run-through of our production of The Niceties. After the run-through, the InterAct staff informed the cast and designers that we would be shutting down.
A couple of weeks later at home, I happened to open up the clock app on my phone. It was then that I discovered I had not stopped the stopwatch at the end of the run-through. It was still running. I decided then to keep it running until I was back working inside a theatre or rehearsal room.
It continues to run as I type this. I’ve attached a screenshot of the stopwatch from Jan. 31. My goal is to stop that count only when I am finally in a rehearsal room face to face, not Zoom to Zoom, with a director, staff, cast, and designers for the first day read-through of a production.
Hope all is well and safe with you and yours.
Theatre for Whom?
I have heard it argued (and I’m inclined to agree) that the only true democratic form of theatre that has ever existed was the open-air festivals which preceded the Greeks (“So What Could a ‘New Federal Theatre’ Actually Look Like?,” AT, 2/3/21). This form of storytelling and music did not rely on prescribed scripts, directors, or actors. Everyone was welcome to participate or spectate as they wished, and anyone could change the story if they felt it did not reflect what was valuable or true. No one was charged admission, and no one was paid for their efforts.
In the ages since, theatre has evolved into a commodification. Theatre jobs/roles are assigned to those who are deemed to have merit, and that merit is almost always linked to monetary value. In my lifetime, the thinking has mostly been: Men are better than women; white people are more important than people of color; European/American storytelling is more relevant than any other; pretty people are better at telling stories than unattractive people—as are people who trained at Julliard and Yale, where older white men define what is quality. The result? Hollywood and Broadway are the most legitimate forms of theatre. And because of that, whose story is told, who is allowed to interpret that story, who is allowed to tell it to an audience, and who is allowed to be in that audience are all decided on the basis of commodification and perceived societal relevance/worth.
Sadly, “extensive government support” probably won’t change that. At least not in this country. Whenever I hear an actor waxing rhapsodic about how great the idea of government money is and how nationalizing the arts means that a country automatically values the arts, I remind them of how “valued” public schools, infrastructure, and safety net programs are in the U.S.
I’m not rejecting this idea wholly, because I like the thinking behind it. But speaking as a civil servant, I can only say “be careful what you wish for.”
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