Hit by a Bus Rules: Children Will Listen…and Maybe the Adults Will Too.

Alandra Hileman, a day late, but still wise.

Theatre Rule of the Month: …hell if I know.

Many years ago, after a steady diet of watching musicals and occasionally acting in church sketches, my parents enrolled me in a summer theatre camp. That camp was where I caught the bug, leading me to meet my high-school mentor, and eventually to pursuing a variety of theatre degrees in college. Well, folks, I have come full circle, because this summer I am teaching theatre camp. And, conveniently for the purposes of trying to keep this log themes to the behind-the-scenes, it’s tech camp. I love teaching, I love tech, and this seemed like a great opportunity to maybe pass on some of my passion to the next generation the way it was passed to me all those years ago. Of course, I sorely underestimated the power of the soul-sucking apathy of high-schoolers, but I can’t really fault them – I was them in high school too.

I don’t really know if they’ve learned anything from me – I spend a lot of time floundering and making things up as I go – but I’ve learned a few hard lessons that I’ll carry with me into my future backstage experiences. Here are some of the highlights:

* It is really hard to teach a scenic production class when you are not allowed to use power tools with the students. Or any tools, really. However, you may get the opportunity to bond with kinds about shared taste in emo music of the ‘00s. (I’m just saying, my explanation of how to build a flat was boring but I got a ton of pointed for having a P!atD/FOB/MCR playlist, and yes that is a sentence I just typed that I am going to allow to be posted on the internet, so…)

* Do not suggest an effect to a director unless you know with absolute certainty A) how to achieve it, and B) that you have the means to do so within your venue/budget/personnel. Truthfully, I thought I knew better than this. I do not. We start tech on Monday and we only just now decided how we’re going to do this stupid avalanche effect.

* Speaking of effects…light boards are complicated, but you can find literally any answer on the internet. This week I’ve been teaching the kids how to program an ETC Ion but referencing a cheat-sheet I found via Google. YouTube also has some great tutorials. And if even that fails, there is always that one really smart kid that looks at the board and asks, very politely, “have you tried that button?” You have not. It is that button. Accept your defeat with grace.

* These kids likely don’t know anything about theatre. But they do absolutely know that you are probably bullshitting them, so just go ahead and tell them what the deal is. I suspect I gained a lot of respect the first day that I straight up told them I was exhausted and had nothing planned and we were just gonna paint flats. They painted those flats like machines that day.

* Design is not Technical Direction. Technical Direction is not Teaching. Teaching is not Design. If you get stuck doing all three, especially when you’re only vaguely qualified for one-and-a-half, try not to panic. The children feed on fear.

It’s been a weird, often frustrating four weeks, and I’ve still got one more to go before my camp duties end. But even for all the bullshitting, last-minute scrambles to find lesson topics, and inability to actually use any of the equipment in the theater in a particularly hands-on fashion, I’ve met some great kids. I don’t think I’m about to become a great mentor to any of them, but hopefully they at least enjoyed the playlists.

Alandra’s posts other occasional “lessons” she’s learned on Twitter (@LadyBedivere), and on rare occasions updates her general doings at ajhileman.com.

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