Today, among other things, I created two puppets, edited some music, created a (fake) company logo, and cobbled together a “tail” out of fake fur and rope. None of these things are jobs that I normally do, and it’s one of the creative aspects of play-making that I find enjoyable.
Using Photoshop and Audacity give me experience with interesting tools, and building the puppets and craft items lets me engage a slightly wacky side that normally only gets expressed textually. It is, in one of the true senses of the word, play, and I feel privileged to be doing it as part of my vocation.
That said, I do feel a little frustration as well, because despite the fact that these items are required for a one-act play of mine that was commissioned by the city’s “premier regional theatre,” there is no budget for a professional sound designer, art designer, sets, and lighting. All the actors are doing double-duty in doing their own costume design, and our set is made up of items scrounged from friends. One of the actors is doing triple-duty, as she is serving as choreographer as well. (I know, I shouldn’t be writing plays with puppets and dance scenes given the economics of theatre. But still.)
Of course, the actors, director, and I (the writer) are all getting paid for our work (though it’s far below anything one could live on). It’s just that we’re doing additional work on the side that’s not really compensated or credited. To be clear, I’m not blaming the producers for this. In the current environment, the fact that they’re commissioning new work at all is thrilling, and as I noted, I get to be creative in a way that I don’t often get to do.
Overall, though, I’m left with a bittersweet sort of melancholy, of enjoying the moment, but mourning that doesn’t seem to be sustainable. There’s no shortage of articles bemoaning the economics of putting on plays in an age of film and television. And yet, the Equity actors in Los Angeles just voted against guaranteeing themselves a minimum wage, They realize that asking theaters to meet even minimal standards of compensation would kill off smaller venues, and they value them too much to do that.
I don’t have any answers, but I know that in our short run in a few days time, I’m going to see a couple hundred people come together, laugh, and enjoy the work we all created. And that will make me happy.