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Amidst the Chaos...

I miss live theatre. I miss the people, the work, the collaboration, the energy from a live audience, the heightened emotion of a curtain call, the organized chaos backstage, the adrenaline rush of a perfectly choreographed and executed wardrobe quick change. There is a part of me that thrives in these intense, stressful situations - amidst the chaos.

In another life, years ago, I was the wardrobe supervisor for a regional musical theatre company north of Boston. That particular theatre was in the round - like a circus...and indeed it was! This meant that there were many different places for actors to enter and exit the stage, which also meant there were many different locations where actors had to do extremely fast, full head to toe, costume changes and if you are familiar with musical theatre, there are many many - sometimes very extravagant - costumes and wigs. The weeks leading up to dress rehearsals were full of logistical planning with all the different departments involved. For me it was planning where and when all the costume pieces and accessories - sometimes hundreds of pieces - end up at any given location around the theatre. It was part of my job to track and choreograph this part of the completely different show that was going on behind the scenes - where the magic of live theatre happens. As you can imagine, it could be a highly stressful environment and burnout does - and did happen, but there is a lot about the technical theatre world that I greatly miss.

There is something magical that happens when you are in the chaos of a costume quick change. Adrenaline is high but as a wardrobe dresser this is where you have to remain calm, where you become laser focused on what needs to be done. When things are going right, time seems to stand still, and you're able to move precisely - like a choreographed dance with everyone doing their part - and you’ve transformed an actor into a completely different look or character in sometimes less than 30 seconds. A successful change can only happen with planning ahead, practice and finding the right tricks to make it all work while also anticipating what could go wrong and being prepared if anything should happen. Inevitably things did go wrong (but only sometimes on my watch *smug wink*)...that’s the joy of live theatre, but I had my trusty utility apron loaded with anything I should need in a pinch. I was prepared, and if I couldn’t fix something in that moment, the show would still go on and we had another chance to get it right the next time.

Can you see where I am going with this? I think I sometimes find comfort in this type of chaos and I crave it. I can thrive in chaos. It allows me to tune out anything festering on my mind and I can be focused on the job at hand. My mind tends to go calm in these high stress environments. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s part of my anxiety. Maybe I am an adrenaline junkie who loves the thrill - or I just became good at my job from experience, confidence, and years of practice. I’m now trying to apply this same mentality with the chaotic stressors of life. I can remind myself that I have done really hard things before, I have had a lot of practice. If I focus on the things I do have control over, I will be able to find peace and calm in the uncertainties of life. If unprecedented setbacks should arise, things should go wrong, I can fix what I can using the supplies in my trusty, metaphorical utility apron - mindfulness, exercise, meditation, technology, therapy, etc. Life will, and does go on and I’ll get another chance to adjust for the next inevitable setback.

There is something about finding the calm in the center of a storm, where self-transformation can happen. Chaos is an incredibly important part of our growth and it is amidst the chaos where we find ourselves.

Chaos, leave me never

Keep me wild

And keep me free

So that my brokenness will be,

The only beauty

The world will see

-RM Drake

*Millions of live theatre and performance artists, technicians, designers, contractors, live venue workers, arts administrators, etc. are suffering immensely right now. Please support local arts organizations or find ways to support artists who are having to pivot by starting their own small businesses or creative ventures. Please buy subscriptions if you can and when the theatres open up again, and they will, please support them. It is art and music that we turn to in order to cope during this pandemic but most everyone who has dedicated years of their education and careers to this industry are out of work without an end in sight. Please help where you can and make sure your local and national government is fighting for ways to assist everyone out of work.

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