My Volunteer Journal: Episode 47 – Lake Arrowhead Reps Work Day

img_0409Definition of “Work Day” from Raegan's Definitions and Translations of Common Entertainment Industry Terms Part of speech – noun

1. A day, way too close to opening night, in which the cast and crew of a show descend upon the theatre or performance space to build the entire set, block the play, build the costumes, fix the wiring in the theatre, and learn their lines.

2. A theatrical right of passage identified by boxes of pizza, cups of coffee, power tools, and stage mothers.

Used in a sentence: Don’t expect to see me at work next week. I have Work Day on Sunday so I’ll be useless for the next week and a half.

We didn’t get anything done on Work Day so we’ll be miming all of our props and using cue cards.

Next Definition/Translation - "You Need to loose some weight."

About 2 years ago I set my sights on helping a little start up theatre company in the mountains near Los Angeles called Lake Arrowhead* Repertory Theatre Company. I got in touch with Artistic Director Chuck Marra and threatened to write him a short play or audition for him, but in two years I hadn’t managed to drag myself up the mountain. It was fortuitous then that I needed a volunteer day in the theatre both for this project and my peace of mind.

You must understand that theatre companies operate much like a large family. They’re competitive, but generally come together for the good of the show and even can be described as supportive. Most importantly theatre companies are generally made up of people who just really love theatre and a good audience. I needed those people. I needed to be around them and remember what this crazy job is about because it’s easy to forget why I wanted to be an actor and writer in Los Angeles. Between scrambling for rent each month, trying to get my weight into the unnaturally-thin range, worrying if my ancient Honda Accord is going to make it to the next audition, filtering posers out from the real people, and deciding how far I’m willing to go to put dinner on the table I kinda forget the joy in just telling a story.

I drove up the mountain on a beautiful crisp winter day, to the small city of Crestline, CA, which houses the theatre. LARTC has made their home in an old Army building that looks like a giant aluminum tube cut in half. The inside of the theatre has a small proscenium stage and 320 seats. For the first 15 minutes after I arrived I was hugged. They were a friendly bunch, especially the kids that were in attendance to rehearse their scenes in A Christmas Carol.

Rehearsal was going on during set construction. On the stage the frame of a Tudor house with two doorways was being painted. In the front room of the theatre, which doubled as the theatre café, a group of women were sewing costumes. Chuck asked me what I was comfortable doing so I told him to show me the power tools because I needed to screw something. No. Really. I’m good with power tools. Especially a Makita. What did you think I meant? Dirty.

For the next 7 hours I measured, sawed, pulled out nails, and screwed together set pieces. We even managed to recycle an old flat platform by turning it into two desks for the office scene that would then be pushed together for Scrooges bed later in the play (see picture of me and Ally at work). The whole time we worked the cast wandered around us like zombies mumbling lines. In professional theatre you’re under pressure to have the part memorized when you come to first rehearsal. With opening night only 5 days away they were pushing it. Chuck snickered at this and pointed to one of the guys on stage. “See him. Not a professional actor. A contractor. But he’s an actor with us and he’s amazing.”

I met Ally, a great girl who had moved up to Crestline to start a new life. I told her I had often thought of moving up to the mountain. It’s gorgeous up there and the people are great. Word of what I had said spread through the theatre company and by the end of the day I had been given the “move to the mountain” pitch by at least 7 different members of the company. I was almost ready to pack my bags.

I finished the day by helping them clean out an old utility closet of paint so the fire inspector wouldn’t shut them down. Theatre work is so glamorous.

Covered with sawdust, full of junk food and talk of short play festivals and teaching acting classes for kids I drove home happy. Really happy that there are still small theatre companies in the world.

Most communities have a small or large theatre group that you can volunteer to help with whether it be during a work day, ushering, or doing promotions. Your chamber of commerce or local library should be able to point you towards a playhouse in your area.

* For those wondering – Yes – Lake Arrowhead like the bottled water - same place.