Lichten Über Alles (Part 1)

UPDATE: It seems that the medical nightmare that is my 2016 will not end. I’ve developed an inner ear infection, meaning that I can’t read books, stare at computers, or write much without intense dizziness and lightheadedness. This will go on for a few weeks. I’ll likely have to lie down just after typing this. The point is, you’re going to see some re-uploaded essays of mine for a while… but I promise to only post essays that provide an essential look into my backstory. Until we meet again, fair blogger!

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I never would have guessed that my birth order would place me in a cult. “Hey, are you Matt Edinger’s brother?” were the first words spoken to me by the first Fenwick Lighting Crew member I ever met. At the time, I had arrived to the low-lit auditorium with other freshmen seeking a possible role in a stage crew. I don’t think I would have joined Lighting Crew without my brother’s friend’s insistence, and my high-school experience would have been poorer for it.

From the first cry of “TO THE BOOTH!” I was fully dedicated to Lighting and its bizarre, wonderful rituals. Just for the pre-show, we had to sprint to the booth after the first cry, put a spotlight on the cross in our black room, give a rapid Our Father, spot the flag, do the Pledge of Allegiance while saluting it and cupping our balls (ending with a hearty and irony-lathered, “liberty and justice for all… WHITE MEN!”), put our hands in a circle, say the first thing that came to mind, and then wait for our manager to yell, “LICHTEN!” so we could scream back “ÜBER ALLES!” before actually getting ready for the show. There were even better stories than this.

As much as these tales interest me, there’s one main one worth dissecting today. During my freshman year, no one was very serious about the technical aspects of lighting. This began to change during my sophomore year, with new members (some which I brought in) truly committed to using the lights to their fullest potential. I helped along when I could, but I never quite reached the level of knowledge my peers were at. This would have changed junior year, had I not been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and had to drop all extracurriculars so I could try to remain in school. I came back senior year at half-strength, attending the lighting meetings only when I could. The dynamic had completely changed by that point: the people in charge were no longer necessarily the managers, but the most skilled and committed. Our wacky traditions were only kept alive by myself and two others, one of whom was already in college. I was the member with the most seniority, and I was the outsider.

After graduating from high school, there was no mistaking my lack on influence over the rest of my old crew. A serious bunch they have became, creating a lighting crew you could actually put on an engineering resume without crossing your fingers. While this is in no ways bad, I feel as if I could have defended the silliness of those before me a bit better. I may have appeared foolish and lazy both to other theater members and new lighting members. If I outline where I come from on this, perhaps I can confront this identity without damaging the wonderful work lighting’s heirs have done for their reputation and their future. So I dedicate this rambling tale to the new lighting crew, who might be commencing their opening ritual of walking calmly up to the booth for a focused show as we speak; I’ll teach you my history in case there’s anything you want to repeat from it.

My first year up there was messy. No inch of wall was safe from our permanent markers, as the ones who had gone before us had used every flat surface in the black booth to carve in their name and year, and perhaps a penguin or two. The trash system consisted of, “wait until it’s overflowing, then yell at the freshman about why the trash wasn’t taken out yet.” I once took another, emptier garbage can and switched that one with ours to rid us of overflowing trash. The fact that most of the members applauded this method speaks volumes about them. Abandoned vents and secret coves contained ample hiding places for soda and screws and, to my dismay, schnapps. That garbage can seemed to be more of a suggestion to most members; one sophomore decided, after a boredom-induced cleaning, “it’s not messy enough,” and proceeded to fix that problem. We had two staircases on either side of the booth; only one could be used without a HAZMAT. One punishment for me was to clean ‘the AIDS stairway,’ the pit of noxious steps somehow more sticky than the rest of the room, crawling with discarded wrappers that laid under our most coherent piece of graffiti: “Do Chinese kids know what kind of shoes they’re making?” We were all legitimately concerned at anyone who walked around barefoot in here.

When a lighting member was not needed (which was often: it was at max a four person job with around ten people in crew each year), the booth provided something to do. Most popular was Mortal Kombat, a Sega CD fighting game as old as 1993; if status and seniority was proven by anything, it was determined by who had a controller in their hand. I remember a extra script copy of Alice in Wonderland with as many “that’s what she said” jokes in it as possible, something I shamefully contributed to since it was either that or homework. We were within earshot of a strict director all four years, but we usually got in a few snide comments during rehearsal about the show or some actor or how far Blackfriars Guild (BFG) had fallen. Someone took a handsaw to a bible and just left it there. It probably made the Quran that someone once brought in hyperventilate. Even though I actually had something to do on most days- operate the spotlight, as was tradition for freshmen- there wasn’t much left to fill in the quiet moments, save continuing the crew’s ‘war against the machines.’ We won points by smashing up junk electronics, machines won points if we hurt ourselves in the process. If senior members ever picked on us, boredom was the major factor; that’s why a junior asked me to count exactly how many licks it did take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop. Oddly enough, it was 1000 on the nose; stranger still, they were surprised I actually did it and cheered me for my valiant effort.

Screwing up something during my first year occasionally meant being whacked by a stick wielded by a manager. On the one hand, this is a fairly draconian method of punishment inflicted on mostly freshmen (but not always) that might seem overly harsh. On the other hand, I sucked at my job. This isn’t an excuse for corporal punishment, it’s a fact of nature. My only reason for having this second family was that two sophomores were friends with my older brother and found it funny that I was taller than him. During our talent show, named “Banua,” I distinctly remember spotting the wrong side of the stage a couple of times. My main technique as a freshman was aiming in the general direction of the actor and praying for the reflexes to adjust it in time. So at least five times during my entire freshman year, I heard, “Goddamn it Edinger, not again! That’s it, bend over.” One time during the spring show, the managers decided to give us a taste of what the old days were like by smacking one of my friends each time he jiggled his spot. We all laughed at the ridiculousness of it afterwards, even the guy with a couple of dents in his skin as a result. No harm to emotions or the mind, just to the body.

I am aware the hazing is no laughing matter, however. A 2008 study by Dr. Mary Madden and Dr. Elizabeth Allan of the University of Maine reports that forty-seven percent of college students experienced hazing in high school, most rituals including screaming at the new guy, forcing him or her to drink, or even depriving him or her of sleep. The Holmes Education Post adds that, “…the “side effects” of hazing may affect students emotionally and physically resulting in their getting injured, participating in fights, performing poorly in class, losing concentration, feeling upset, committing suicide, harming other people and being convicted of a crime.” The only symptom I felt freshman year was feeling upset, but that’s because the transition to high school is always awkward to an introvert. If ‘deprivation of sleep,’ was a symptom was hazing, I’d like to fill a formal complaint against Fenwick High School and a few choice teachers. I was never seriously injured like one of my managers was as a freshman, when he was pushed down the stairs in a garbage bag and instructed to reconstruct his own birth. My managers were intimidating because they were seniors and they thought I’d be a liability to lighting; a smack with a stick now and then didn’t change that fact. The director and stage managers were so distant to us that managers were really the highest authority we knew.

I at least liked crew enough to introduce a friend of mine to it for the last show of my freshman year. Rodriguez (I will refer to all members by surname only) took an obsession to it near instantly. Before he came along, the most maintenance we did would be changing a burnt light on the upper cove of the auditorium when we felt like it. The original cues were most likely established by throwing sock-wrapped bongs at the lighting board, and had been preserved religiously since. They’d probably think a cyc light— for you freshmen, that’s shorthand for the cyclorama lights providing a broad background— is a type of prank. Rodriguez had the technical savvy to turn around production quality pretty much from his first day there, radically adjusting the stage layout and turning the board into a tool instead of an obstacle. Upper-class members minded until they realized that Rodriguez was a gift from Bertha (the alleged ‘first spotlight’ and our deity) who would allow them to goof off more than usual. Best of all, he was as ecstatic as I was about the ridiculousness nature of lighting ‘traditions,’ including the crowd favorite: dropping a noose-hanged stuffed monkey from the cove during the notes of the last rehearsal. That might be the only tradition still alive.

A lot of important players in my lighting story began their high school theater career during my sophomore year. One of my best friends (last name Miller) joined at my request and took an instant liking to the crew. I also recruited a friend from grammar school a year younger than I, called Reilly. But by far the most important edition to our band would be a woman with the last name Alberts, the first girl on Lighting Crew for a long time.

TO BE CONTINUED… right here.

BONUS: My story started in 2007, but here’s where Lighting Crew was in 2013.

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