Lichten Über Alles (Part 2)

(the first part of this essay can be found here)

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Alberts, as the girlfriend of one of the members, hung out with us whenever she could, even occupying herself with a war against the mice that kept leaving their droppings in our second home. We’d only occasionally risk having her run errands, since she wasn’t supposed to be up there with us. No girls were allowed on lighting. Stage crew was fine-m that’s where she was officially at on the programs. We were told a couple was caught having sex in the booth a couple years back when we asked why lighting couldn’t have girls. As bizarrely sexist as I found that method of punishment, if they were going to ban a single gender from the booth, it probably would be the one so low represented in engineering-related fields such as lighting. The fact that Fenwick was an all-male school until 1992 might have pushed this along. It was never a very diverse school, reflected by the presence of only two non-white members during my four years there. Regardless, she hung around until we got an alert from sound crew through our newfangled walkie-talkies that an authority was heading up. If we were lucky, she’d make it out hopping past the back stairway; if not, we all got shouted at for a little bit until they left and Alberts came right back up.

As Rodriguez’s methods proved that only a few people were needed for shows that year, fewer members started showing up to rehearsals. Our director noticed this, and chewed out lighting over it during notes, where every cast and crew personal listened to feedback and pretended to not be doing homework. “I’m sick of people not showing up, I don’t know where the lighting managers are. I haven’t seen Jewell, I haven’t seen either of the Wades, I haven’t seen Alberts-“

We cut off our director with several cheers and whoops from each member, because we knew we won: Alberts was one of us. Sure enough, she appeared on the program under ‘Lighting’ by the time the show began. Upon reading about Jean Rosenthal, a lighting design pioneer in a still male-dominated theater field, Alberts was the first person I thought of. I make freshman bow to Rodriguez for that one time he fixed the board after I accidently locked it up, but Alberts is the one I have true respect for.

When it came time for me to actually help initiate board members in the spring, the last time I or anyone else probably did this, nearly all of the ceremony consisted of the year’s build-up. We’d tell crazy stories to the freshmen about how horrible it all was and how they’d never be able to look at sardines without crying and so forth. Yet all that it really consisted of was one whack on the buttocks with a smooth stick for and by each lighting member. I’m tempted to insert a defense here that’d make me look anything like a blind follower of tradition. The best I can say is that we stressed that this was non-mandatory, but no one ever believed that. There’d always be the hovering shame with someone who chickened out; any form of initiation was a dare. The worst option would be turning on possibly your best, legitimate friends in high school by reporting a hazing. I knew there was no malice when I was initiated, so I hope that sentiment carried on with my friends born a class under. Lighting members were allowed in the booth for assemblies, and we did initiation during the applauses of the senior sendoff so the whacks couldn’t be heard. I think everyone enjoyed it, as the suspense the freshmen had waiting for applause brought about some good laughs on both sides.

So why did we stop initiation? As much as I loathe the fact that the next clause will make me sound like a 1960s businessman, it’s because women were allowed on lighting crew now. Alberts opened the floodgates. During my junior year, another woman my age was invited to join, and I personally handpicked another, the one freshman we managed to get my senior year, to represent The Class of 2014 for us. We all silently dropped the initiation rites because ‘you can’t hit a girl’ is engrained in public consciousness. We’d either break that transcendent law or only beat the guy members. No one was particularly sorry to see that practice go, least of all myself.

As I mentioned earlier, I was unable to continue lighting crew due to a syndrome known as Chronic Fatigue. This left me exhausted and unable to concentrate, so I spent any energy trying to keep grades up and keep out of the hospital. Getting back to lighting was actually one of the few factors keeping me in until I finally couldn’t continue as normal and had to finish my junior year at home. When I got back, I was supposed to be one of the people in charge besides Miller and Mariani (the friend my age, the first woman formally inducted in), yet the true dominating force was Reilly. Rodriguez had trained everybody but myself impeccably, yet Reilly had the time and dedication to manage and work the booth practically by himself. I felt more and more as a poser next to him, especially since my technical experience had fallen so far behind that I really had to work constantly just to drop the ‘honorary’ from my manager title that year. Fortunately, every senior becomes blessed with a lighter workload, so I could afford the little time I could give (Chronic Fatigue doesn’t really “go away”).

Reilly wanted to end all traditions. No more “TO THE BOOTH!” no pre-show ritual, no running across the gym before the show and ramming as fast as you can into the padded wall. The stupidity of that last one in particular makes these rituals hard to defend; regardless, most of this new lighting crew seemed ok with those changes. Miller and Rodriguez and I, however, were not. I remember distinctly a midnight meeting after the last winter show, where that triumvirate met at Denny’s and discussed exactly how we’d keep tradition alive from this over-serious, usurping junior. Rodriguez, though he graduated a year ahead of me, still remained very involved and even stopped by each rehearsal he could, which lead to the running joke of us yelling, “Rodriguez, go to college already!”

It doesn’t help that the pressure was put on traditions years before. A new stage manager (one who actually showed up) arrived sophomore year with disdain for our practices, even putting a lock on the cove entranceway and patrolling the area so that we couldn’t do the monkey drop. As if that’d stop us. Sophomore year also marked the time a wave of fresh black paint covered every past manager’s name and doodle, as well as the time maintenance outright robbed us of our TV and our Mortal Kombat among other goods. We received an email about the decrepit state of the booth and were told to keep it clean or else. That was the part I actually listened to, and the part that caused the most friction between Rodriguez and I versus the upperclassmen of lighting. A lot of traditions were already lost to apathy, such as the musical knocks we gave to reveal it was a member at the door and there was no need to hide stuff. Our weird wars against the machines and ironic pledges were the only thing we had left to represent the unforgettable bonds we made in lighting crew, and a force from within wanted to take that away.

So I let it. Lighting is an engineering-related field, as I mentioned before, so an aspiring writer like myself will of course focus on the aspects that influence stories. Rodriguez at least still influenced the group from a technical aspect while in college. I was there for the traditions and comradery primarily, but that didn’t mean everyone else was. When I would graduate that year, I didn’t have any reason to keep ordering them around just because they found a more practical use for the booth’s training than I did. I talked it out with Reilly, and he was more than ok to let me do the ritual for at least the last show. I lead us through that romp that had defined lighting crew to me as more than another job or resume filler, actually joining in for the cry of “WHITE MEN! (sorry Mariani)” that I no longer feared saying. With “The tradition is dead, long live the tradition!” as the last thought to share in the circle, I took the last great breath to scream, “LICTEN!” so that the greatest friends I ever had could holler back in full force, “ÜBER ALLES!”

I was deeply engrossed a clearly male-dominated aspect of US culture, and I emerged proud of who I became in the process. I believe that the much more professional lighting crew I both left behind and initially opposed will now have a clearer idea of managers past and why their silliness meant so much to them. Perhaps they can understand why we chose certain traditions to keep and toss, and why I’ve never been prouder to be part of a cult.

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