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Have you Experienced Snobbery Against Spectacle?

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by JohnHuntington, Feb 6, 2019.

  1. JohnHuntington

    JohnHuntington Active Member

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    I'm working on several articles for a sabbatical this semester, developing some ideas I've had in my head for a long time about the impact of technology on live story telling, and, additionally, the way we're teaching students entering the field.

    I have in my head that some theatre people harbor an inherent snobbery against non-theatre forms of live entertainment. To me, a wrestling show, concert, corporate event, brand activation, etc is all a part of the same show business that incorporates everything from the busking performer on the street corner to the opera star; all of these forms use live performance to tell a story. Some stories are told purely for the purposes of art; some are for commerce, some are something in between.

    But I have encountered over the years an attitude, especially from some academic theatre people, that working in these related fields is akin to becoming a mechanic or a plumber (which in my opinion are important and honorable professions). In my own school we had a (fortunately now retired) theatre PhD from another department take one of our best students aside and tell her that she was wasting her time, and should find another area of study because she was heading to a life of "setting up PAR cans in parking lots". That student went on to be a Local 1 member and worked on Broadway. I've also had a number of professor colleagues at other schools tell me privately that they are very jealous of us being able to do a haunted house every year, because their theatre snob led faculty would never even consider a project that was just "spectacle".

    Anyway, before writing about it, I want to make sure that my perception of the snobbery is still a thing and not some long-dead strawman in my head from long-ago theatre school experiences.

    Does anyone have recent experiences where a teacher/mentor/public figure/colleague/etc exhibited snobbery about or derision for working in some non-theatre show field?
     
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  2. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @JohnHuntington YES!
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
  3. JohnHuntington

    JohnHuntington Active Member

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    Care to elaborate? :)
    John
     
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  4. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Yes, There is a snobbery against 'Spectacle' and, I feel, it's for good reason. Of the seven classic attributes of Theatre Aristotle listed Spectacle as the least important. It is now the Most important and prevalent in most forms of entertainment. Call it snobbery if you wish but anyone can make stuff blow up, it takes a master to bring us the mastery that is the little girl in the red coat. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy a decent action flick, or the grand spectacle of great stage show but I feel, as a society, we have lost an intellectual edge and an amount of maturity because of our constant drive to be amused rather than entertained.
     
  5. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Not so much snobbery as you are looking for but there is a growing desire to resurrect the little theatre movement, if only audiences would come along on the journey. Contemporary scripts these days call for a level of spectacle that is really pushing the limits of what community theatre can or should do.
     
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  6. JohnHuntington

    JohnHuntington Active Member

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    Thanks, this helps me clarify my thinking on this. I am most certainly passionate and opinionated about the kinds of art that I like, but I don't look down on others who like whatever kinds of art that they like. "One who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior" is the snobbery definition I find most relevant from Mirriam Webster. I guess that's what I've experienced that I react strongly against.

    Also I'm thinking specifically about traditional theatre (the focus of most educational programs) vs. other types of live entertainment and used the term "spectacle" as a catch all because I'm not sure of a better term.

    I'd love to hear you elaborate a bit on your statement about (paraphrasing) amusement vs. entertainment. For a lot of theatre I used to do, the creators would take offense if their work was called "entertainment".

    Finally I would attribute any loss of an "intellectual edge" to a wide variety of factors, with the rise of "amusement" being a symptom rather than a cause.

    Thanks!

    John
     
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  7. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    It's not just against spectacle. It's a general contempt for that which falls outside of the traditional art form of production design for theater. When I told my academic adviser in my BFA program that I wanted to get into systems design and theater consulting, he encouraged me to drop out and find a community tech school somewhere to study at. I had to switch to a different adviser who was more interested in related fields like design and installation.

    The curriculum of that particular BFA program was centered on what ends up on stage, and not so much about how to implement designs. They spent a small fortune upgrading to Selador/Desire/Series II with a Gio and a secondary Ion. The lighting professor was not happy about losing the Obsession II and Express consoles and didn't bother to learn the new consoles or how to use the LED fixtures. Consequentially he never remotely attempted to teach students about programming workflow or designing with LED's or ML's. Not surprisingly, this is the same program that graduated a student who 3 years into an ATD position asked her boss "What is a DMX and where do we have one?"

    I'm sure in the eyes of my first professor, I may have a healthy career, a reliable paycheck, and a 401k, but I didn't slave for my art and sacrifice like he did using the barest set of tools available and therefore my work is a disappointment to him in comparison to where other graduates of his have gone onto.

    My university had multiple theaters, and one of them was in a segregated area of the building that was a roadhouse venue. It was a constant tug of war between the different sides of the building because the academic staff didn't care for their students making paychecks in the roadhouse venue, and the roadhouse venue was constantly disappointed by students who lacked basic color theory and the ability to driving a lighting or sound console because the academic program was focused on drafting, conceptual design, and construction, with little focus on technology or practical skills.

    It's the fundamental difference between "theatre with an -re" and "theater."
     
  8. gafftapegreenia

    gafftapegreenia CBMod CB Mods

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    Most people, who go to school for a “theatre education”, IF they remain in the field, will ultimately not make their living in ‘traditional’, I.E. regional or “straight” theatre. The sooner programs realize the diversity in employment opportunities, the better. Some get it better than others, and if one wishes to remain on that traditional theatre path, they pay for it, either in money or hard work and sacrifice, and often both.

    And yes, I’m speaking from experience.
     
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  9. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @JohnHuntington Where to begin without endlessly droning on and veering too far off topic.
    In our area we have universities teaching theatre; typically their graduates go on to become English and / or drama teachers in secondary schools, colleges or universities. I've yet to meet a graduate from any of the universities who knew anything about theatre from a technical perspective. I won't bore you with examples. We have colleges teaching theatre where the students interested in tech' are considered subservient minions and looked down upon as necessary evils to support the students studying performance; at least the tech' students in the colleges get hands on experience at real time problem solving and dealing with the hierarchy of the caste system.
    We have professional ballet and opera companies who appreciate technicians. We have amateur dance and opera companies who look down their noses with disdain. We have university graduates who purport to be "experts" in theatrical rigging and loading of structures who can (and do) quote chapter and verse when it comes to loading overhead beams without giving any thought at all to water, snow and ice loading already on the flat roof. If / when the roof's drains are clogged with leaves and the entire flat roof is supporting two feet of water all the way up to the surrounding parapet the supporting trusses are likely already over-loaded before you add your rigging points. In Hamilton, Ontario, at one point the 2183 seat soft-seater, the 17 K+ arena and the convention centre were all being managed by a division of city hall. At that point one civic manager summed it up best when he explained what sold best was a double bill of monster trucks and female mud wrestlers in the arena. You're definitely correct: The same sound systems, lighting systems, follow spots and crew crewed the shows and cashed their pay cheques. It's similar to the pseudo-snobbery in hospitals between RN's, RPN's and PSW's; although I've met two female RNP's (Registered Nurse Practicioner's) who were both at the top of their game and absolutely fabulous. Thanks for posting an interesting topic from an interesting point of view.
    Toodleoo! (From north of Donald's walls)
    Ron Hebbard
     
  10. JohnHuntington

    JohnHuntington Active Member

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    Wow this exactly my perception and experience from the 80's. If you don't mind telling, when did you go to school?

    John
     
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  11. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    @JohnHuntington,
    Milwaukee School of Engineering 2009-2011
    University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, 2011-2014
     
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  12. JohnHuntington

    JohnHuntington Active Member

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    Wow, the more things change, .... the more things stay the same.

    I experienced this myself in the 80's and 90's and wrote my original "Rethinking Entertainment Technology Education" article (which is about technology but really inspired by this issue) in 2002.

    Thanks for sharing! It seems like things worked out OK for you though in the end so screw that original advisor :)

    John
     
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  13. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    @JohnHuntington
    I would agree with that. I still get the itch to do production design and will likely take my own sabbatical in another few years to play more in the artistic sandbox than the engineering one. That said, 5 years out of college I have more retirement savings than any of college professors (ignoring those pesky student loans I still have to pay off...). That could come across as snobby in its own way, but the hard reality is that I can't pay my rent with IOU's, and I would like to be in a position financially where I have the latitude to take on as much or as little production work as I like -- instead of having to take on 80hrs a week just to pay off my car.

    I would've liked to have received more business training in college. Fortunately through my internships I learned enough to be dangerous on how to write contracts, proposals, do client presentations, and such. That's been infinitely valuable. By the time I graduated I instilled in a lot of my classmates to push the academic staff toward engaging in those kinds of conversations about how they value their time and negotiate with clients. It seemed none of them felt confident about those subjects though to teach them to students. This leads back to my overarching beef with the arts that highly skilled individuals are expected to deliver the mountain to Mohammed for $15/hr or a flat fee of $4000 for the simple effort of 300 hrs of design work, no benefits, and if they're smart they're carrying their own liability insurance. "You're doing what you love so I don't know how you can ask me to pay you that much..."

    Today I bill out at $125-205/hr. Obviously most of that goes to the company but it really irks me to think that it was expected of me at 16 years old in a professional roadhouse, making $12/hr, that I should work until 3am while standing on the railings of a one-man genie lift to reach fixtures because "that's how we do it just don't hurt yourself." Then having my time over 40 hours rolled into the following week so they could weasel around paying as much. Our industry has a problem exploiting our friends and ourselves because we don't put more emphasis on the business side and practical execution of our craft. The major problem being that most people feel don't feel they've "figured that out" enough to preach that gospel to others.

    I usually tell students "Anyone who says you can't make money in theater has a very narrow idea of what theater lead you toward."

    /end diatribe
     
  14. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    A different type of theatre snobbery, one that is hopefully obsolete by now.

    Lighting Designer taking the USAA #829 exam in the early 1970s.
    Adjudicator: What's this symbol on your light plot--I don't recognize it.
    Designer: That's a PAR64 can. 1000 watt, medium flood lens.
    A: Oh. You'd NEVER use that in the THEATRE would you?
    D: I would, if I felt it was the right light for the right job.

    She didn't say whether or not she passed, but I suspect she did, as she designed a show on Broadway in 1977.
     
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  15. Chase P.

    Chase P. Well-Known Member

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    Let's remember that while opera is considered highbrow today, it was once entertainment for the common people as well. There's absolutely nothing wrong with spectacle, and frequently there's more money in it.

    Right out of school I spent several years doing tech for a theater that only produced new works. Some of them were great, but it was never going to make me as much money as doing uplights on columns in a hotel ballroom for a wedding or corporate party, and the tickets never sold as well as the theater down the street doing another G&S light opera.
     
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  16. What Rigger?

    What Rigger? I'm so fly....I Neverland.

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    There's nothing wrong with spectacle, but yeah, I've run into people who can't chill and enjoy a WWE show. To a slight degree, even wrestling is a display of some degree of humanity. Dwayne Johnson even said once "The Rock is just Dwayne at full volume."
    What's more primal than seeing your favorite band and losing yourself for a couple hours? All your troubles fade away, and you're in that flow state where the only thing that matters is the sound and the people around you. Doesn't matter if it's Motley Crue in the 80's, Fugazi (headlining over Pearl Jam) in '92 or Gaga in Vegas now.

    I do spectacle for a living, but even my jaded eyes can see there's some real moments in the middle of it all.
     
  17. What Rigger?

    What Rigger? I'm so fly....I Neverland.

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    ALL of this!!!
     
  18. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I have actually experienced snobbery about the fact that I love to design musicals and don't mind designing for amateurs. I made a name for myself lighting serious drama and Shakespeare but really enjoy doing musicals, because I can be playful as well as dramatic. I get the feeling that musicals are treated with a bit more respect in the US than here.
     
  19. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    "Well damn, I'll take my flying pickup truck, and Jon Bon Jovi can pack up his video robots and we'll all go home, okay?" *channeling Carrie Underwood*

    Or the tasteless but technically stunning 3D duet with a dead rapper. Or... or... or...

    Yeah. I make a piece of my take on spectacle and unlike Janet Jackson, I don't have to show my chest. :mrgreen:

    But John, you're absolutely right. There is a wide gulf between the commercial and academic/artiste castes. I remember when straight play theatre looked down on musicals; then musicals became the cash cow of Broadway. Still the red-headed step child, but that child has the bigger purse to show for the lack of social sophistication. :doh:

    When I speak theater with non-touring theatre people they look at me like I'm an evil barbarian with a wrench in my pocket (Thanks, Frank Zappa!) who couldn't possibly comprehend "The Theatre". Perhaps. I can only imagine what they think of actors... oh wait, is it time for the cattle call? :lol: At any rate, I've learned that advocating sex or violence isn't for me, but lighting them and making them louder pays my bills. :dance:
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019
  20. edifi

    edifi Member

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    As a high school teacher, I find snobbery against tech to begin with little wanna-be stars who believe they are above helping paint or sew. I counter that by requiring that EVERYONE serve on a tech crew at some time. I allow two acting shows, and then require a tech show. I also require a certain number of hours for all cast and crew during a show to paint, sew, build, fold programs, etc. With some students it works, with others...they do two shows and never come back. Those who do participate always comment how much fun, and how much they learned by attending the work days.
     

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