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Chasing the Dragon

Chris Lose • January 2019LD at Large • January 14, 2019

It’s true in love and in entertainment; it’ll never feel like the first time.” Illustration by Andy Au

“House lights go” is met with a deafening roar. The Clear-Com is actually clear. The follow spots hit their first cue without a hitch. The tempo is perfect, the crowd is boisterous, the looks are solid and you are hitting every cue. Your adrenaline is pulsing, your pupils are dilated and you are in the groove. You have made it 90 minutes into the show and you’re ready for the final chorus of the hit single that launched your band into stardom. You hit the last trashcan look with precision timing, the curtain comes down and you are done for the night. You nailed it! Your emotions are high, your nerves are racing and your heart is pumping. This feeling gets you high. Not chemically high, but theatrically high. You are addicted to this feeling. Musicians, artists and technicians like you and I face this dragon constantly. From the first time we take our first hit, we will be chasing after the same high for the rest of our careers. Your body is telling you that you need to do this all the time because this feels unbelievable! You need this feeling to last forever. But it can’t.

You can never recreate the high from the first show. In fact, in some rudimentary experiments, evidence has shown that if you have an exceptional first show, your second show will be garbage. That’s because the preparation and build up for the first show far surpasses the expectations of the second show. Every subsequent show will leave you more and more disappointed. This is because your nerves aren’t rattled, your awareness isn’t heightened and your adrenaline isn’t erupting. Dealing with this numbness can leave you feeling empty inside. I’d like to take a moment to show you four ways you can be prepared for these feelings of eternal callousness.

‡‡         Prepare for the Buzz Kill

After the first show, you will be riding high. People will know that you may have made some minor mistakes, but they will brush it off as your first night. No one can expect you to nail it on your first big show. Your client will be ecstatic because the show was a success. The artist will be so glad that the audience loved them. The crew will be elated to tear down the rig and get it to the next city. However, the second show will be terrible. You will try and fix some of the minor issues only to turn those minor problems into major headaches. The reality will set in and people’s minds will change. They will review some of the things that happened during the first show and they will want to completely revamp a perfectly good song. They will come to you with last second revisions that need to happen right now. The artists’ aunt from Phoenix will have watched the show on the Internet. Aunt Nosey-pants will make a comment about how dim your artist was during the ballad and she needs to be brighter than the other vocalists. Your artist will ask you to make changes even though they have no basis in reality or the overall look of the show. Your minor mistakes will be overlooked with decreasing frequency every subsequent performance. Be ready for this level of buffoonery.

‡‡         Rely on Self-Validation

It is difficult to hear someone disagree when you know that a show looked great, sounded great and felt great. Everyone likes to make sure that his or her opinion is heard. Most often, the person whom you least want to hear from is the most vocal. This will happen to you throughout your career and make you question your abilities. That’s good, because it keeps you open to learning new things, but it’s bad because it makes you doubt your natural instincts. As a lighting professional, you need to be able to rely on your instincts and your own self worth. You need to be able to explain why your vision is the best possible. You need to be able to stand up and present your case with dignity and self-righteousness.

The current state of social media makes self-validation much more difficult. We post pictures of our babies and wait for people to tell us how awesome our work is. We are constantly searching the web for validation. We are looking for someone to like our image so that we know they saw it. We post beautiful pictures and judge the value of our imagery on the amount of likes they get in a tiny window. This is not the correct way to value our own efforts. Granting ourselves the authority to stamp our own validation is the path to a more fulfilling career.

‡‡         Your Job vs. Your Identity

Your job is not your identity. Your identity is not tied to your job. I struggle with this one all too often. One day, I was the LD for a world famous band. The next week I was pushing cases across a ballroom carpet. And the next week I was fixing a Martin MAC 2K in a cement warehouse. Currently, I’m back to being a big shot LD. As humans, we crave respect. All too often, that respect is tied to our current position on the totem pole. We all want to be on the top of the totem pole, but we can’t get there if we forget that every part of the pole is necessary. Our dignity and respect needs to be tied to our own self worth and not the current occupation setting on our Facebook. Being relevant as an LD is very important, but not as important as being relevant as a person. Being the big cheese on tour does not grant you the right to treat anyone else like a rat.

‡‡         Don’t Take It Personally

After another solid show, you go backstage and one person is not smiling. Your production manager comes up and says the artist wants to talk to you. The artist and his mom-ager proceed to rip you a new leather cheerio for whatever look or cue they thought didn’t “feel right.” How is this possible? What do you have to do to make this whiz happy? The answer is: nothing. There is nothing you can do to make this virtuoso happy. In the same way you will never be totally happy with your final product, they will never be completely happy with theirs. They know that it could have been better. It’s easier to blame lighting and sound or wardrobe than it is to blame themselves. It’s not your fault. You have done all that you can to make sure they look great and their product is well represented.

Don’t take what we do so seriously. It’s just a show! What we do isn’t going to hurt anybody, lead to starvation, cause the seas to rise, or declare WW3. (Let’s not get into rigging etc., that’s not what I mean).

The dragon is a tricky creature. You will think that you can grab him by the tail. You can’t. Don’t fall for his chicanery.

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