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All Aboard the Mentor-Ship

Chris Lose • April 2021LD at Large • April 1, 2021

Illustration by John Sauer – www.johnsauer.com

The myth of individualism is most prevalent in Western cultures. Many individuals like to believe, and even brag, that they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made it on their own. To some extent, this myth is rooted in reality. However, we are not the sole generator of these efforts. We all benefit from a collective wealth of knowledge that predates our efforts. We all require the wisdom to be passed down to us before we have the confidence to create new opportunities. In short, we all need a mentor. We are all dwarves standing upon the shoulders of giants who have elevated us. We are just high enough to grab the next rung of our collective ladder.

Mentorship has been a staple of our human experience. From the storytelling shamans of pre-history to the multi-billion-dollar documentaries of the 20th century, we are all receiving wisdom from our predecessors. We are learning from those who have made more mistakes than they care to admit and failed more miserably than they will allow us. They want us to build upon their structure of knowledge to create more impressive shows, generate more impact and take our industry forward. I want to take time to celebrate the giants who have been willing to elevate our industry and then lower the ladder down to bring up the next generation. Beyond my parents and family, these are just some of the mentors in my life who have graciously helped me progress. If you have similar people in your life, please take this time to reach out and say thanks.

‡‡         As a Student

Susan Antony Gregg was the first person to introduce me to theater. She was the drama teacher at my high school in Sebastopol, CA. At first, I wanted to join the theater department because I thought it would be an easy elective. After our first production, I was hooked. Susan saw enough motivation and drive in me to take me from props to hanging lighting to operating shows. Without her willingness to give me more responsibility, I would never have the confidence to tell my parents that I wanted to quit football and become a theater student. Theo Bridant was the next mentor in a long line of mentors. Theo has been performing his duties at Santa Rosa Junior College since the fall of 1991 as technical director and production specialist at Burbank Auditorium. He has worked on more than 150 different productions during his tenure. He was the first one to show me that theater is not a hobby but a lifestyle. We live in and around the theater because we love it. We spend 24-hour days and entire summers climbing through asbestos and sawdust because we are passionate about doing shows. We don’t leave our jobs at the theater because they follow us everywhere.

‡‡         As a Technician

Todd Mertzel was the first person in Las Vegas to hire me as a moving light technician. Todd was the general manager at the Vari-Lite shop in Las Vegas. Vari-Lite had just moved from a small warehouse in a large complex to a standalone warehouse and was looking to hire an additional shop tech. I still lived in Reno at the time, but I drove to Vegas for the interview. Mertzel and Tom Buddingh had enough confidence in me to offer me a job despite my lack of experience. My four years working and learning from these two gentlemen forged my work ethic in the industry. Todd taught me that we can live a comfortable life in the industry as long as we keep our priorities straight. Tom taught me that theater is not just about art and storytelling. Tom showed me that we need to be equally aware of the technical logistics that make art possible. Peter Jackson and Jason Mack were there all along to guide my transformation from shop technician to field technician. I am eternally grateful to these men.

‡‡         As a Programmer

Craig Caserta was one of the first people to see me outside of the shop working hard. I was called to be the fourth person on a video shoot at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I was inexperienced in the field but working my tail off. I was frazzled because I didn’t understand how to organize a crew. I wanted to do everything myself. Craig called me over to have a heart-to-heart. Caserta helped me put aside my frustrations, focus and realize that running a crew required more people skills than technical skills. He invited me for drinks that night and let me know that this is an industry of relationships. Craig was more than willing to impart a secret that had been hidden from me — we will get more gigs from hanging out after work than we will from sending our resumes to strangers. Craig stood by his claims and was always willing to help me with a connection, a programming session or a round of drinks.

‡‡         As a Director

Two Australians, Steve Richards and Paul “Arlo” Guthrie, have had the most impact on my programming career. Richards was the first person to pull me away from the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. He had come through the Joint in 2002 and we had a great day. We hit it off immediately. Over a year later, he had a small summer tour that needed an operator. He was hesitant to hire anyone he had never met. He had tried people with more extensive resumes than myself only to be disappointed by their work ethic or programming style. He knew that competent programming could be cultivated quickly, but a good work ethic took more efforts. Richards showed me that it is much more enjoyable to work with good friends. Arlo Guthrie was one of the first people to hear about my return to the road after four years away from touring. Mid-tour, he reached out and offered me a gig that I could not refuse. I was still unsure of my skills because I had only recently transitioned to lighting director. I was about to start negotiating my first weekly rate when I called Arlo to ask for advice. Arlo was there to remind me to never sell myself short. Never negotiate for less than you are worth. Our skills are in demand, and we need to be paid accordingly.

‡‡         As a Mentee

Kevin Mitchell, Nook Schoenfeld and Terry Lowe all deserve a round of gratitude for bringing me into the realm of mentee as a regular PLSN contributor. If my content was fake in any way, they called me out. They pushed me to dig deeper and find truth with my words. This platform has bestowed upon me the dual role of mentor and mentee. After five years of writing and podcasting for PLSN, I have the pleasure of developing a culture of personal and professional growth. My platform can break down some of the stigmas that have been attached to our industry. The back page can be read as a true story from the trenches. I’m pleased to lower down the ladder and lift up my audience.

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