"Work for it, baby!"
Another Time Publishing - 2011
SOME COMMENTS THAT HAVE COME IN
Brian McVeigh(on SEP 27) ...very interesting commentary.
Abe Vanluik(on SEP 29) ...the way you wrote it was almost like a dream, it kept morphing into something else. From physics it morphed into metaphysics/philosophy, then religion, then subtly back to physics except it didn't look like physics anymore.
Rebekah Levy(on OCT 7) It's actually very interesting, even if it's not on purpose, to be so inconsistent with time...it's more like someone who hasn't yet fully developed the abstract "I", the Jaynesian consciousness, so to speak.
You are about to enter the secret world that first of all is a place, but should not be confused with a geographical location. It is not a virtual space either, for in it you will find real persons who have entered it with their bodies intact, and can leave if they so desire. Many of the persons you might meet in this world 'work in the biz(business)' and most of them are acutely conscious of being in that world; it is their reticence to speak openly about certain aspects of their experience while in it that makes it a secret one.
You will be required(if you read Chapter One) to familiarize yourself with a piece of lighting equipment no longer in use. The argot that lamp operators use would not make much sense to you without this advance preparation. While you would definitely find all this technical information useful, if you happened to be in possession of one of these now antiquated instruments, that is not the reason I chose this method to assist me in the expression of ideas about human consciousness.
Writers are frequently counseled to write about what they know. This writer knows spotlights better than anything else he was exposed to while in his secret world. What I know about them, if taken alone, would provide the content for an exhaustive technical manual. If we begin to consider how I learned what I know, a process then becomes the subject of the manual. Describing that process is most naturally facilitated by making constant reference to actual experiences that I had while learning to operate this specific piece of equipment.
On an entirely different level, keeping exclusively to the learning which was facilitated for me by the actions I physically performed every time I ran that old light, exemplifies perfectly for my readers the power in the teaching technique that transformed me. Self-development techniques that do not require this 'real world' grounding in physical processes which produce value for others(like TM, for instance), not only work poorly, but the results achieved(if any) can be dangerous.
There is some ‘name-dropping,’ which generally is understood to be the author’s pathetic attempt to associate himself with someone everybody knows. Robert Pirsig’s name may not be known to many of you, but you may have heard of his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance(ZAMM), a wildly popular book published in 1974. Mostly, I intended for my readers to be inspired to undertake some research; find out more about him and his work. I think this book is comparable to Pirsig’s ZAMM in several ways; most important are these two:1)His relates real experiences, and 2)He argues for the importance of useful work, as it affects the learning process; perhaps implying it was a necessary component for him.
Gurdjieff’s name is a recurring one that could take some persons a lifetime to even begin to understand, but some research would at least help the person who has never heard the name to garner a more well-rounded concept of spiritual teachers. I believe the first time anything written by him appeared in the United States was when his Meetings with Remarkable Men was released in 1959. His method of teaching required strenuous physical participation and is commonly referred to as The Work. Gurdjieff felt strongly that developing a higher consciousness was the only hope our species has if it will avoid eventual extinction.
If you enjoy the research as much as you do the reading, you will find that there is a lot of scientific research going on at the ‘frontier’ of our understanding of consciousness, memory, the learning process itself and many other related aspects of cognition. These intrepid explorers come from many disciplines, but their work seems to be converging. There is one particular theory that seems to be useful in a number of these disciplines which is generally known as the Global Workspace; a place where the mind throws a spotlight on specific perceptions and/or conceptions; a place being compared to the stage in a theater, or Theater of the Mind.
When I was working my way through college, I took a basic Drama course(signing up because for me it would be a crip-course) for which I received some credits for having attended certain shows. We were allowed wide latitude when choosing what to go see. For me, this represented a ticket-buying experience that was quite novel; I could walk into any performance at any theater at any time, but buying a ticket and taking a seat in the house(like anyone else) was new to me. By the time I had earned all the extra credit available, I had learned a new behavior. Even for a show business insider, these nights in the theater are very rewarding experiences. I hope all the things I have said here will enhance your next theater experience and encourage you to have more of them. See you in the theater!
I was taught how to operate a followspot while I was still an apprentice. I trained on a trouper made by Strong; that's the equipment they had at the Auditorium and what you'd most likely see with travelling attractions at that time. This device combined three separate systems and I had to learn all about all three before I would be given an opportunity to run one of them during a show.
The first is the most basic, and it is the mechanical system that allows for the 'follow' function incorporated into its common name. It is a precision headgear, much like the 'head' camera operators affix to the top of their tri-pod(or camera dolly), and allows for the smooth movement, the panning and tilting, and also incorporates mechanisms useful in locking off or retarding that movement. This mechanism is inserted into the heavy rolling base in such a way that you can adjust the height also. The base is heavy because the heaviest elements of another system were placed there to lower the center of gravity, to make the platform more stable and to make the moving elements lighter.
The second system the apprentice must become well-acquainted with is the optical system which corresponds to the 'spot' function referred to in the rest of the common name. Many refer to this piece of equipment as a projector when they don't recognize that it is a spotlight. That's actually an intuitive mistake, because the optics located in the front part of the barrel-shaped piece that sits atop the base when assembled, are nearly identical in form and function to the optics in projectors and cameras or telescopes. A more detailed explanation of this system makes more sense if we discuss the lamp first.
The lamp is the function of the third system, is probably the most esoteric(because there is no mention of it in that common name:FOLLOWSPOT) and complex of the three, and by far the most important one for the apprentice to truly master(because during a performance is no time to be figuring out what has gone wrong with it or to attempt even the most minor adjustments to it). Strong's trouper has a carbon arc lamp that produces an illumination that can be viewed by the operator only with adequate eye protection.
At the very heart of the lamp's efficient design is its parabolic reflector(technically an optical element). You may have encountered the peculiar shape that is a parabola in your second year of algebra when you were introduced to quadratic equations. If so, then you will remember that there is one point(and ONLY one point) that has the 'magical' relationship to all the other points represented in your graph of those equations; if not, then by making reference to the common flashlight, which I'm sure each of you has some familiarity with, I can demonstrate to your complete understanding the importance of finding that point.
The lamp in a flashlight is a tiny glass bulb that when lit will throw its illuminating radiation in every direction out and away from its hot, glowing filament. The flashlight is useful because it concentrates and focuses that radiation into a beam that can be directed at whatever position in your surroundings where you desire more light. It is the tiny parabolic reflector in the flashlight that performs the magic, and the lights designer has placed the socket for the tiny bulb just so; so that the filament, when lit, is always at that all-important focal point.
Complicating matters considerably for the operator of a trouper is the fact that the arc inside the very hot and very bright lamphouse is consuming the carbon rods in the process. One of the rods is held in a clamp that sits behind the reflector at the back of the spotlight. The reflector is a round, curved glass mirror with a hole in the center that lets the rod extend through it to the front side of the parabolic mirror. Another rod is then clamped into position forward of the first rod, and when both clamps are then electrified with a powerful direct current you may touch momentarily the tips of the rod by means of the 'striker' mechanism. When the tips separate, they draw an arc that's as bright as lightning; that arc is extremely hot and the carbon begins immediately to burn away while its copper jacket slowly melts away.
The two clamps are riding along a worm gear that is turned slowly by a small motor all the way at the back; they are held in place by spring clamps that engage the grooves cut deeply into the worm so that it looks like two screws turned in the opposite direction. One groove pulls the rear carbon constantly forward through the reflector while the grooves cut in the opposite direction at the other end of the worm push the front-most carbon rod back towards the other rod, thereby maintaining the correct gap to maintain the arc that has been struck. Some minor adjustment to the motor speed may be required to maintain the optimum gap(distance between the rod-tips) for cooler operation and to allow the light to get to the surface of the reflector.
When you first clamp those carbons in place(before you switch on the current) is the time to make sure the gap is in the proper place with relation to the position of the reflector. If the arc is not exactly at the focal point of that reflector, the light projected out the front by the optical system will be dim and off-color. There is a mechanism(the knurl knob) that allows for some minor adjustment, forward or back, during lamp operation but you will need all that capability to maintain a bright white light for the length of time you will be busy at the other end of the spotlight during Act I of your show! There are also some minor adjustments that can be made to better align the reflector with the optics up front, but you won't be able to make those adjustments during a performance either.
All that direct current(DC) is coming to the lamp from a large(and heavy) rectifier that is in the base, so there is an electrical connection which must be made when you assemble the spotlight. You also require a reliable connection to the house's power supply. These arc lights draw a substantial current; you will not likely want to share that power circuit with another spotlight. The last thing you need to complicate things for you is for a breaker to blow during the show! If you can turn the lamp on when you have got it set up, its best to let it run awhile to test the breaker(all lamps at once if possible). This is the best time to make all the adjustments that will improve the quality of your light, for sometimes, depending on what is going on in the theater, it may not be possible(or not appropriate) to open your light on the stage to see what it looks like. Most adjustments will remain the same from show to show(unless the equipment has been moved - hence the name trouper); well- trained operators are reluctant to make adjustments to the lamp they are assigned, since it is assumed it was properly adjusted the last time it was used.
Now, with the lamp shining brightly, the apprentice can finally take the optical controls in hand and begin practicing the art of putting the light that spills from the front exactly where(and ONLY where) it is desired. The first control your hand needs to accustom itself to operating(and FINDING; it's highly advisable to keep ones eyes on the 'target area' where the light is likely to appear) is the knob(a lever actually) that 'blacks' it out. "When in doubt - BLACKOUT!" But from a design standpoint, it is the lenses that we need to understand. As you know, from your experience with your own flashlight, the further away you get from anything the bigger the light-pool that the beam throws will be. The bigger pool is also dimmer, and flashlights don't have lenses. Spotlights are necessarily some distance from the stage(or target area); usually the rear of an auditorium or the furthest reaches of a coliseum. The distance from the stage to the spotlight is the 'throw,' and a large convex lens located at the front end of the 'spot' is necessary to keep the light-beam the reflector is throwing from being scattered all over the place(It's this 'scattering' that makes the light dimmer of course.); the appropriate lens to compensate for the required throw. The longer the focal length of that front lens, the smaller the light pool will be, and a quality optical lens goes a long ways toward preserving the brightness at such distances(200 to 400 feet are common throws with followspots).
That front-most lens has been fitted with a comfortable handle, and with that control the large lens can be zoomed in and out making a dramatic change in the size of the circle of light you observe from your position as the operator(that light pool does not look like a circle from anywhere else in the theater). That feature is why you rarely would have to change out the large lens for one with a different focal length when it is 'trouped' into another theater where the throw is different. Generally, that zoom adjustment does not change during the performance(on an ice show the lens is moved constantly as the skaters move up and down a long arena); the comfortable handle is the one the operator is using to pan and tilt his instrument while following the action or movement, or swinging to another position while 'blacked out.'
When you adjust the boom(sometimes boomerang), a much smaller convex lens to the rear is simultaneously adjusted in the opposite direction; a steel band that is attached to the large front lens, runs first over a pulley(reversing the action) and then to an attachment at the rear that moves the smaller lens. These multiple optical elements(much like the front and rear lenses in a spyglass) work together to keep the beam projected on the stage in a sharp focus; next to the boom handle is a small knob that allows for a fine tuning of that focus by making a slight adjustment to the rear lens.
FIGURE 1 here
Now, if you've grasped the overall shape of this contraption, either from my description or from having seen one/them at an attraction you may have attended, you should be visualizing a round base(about two feet wide at the bottom where your feet will soon be located) about chest-high or -tall, with a long(six to eight feet) cannon or tube-thing balanced on top with its business-end pointed down towards the stage. As the operator, you would 'address' your trouper from its right side(always facing the stage - and opposite the 'safe' side when mounting a horse), standing close to it with your body facing the light and your head turned right, facing the stage and in the direction your spot will throw its light. Your left hand is above the 'cannon' and resting on the blackout knob. Your right hand has taken a firm grip on the lens 'boom' handle described earlier, that juts from the side of the very front end of the 'cannon's' barrel.
The lamp is still off. Your left hand holds the knob end of a lever that can be moved away from your body(to blackout) or toward you to slowly open the mechanism(to fade in). The lever should move smoothly, but with just enough resistance to let it stay put when you remove your hand. This lever opens and closes an iris(much like in the eye) that enlarges or constricts the circular opening that the lightbeam can pass through on its way to the lenses. This blackout knob is the frontmost of three levers your left hand will grope for(usually in the dark), while you observe the effect that control is having on your lightpool down on the stage. The next knob(moving further back) is your stripper(sometimes chopper), which will make two ‘cuts,’ turning the circular pool into a more rectangular one by moving blade-like plates into the lightbeam from the top and bottom. When the stripper knob is pushed away it is fully open(the opposite of the B.O. knob); when pulled over towards you it can also blackout the lamp, but using the stripper makes it wink out like when you blink your eye(instead of fading out). The last one, farthest to the rear of your spotlight, is another iris mechanism; this is your primary control determining the working size of your circular lightpool. Its location(further to the rear) is closer to the focal point of the reflector allowing a sharp edge as you open and close the iris. This mechanism, when closed all the way down, would also blackout the lamp but the delicate curved metal plates that close down the circle should never be used that way because they cannot withstand the high heat at the focal point of the beam. The B.O. iris, located only about eight inches farther forward, where the beam is not so sharply focused, is not subjected to the same extremes of heat.
Now that you have the feel of the controls, let’s trim the lamp so we can strike the arc. Step to your left(towards the rear of the spotlight) and open the large door(almost your whole side of the lamphouse) by pulling it toward you and swinging it up out of the way on its hinge. There may be some carbons laying in the drip pan(they seem to work better when kept warm); there may be a box of them slid underneath the base(another way to keep them warm). Usually you will have to remove the old carbons, now shorter as they have been burned away during use(sometimes these ‘stubs’ are kept right there in the ‘pan’ for use in an emergency; most apprentices will get any practice they are lucky enough to get, while burning only these throwaways). After removal, the jaws(where the new carbons will be clamped in place) are returned to their starting position by cranking(there’s actually a crank-handle on the back end of a trouper) the worm gear with your left hand until they are as far apart as they will go. The left carbon is fitted through the rear of the reflector and clamped into place(not too tightly, as the heating of the clamp during operation makes the clamp get even tighter). Its tip is laying in a v-shaped steel rest now, that sticks up in front of the mirror and keeps the tip centered. Hanging on the rest, just below the rod tip, is a removable(for emptying) drip cup that should catch all the molten copper that drops from the arc. Clamp the other rod into position and it should align itself well with the rearmost rod. Now close that door!
Now flip the power switch into the on position. That energizes the jaws, and the carbons now clamped into them. To touch them now would be a mistake; hence the door shuts before you switch the thing on! Now a small motor has begun to turn the worm gear; the carbon tips are slowly advancing towards one another. There is a dial on the back of the spotlight that will adjust the motor speed. Crank the gear now to bring the tips together, then quickly back apart striking the arc. You can observe this operation through a small window in the center of the door; it has a dark green glass to protect your eyes(like in a welder’s mask). Your ‘dowser(blackout lever)’ should be in the OUT position(away); open it now and your light will open up on the stage, or you may want to move it onto a nearby vertical surface while you make the many adjustments that are better made while observing the effect they have on the quality of your light. You should wait a minute or two while your carbons ‘burn in’ properly (quit sputtering) before you adjust for your brightest light. There is a lot of smoke during burn in and a bit at all times during normal operation. These noxious fumes are escaping at the top of the lamphouse and should be properly ventilated for safety.
While looking at your projected beam, with your left hand you adjust the knurl knob('knurl' because it is on the same shaft as the worm gear; just under the crank) to move the arc into the reflector’s sweet spot. If it was rotated all the way out when you trimmed up, you should have rotated it back in at that time. Once you’ve used up all the adjustment, your light will begin losing brightness or develop a dark spot in it, and there’s nothing else you can do until you go out to re-trim. You may need to slide the boom back slightly at this time to adjust for the distance to the target. Then, with the iris in somewhat, so you can see the edge(cut) it makes on your beam, you make the fine adjustment to the rear lens to sharpen that edge. You may also need to fine-tune your reflector to get the light smooth all the way across your widest spot. During all this you have been watching your rod tips to see that the motor speed is not closing the gap that you set at strike-up or letting the carbons burn the gap wider(too wide and you lose your arc). Sometimes it is better to change the voltage coming to the lamp to compensate, rather than change the motor speed. If less voltage will mitigate the problem, then you can run a little longer before you have to re-trim.
At the front end is a color boom that holds six frames for colored ‘gels.’ You slide the one you want to use up in front of the spotlight where a magnet holds it up there. While you are checking your new trim, you might need to run through these colors to see if they are in good condition, are in the right order or check to see that yours match what the other spots have. This contraption is an accessory, and sometimes you will see various items dangling from the rear end of the light that have been tied on there to counterbalance the additional weight.
Another ‘accessory’ you probably should check at this point is your headset; the communications with the stage manager and with the other spots can be very important. Good luck. The show’s about to begin!
When I came along(I turned sixteen in 1966), I was on the cusp of a whole series of technological improvements and other changes that would literally herald a new age. The 'journeymen' who taught me the trade were 'old school,' and that's putting it mildly. As you have seen, there was quite a bit to learn about the trouper before I could ever be expected to run a light on a show, so there were countless occasions when I would be in the booth with this guy or that, picking up what I could about it, absorbing what I was able from what one of them might show me and if there was time, demonstrating what I already knew.
Right after my teacher shut down his light(perhaps after Act I), he might tell me to re-trim his light while he takes a break. If there was to be a 20-minute intermission, he'd normally allow his spot to cool down awhile before changing to new carbons. Of course, in my case, it was important to go through the process while everything is still hot, hot, hot! My dad, also an excellent spotlight operator, sort of hung back during my apprenticeship, knowing that there was a lot more going on than just me getting the skill I still lacked. The relationships I developed with so many of these old-timers would have more to do with my getting the opportunity to work a light on some shows, than what skills I had already mastered on those old lamps.
Following a performer around with what amounts to a big flashlight sounds easy, and probably looks easy too, if you watch while it's being done. Well, it ain't; and your lack of ability is most immediately apparent to the other operators who can make those first outings tough on you if they wish. That's when those relationships first begin to pay back dividends. The lighting director will be less aware of your foibles because the angle from which he is observing is a bad one; the audience even less able to see anything of what is going on. Your buddies can cover for your short-comings, and try to talk you through the rough spots. You'd better be able to take a ration of good-natured ribbing about it too!
Watching an experienced operator while the show is going on is one of the best ways to get a heads-up on many of the subtleties that can take years to acquire. If you show the proper respect to his situation, you can ask questions and get helpful answers during the show. This exchange is doubly instructive because you observe the mysterious operations while in direct correspondence to actions occurring on the stage. Sometimes the cuing is coming through a biscuit(a small portable speaker) and you see that much more clearly how his responses co-ordinate with what is taking place. The respect part is something that you must learn about too, in order to understand; when to ask your questions so that they are not bothersome, distracting or downright disastrous; being aware that the presence of the headset sometimes means others are hearing everything or aware of your presence in the booth. Few apprentice operators ever spend that much time doing this; many experienced operators are glad they don't!
A fact of life:Most trained operators are disinclined to train any more of them. So if you can allow yourself to befriend one whose dominant personality trait is laziness, he might let you run the light while he is taking it easy. This is not only a better way to learn how(with a competent operator standing-by), but darn nearly the ONLY way it can be learned. And when you have made it through a show in this manner, it is doubly beneficial to come around and do it again, as it is much easier to work on your newly-acquired skills while running a show you've already seen. Most of the trainees that I worked with over the years could not seem to understand this. Most young men will cop an attitude because the old-timer is getting paid while they are doing all the work. This is just a bad attitude for an apprentice to adopt.
The very first show that I ran was a car show; how difficult could it be to hit something as large as a car with such a big flashlight? Our lights were on platforms built from scaffolding two sections tall; four of these surrounding an arena-style area where the brand new cars were driven around in full view of all the manufacturer's dealers in the Southeast Region. We were warned when the next car would be coming, and then given a specific cue when all four of us were to open up on it. The spotlight was in a wide flood and also clear, so there was no dark color to make the light any harder to see(follow). The first time I opened up my dowser, my light was relatively close to where the car was; but not close enough for any of the light to be hitting the car; and the car was moving! Of course, every pick-up I made, after that first laughable attempt, was a little bit better than the last; a little bit smoother and delivered with a little more confidence. But when the last car drove out of the exhibit hall and I dowsed out on my very last cue, I was greatly relieved that the torture had finally ended.
My great advantage was to have observed closely so many old-school operators. While hitting that car grows easier with experience, there are techniques those guys were using that make an even greater difference. Your dowser, and how you open and close it… well, that’s what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. And here is where your visual acuity makes itself apparent as a separator. On the “Go” cue, your light should immediately appear exactly where it is required(and in the proper size & color). A ‘smooth operator’ opens his dowser just a crack at first(called ‘ghosting’), moving the spot to its perfect centering while too dim for anyone else to be aware of the movement. This ‘secret’ technique actually looks better than if the spot just bangs on like you could do if the target is still exactly where it was when you last blacked out. Almost all the young operators today attach a scope to the side of their lamp(I guess that might work, if you could see the target in the dark!); mores the pity.
Now when the ‘actor’ begins to move about, you should make it impossible for him to walk out of your light(of course on your second run-through, you know where he is going and what he will do). It takes just a few minutes to realize that the bigger that spot is, the easier the ‘following’ task will be. But alas, the reason a followspot is being employed is so there will not be too much light spilling onto everything(everybody) else; you may have noticed that the other spots are all smaller than yours, or the ‘cue-caller’ may have pointed out to you(where all the others could hear) that it should be made smaller… and like NOW!
Sometimes, when I try illustrating my next point to an inexperienced operator, I’ll liken it to a bug crawling quickly across a table-top, over which you have placed a clear drinking glass. If I say don’t let that bug run into the glass, could you do it? Of course, you probably could; but how do you do it? You are able to move the glass by watching it; if you are watching the bug, he will beat you every time. Translating this to the spotlight situation will require that the focus at the edge of your light be as sharp as possible(those fine adjustments to the rear lens from the previous chapter), and the brighter your light is in relationship to all the other lights there, then the easier it is to see it as well. You thought you were going to be enjoying the show. NOT! Your ability to follow well depends entirely on your ability to concentrate on the sharp edge of your lightpool, sometimes with an intensity that precludes watching what the performer is doing. On an ice show, where your skating pair may be performing an adagio while sliding down the ice, there are usually ten spotlights down there on the ice. If you start watching the skaters, what inevitably happens is your light starts slowly drifting away from the tight grouping. This really looks bad, and kind of silly too; but worse yet, the wet-behind-the-ears operator will all too easily begin to wonder who that is whose light is wandering off like that; not realizing for the longest time, that because it is perfectly round, that it must be his light. From personal experience, I can assure you that that moment of realization exerts a shock to your entire being like no other I can readily suggest.
Not too long after my car-show experience, when I had convinced enough people(and some of the right people) that I could indeed run a followspot, I found myself assigned to run a light on our(Atlanta, GA) annual summer stock:six musical comedies in six weeks with some real national stars in the leading roles. Two things saved my bacon on this unforgettable occasion; one was that we had a rehearsal scheduled; the other was Jim, the stage manager. During the rehearsal, I made plenty of mistakes, and that, after all, is what a rehearsal is for(at least partly). I had somehow become proficient at manufacturing excuses that made most of my mistakes seem to be the result of others’ shortcomings. On this, my ‘first rodeo,’ Jim took the time required, halted the rehearsal, and while the entire company waited, and while the entire crew, both backstage and in the front of house, listened, told me something I badly needed to hear. Jim pointed out that, while there were plenty of problems with the lighting coming from the two front-lights, that I had yet to make any mistakes. He said that was unfortunate because, if I had made a few mistakes, as might be expected, then having been made aware of them, a smart guy like me would certainly not make the same mistake again, and while I might make a few new ones, at least the lighting I was providing would steadily improve with every performance. This said, the rehearsal resumed and not another word was said about it. And the magic proved all-powerful; I got really good at this once I saw there was room for improvement.
The Split-Mind Learns Quickest
There came along with the many other technological improvements(and their attendant complexities), improvements to the communications systems we spotlight operators depended on for the light cues. ClearCom offered significant improvement to the quality of the signal we were listening to, made several channels available at each listening station which provided privacy and reduced confusion and, when combined with a better fitting headphone which dampened ambient noise, changed the way we plied(and learned) our trade.
In the 'olden days,' the headset you would be given was the exact same equipment in use by telephone operators at a PBX switchboard(complete with the clunky phone plug). Due to mishandling and improper storage, they frequently refused to stay on your head, without some additional mishandling(bending wire frames, etc.), and had only one ear-piece, which could be worn left or right simply by swiveling the mic the other way. These things were very uncomfortable to wear for any length of time, and if you got one that was still in good condition you were tempted to hide it somewhere for your exclusive use.
Most operators wore the speaker on the left, leaving the good ear, that points toward the stage, to best hear the 'program.' Others did just the opposite, in an attempt to block out some of the distracting noise coming from the crowd. If it was uncomfortable enough, even the best operator would alternate ears in order to mitigate the pain during 2, 3, sometimes 4 hours of operation. But under normal conditions, your attention was split:cues and other information coming always on the left side while your right side is bombarded with sometimes acoustically poor renditions of the onstage dialogue(requiring unusually focused concentration to understand), sometimes loud and annoying(never for me) rock & roll, sometimes crowd noises(sometimes you are right in the middle of the audience), or if you are in a projection booth, sometimes there are other production-related conversations going on(projection or camera technicians for instance), and sometimes when the portals are glassed-in, you are either straining to hear anything not completely muffled by the panes or you are struggling with an inadequate 'program' being piped in that can't quite compete with the noise from blowers that are removing the noxious fumes from the enclosed space.
In Tales of Power(Carlos Casteneda), the apprentice, with Don Genaro whispering instructions in one ear, while Don Juan whispered different commands into the other, was able to 'leap' from the precipice to a spot below them where he and Don Juan had spent some time together the previous day. Don Genaro was calling on young Carlos to feel deeply the bodily sensation produced by his presence in the now on the cliff's very edge. Don Juan was commanding that he recall all the peculiar sensation that was embedded firmly in his memory from his experience in the valley below only hours before. Carlos was easily able to take the mental leap from one location to the other; the sorcery here was that when he did it, his mind produced all the authentic sensations that would be produced had he actually jumped. On what basis, could Carlos then conclude that he had not really jumped into the valley below?
At first, the headset(representing all those vital cues that I must hear and then execute if I'm to continue getting spot work) competing with the concert(music having perhaps the strongest power to engage the conscious attention) for equal processing time in my already agitated brain was disorienting, to put it mildly. In addition to the aural cues splitting my brain in half, my eyes and my entire body are engaged in the execution of the last cue I was given. Add to all this some current domestic concerns(your spouse's spending habits?), maybe a couple of beers you drank at lunch, and now you have an apprentice standing beside you asking why your headphones are only covering one ear.
The first time I had to climb up a ladder to hang a lighting instrument, I gotta admit that I was completely uncomfortable being up high, much less up there with a heavy leko in one hand and the other employed with my crescent wrench(I must have been holding on 'with my tail,' as the guys frequently put it). Only going up high again, and again, and again could wear down that queasy vertigo I felt the first time until it was no longer noticeable. Keeping at it until I had completely retrained myself in every aspect of my watching, my listening, my remembering and my using and moving my hands without watching them, was the only thing that would make the difference between a qualified spotlight operator and a useless wannabe.
It's what came next that I truly hope to examine here, and the reason I began writing about the spotlight to begin with. With all that stuff going on, there was still a highly functional part of me(of my mind?) that was looking for something interesting to engage itself with. I believe that was the real me; the one who needs no mask to hide behind; the one who can only be happy and go about the business of developing itself fully while the other personality is fully engaged elsewhere and ceases its active opposition to any developmental fulfillment.
"Where did that come from?"
The Oxford English Dictionary is a wonderful resource. Because words undergo a change in their meaning over time, the OED will list quotations that show how the word you are seeking to define were used in new ways by writers whose usage has redefined the accepted usage of the word in question. The following quotation uses the word abstract in a way that I found pertinent to the present argument. In 1690, J. Norris, in his Beatitudes wrote:
The more abstract therefore we are from the body ...the more fit we shall be both to behold, and to endure the Rays of the Divine Light.
My higher faculties seemed content to examine the more abstract aspects of what we were doing in the theater that day, while my conscious attention was fully engaged in producing the desired lighting effects required of me. I suppose that any work, being diligently performed by any workman, would normally result in similar improvements in that workman's understanding of the more abstract aspects of the materials he uses, the process he is applying and the product achieved. But in addition to the peculiar splitting of the mind I have been alluding to, there are unique aspects of theater itself that have also affected the level and the quality of that conscious state I am attempting to describe.
While Norris's quotation points precisely to both the conscious state and what can happen when in it, I feel that a more mundane definition for abstract, when used as an adjective should be explored. If you have studied mathematics, and perhaps excelled in it, you will have no trouble in apprehending the abstract nature of numbers, and appreciate the greater abstract-ness of... say, trigonometry. My father learned, in artillery school, how to apply the abstract trigonometric principles so that the howitzers they were aiming would consistently hit their targets. This method proved too time consuming when his unit arrived in Western Europe, so he was made forward observer, and thereafter employed a less-abstract method that involved watching where the shells burst, and then zeroing in on the target by trial-and-error, or by estimating how much to adjust the elevation and charge to achieve a better result.
Abstract notions are symbols, like numbers, letters and even words, because they have no direct correspondence to any real objects found in our environment. To follow my argument here in its entirety, you must realize that the self you normally think you are is abstract because it is only a symbol for the real you; that is, your idea of yourself poorly corresponds to any real aspects of your personality. The real you becomes more active while the lower functions of your brain are fully occupied 'elsewhere.'
Back in the theater, we have 5000 individuals, most of whom have equally inadequate self- concepts, but who have temporarily suspended their disbelief for just long enough for the producer to transport a substantial portion of their attentions(as a cohesive group mind you) to a distant time and place, where a strange occurrence, in a Parisian opera house during the 19th century, captivated the imaginations of everyone then living in 'The City of Light.'
In the opening scene(this is what 5000 people are now seeing and hearing and have agreed to believe, if just for awhile, is real), there is a silent auction in progress, and at the end of this short opening scene, they are just about to auction off the very chandelier, which has been completely restored and wired for 'the new electric light,' that figured in that fatal disaster when it crashed to the stage during a performance; this, then, the peculiar occurrence that had captured the imaginations of all Parisians when the accidental fatality took place in full view of the audience. Or had it really been an accident?
The Phantom of the Opera tells the 'real' story surrounding the 'strange occurrence' by dramatizing all the events that led up to the fatal tragedy on a well-lighted stage. If some person seated amongst the audience were to look up, he would see the real chandelier that will actually crash onto the stage at the end of the performance. But his acutely focused attention and a substantial portion of his mind are now on that stage with the performers; his consciousness has been altered; he no longer sustains his awareness of the full orchestra playing away right in front of him. Inevitably, a few(very few) patrons will have that imaginary construction that has captivated his body interrupted by the pressure in his bladder that demands his attention, thereby altering his conscious state to one where he can now weigh the urgency of his physical need against a desire to maintain the other state of consciousness he was enjoying just before the interruption. The ones who lose the argument(two selves demanding preference), will then get up and go pee, ignoring the obvious annoyance he has become for the others who are consciously trying to maintain a similar state.
Now we return to the spotlight operator(that's me), who is currently ensconced on a narrow parapet with his lamp, high along the right side of the auditorium(stage left), where he struggles to maintain his own (much higher)state of consciousness. He notices the guy who was seated below him to his left, and who has nearly started a riot among the patrons he was required to disturb, when he got up and made his way over to the aisle during a particularly captivating rendition of The Music of the Night. What the operator has witnessed is quickly made into a memory file and sent to storage for later retrieval; the very stuff that becomes the meat of conversations he will have with the other guys who saw it too; perhaps they are talking about it on their headsets even now.
Perhaps he too, has been annoyed by the disturbance as well, if he has chosen to be captivated by the scene playing out before him, while letting the other functions his body is enacting take place 'on auto,' if you will. I saw that particular scene performed, by the original cast member whose presence in Atlanta set an all-time record for Box Office dollars at the Fox that year, no fewer than 51 times! But there was one other time(there were 52 performances in all), when my ability to observe in great detail what that performance had been, right up until the night that, to the great disappointment of the holders of all those high-priced tickets, the role of the Phantom was sung by the understudy, gave me the unique perspective that made that time most memorable, and most enjoyable.
A camera with low-light capability had been hung on the balcony rail, right beside an aircraft landing-light that’s high intensity beam had been dampened by a dark red color filter. This allows the low frequency infra-red light to illuminate the entire stage during certain scene shifts that occur during a blackout while the curtain remains open. Because some really large units are being moved on, or offstage or turned about by means of motors, cables and winches(scenic automation) during complete blackouts, there are safety concerns that are served by video monitors, located in a great number of locations around the backstage areas, and even in control rooms below stage level and out in the dressing rooms as well. Not only can you observe the scene changes, just as if they were occurring in the light of day, but you can see(and hear as well) just what the audience is seeing and hearing throughout the entire performance from any of the monitor locations.
This great star-of-the-stage, on this particular tour, had developed a romantic entanglement with one of the chorus girls(who danced several parts in the show) who had a viciously jealous temperament, and watched religiously from the wings each night, while he played the central love-scene with Christine. But on that one momentous occasion, when the understudy sang the part instead, I was able to see it performed as originally intended. He continuously, while doing a fine job of singing The Music of the Night, made love to Christine with his hands, as she responded to the grisly Phantom's touch in a convincingly enthusiastic manner, as suited the hypnotic power he exerted over his ingénue. Now that was worth waiting for!
At the end of the Atlanta run, the Phantom’s official concessionaire offered a substantial discount, to cast and crew members, on the souvenirs they sold at a large portable stand set up in the lobby. Having heard the haunting opera played and sung over fifty times, you would not think I’d be anxious to purchase the CD, so that I could hear it again; but that was exactly what I bought with my hard-earned money. Playing this CD over and over again(and even other versions with different orchestras and singers) allowed a deep psychic penetration of this thing, that was Webber’s creation; a masterpiece, far surpassing anything else produced in modern times, that I came to understand as his, patiently thought out in its creation, answer to the critics who had so viciously blasted his Jesus Christ, Superstar(another masterpiece I have seen performed many, many times).
My conclusion, based on the careful examination of all the abstract concepts, the minutiae of theatrical presentation, combined and composed masterfully by the genius that is Weber, welled up, if you will, into my conscious mind, only after countless hours of deep contemplation of the subtle(sub-lingual) cognitive patterns, that are the play-within-a-play that was Webber’s play-about-a-play; contemplation that could only take place while in the altered state achieved while all lower conscious activity was engaged in peripheral aspects of performing/producing the play.
Also, having trained my mind in just that way, and so thoroughly over time, I can quickly achieve a similar contemplative state of consciousness, simply listening to one of these audio recordings. The Phantom is forever there, within my mind! Where the critics are concerned, I feel confident that Webber enjoyed the last laugh(and I have enjoyed it right along with him).
So there is an experience, whereby certain knowledge can descend, into our waking consciousness, from somewhere higher in the apparatus that is our brain. Freud’s use of the word subconscious to describe an elsewhere in the topography of the human mind, seems at the least to be disrespectful and condescending, and at best quite counter-intuitive and even deceptive. The pathologies being manifested(described as an abnormal psychology) in one’s behavior always result from the repression of the ‘whole self’ by the ‘mask’ or the inadequately developed ego(always concerning itself with the manufactured self-image and/or its preservation and defense). All true understanding must come from this higher center, and it seems that ‘normality’ consists in being successful in disregarding this source(denying completely its very existence) while serving others who have access to their own centers, but would deny you access to your own, preferring that you rely instead on them as your source.
In The Now
During a show one night, probably one where the cues have already worn a deep, comfortable groove in your operator machinery, while your forebrain is examining some abstract fragment of your Platonic ideal performance, you might catch the briefest glimpse of yourself running that light 'on auto.' It's not quite an out-of-body experience, where you would see your body from another vantage point, but you will get an amplified sensation of all that your body is feeling, your lamp moving along as normal as ever, but realizing suddenly and surely that all its parts are responding to commands coming from some source that is not the 'current' observer. The wonder of that experience delivers a shock to your entire being; you are instantly reintegrated and the lamp's movement becomes much more tentative, like there is now interference in the command signal. You realize that you are incapable of sustaining the previous conscious state while 'remembering yourself.' But there may be a way; a skill that could be developed with the proper instruction; adequate circumstances within which you could practice the method oft enough.
There can be some confusion as to what exactly one means by ‘in the now.’ The experience I’m describing here is a valid one(because I once had it) that should guide our thinking on a clear understanding of it. Gurdjieff’s great concern was that Western culture had frozen further evolution of consciousness, and that as a result of this stagnation, our very existence was threatened; that technologies would develop that might destroy the species(or even the planet). This line of thought developed prior to World War I, and his struggle to establish new possibilities for further development in Western minds was still ongoing when thermonuclear devices were unleashed on the civilian populations of two Japanese cities. The Fourth Way system that was The Work being developed in Gurdjieff’s school(prior to his 1924 automobile accident) involved, at the entry level, two separate practices that he called remembering oneself and observing oneself. My description clearly has both elements; remembering as I consciously felt the sensations that were my hands on that lamp; observing as I realized that it was not ‘I’ directing the hands to move the lamp.
Robert Pirsig describes his indefinable Quality as available to our human experience only when one both embraces and applies it as best fits the requirements of the situation. He was ‘talking’ motorcycles; I’m ‘talking’ followspots. For Pirsig, it’s not just involving one’s conscious attention elsewhere, but seizing and applying the solution that arises, where that focal point yet lingers.
Robert Pirsig's development of his Metaphysics Of Quality, stemming from his own personal enlightenment (which may have required his own quick stay in an insane asylum), which itself stemmed from his intense concentration on his old motorcycle's maintenance requirements, seems to hinge on the need for one's conscious attention to be intensely focused on rational or abstract aspects of one's perceived reality, while accessing helpful data arising from sources subliminal to one's perception.
Gurdjieff’s method, if described using neurological parameters, probably involves the conscious cultivation of beta activity as a ‘safe’ way to access and apply the data made available when delta activity can be simultaneously cultivated. Hugh Ford describes Jane Heap as Margaret Anderson’s ‘prolocutor, producing the pungent phrase when needed, articulating what Margaret could not describe.’ Heap says that ‘things become known to [her].’
While writing, your beta-consciousness begins to block alpha-associated sensation; this begins to allow the constant search for the right words to access data associated with delta-consciousness. Rudolf Steiner adopted Goethe’s view on thought; positing the human brain as an ‘organ’ of perception sensitive to ideas. Viewing the mind as ‘perceptor,’ like eyes or ears, while providing new insight into epistemological considerations, does not help address the questions about the source from which ideas spring.
In the theater, one may be especially susceptible to receiving psychic impressions from others, or from the mass psyche that is the congregation of many agreeing to share the same experience. Socratic method seems to imply that these incoming ideas are remembered. Let’s examine first some more experiential data before we attempt sorting this out. When the ‘I,’ whose body and sensory apparatus are fully engaged in running a show, begins ranging afar, I’m frequently thinking about something related to the light I’m playing with; sometimes it is light itself that I enter into a deep contemplation about, or some aspect of it like color.
Newton explored color with his ‘rational’ mind, and discovered or developed the mathematical framework we are still using(for the most part) today. Understanding the concepts revealed to him by his experiments with prisms, while running your spot surely involves being abstract from your body. But in my case, I would have acquired significant data from many sources(one of which was the knowledge being passed to the next generation of stagehands by all those old-timers that I spent some time with), providing groundwork, something with which to work, to combine with my unique experience in new or more comprehensive ways. Still, when the epiphany occurs, when the pieces come together, when you learn something, the process is one that is not taught to our children in our public schools. I don’t have to see a picture of a rainbow to know the blue band is at the bottom(on the shorter side of the curve) and the red band at the top; I know it will always be so; I know this because I have reached a deep understanding of what is occurring when light is refracted. And because I learned it while running my trouper, I’m one step closer to understanding why and how that could have occurred.
In our normal waking existence, we separate ourselves from any real access to a full experience of the moment we are living(NOT in the now); we are either thinking about something in the PAST, memories of which we have dredged up and are examining, or we are running imaginary sequences through our head, imagining a FUTURE where we will somehow know how to act because we have had these rehearsals. We frequently refuse to interrupt these futile activities even when others are talking to us, making us unable to listen properly and getting next to nothing from the exchange. We get so caught up in purely mental exercises, that we ignore virtually all the sensory data that is streaming in. If the ability to be so absolutely withdrawn from reality has some survival value for the species, for instance making it easier to get pregnant, then we should extoll its efficacy and devise better ways to teach these skills to our children.
Adults, who are not too caught up in the aforementioned mental futilities to notice there are children around, frequently get fascinated by what they are ‘expected’ to call childish behavior; and just as frequently the curious or mysterious way in which they act involves their active engagement of something in their environment we have carefully trained ourselves to ignore completely. Worse yet, we might intervene, admonishing the child for not being more attentive to ‘what’s really going on.’ It would be better for all concerned if we could spend all our time in the company of these unspoiled intelligences; better still if we allowed them(and only them) to admonish us when we are being inattentive to what is REALLY going on.
Even if we became adept at sustaining ourselves in the fleeting PRESENT, there would still exist an even higher state of consciousness, as in the experience I had on only one occasion, and which lasted only for a fraction of a second, which should be explored by a few who have the personality types and temperaments to excel at the training they would receive from other seasoned explorers before them.