I was about to record my very first national advertising campaign. I had crossed all my t’s and dotted my i’s in regard to maintaining and preparing my audio set-up; water in hand, baby with grandma, I felt ready to go. As I reached down to turn on my wireless gaming mouse, I remember stopping with a smile at one of my earliest memories in the professional entertainment industry. Sound designer Ethan’s face sprints to center stage of my mind. “ALWAYS INSTALL NEW BATTERIES BEFORE EVERY PERFORMANCE!!” This was…my first professional acting stage outside of school some…15 years ago? We were presenting a spin-off Wizard of Oz musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Ethan was sweet, but do not question him on battery facts. As a Type A person myself, I appreciated this rule: especially on a stage of such grandeur. Some may see his battery precedent as a stickler position to hold, but I see it as a sign of respect for not only your audience, but also yourself and your co-workers! God knows, I have definitely been on the other side of that coin working for small companies who work every battery ’til their last breath and duct tape is a catch-all cure.
Hence my swirling thoughts about writing a post dedicated to batteries! I also have a lot of thoughts about pimples and dinnerware, but
these seem to be less useful topics for career-oriented metaphors. So, there I went, with 5 minutes to
spare before our session: I replace my mouse batteries. My blood pressure instantly went down. I knew I was there 100% for my client. It’s in the small details, see? Everything probably would’ve been fine if I didn’t replace them, but what if? That tiny detail had been ironed out. Time is money.
There are many small-detail pieces of advice I’ve received over the years:
Always double knot your tap shoes. You don’t want a shoe to fly off and launch a lawsuit.
Pee before a performance or session. You can imagine the consequences.
Lay wires to coil, don’t wrap them around your arm.
Use a separate piece of material to rub off clothing’s deodorant streaks. (Lifesaver, totally works).
When setting a table, sign with your fingers: b for bread, d for drink.
Alright, I know I’m getting a little side-tracked, but it’s always important to remember the small details! This is instinct number one for me: order. I love it. I thrive with it. However, I do have to say I am also a better person for having no order at all as well. In fact, I was a bit too orderly. It’s something I check myself on to this day. Am I saying that a bit too perfectly? Can I simply let that person slide? Will my sanity be saved by letting this go? Am I sacrificing efficiency by obsessing over efficiency?
My biggest lessons learned, in fact, never came from school, heartbreak…or freshly sharpened pencils! They came from my first job out of college as a performer in a touring children’s theater company.
Our main contract was for a government-funded traffic safety musical. It lives in infamy. The budget was…slim…but cute! We were not encouraged to use Ethan’s rule. You use the battery until it can no longer be used: even if that happens to be mid cartwheel during your big traffic light finale. Not ideal. However, this got us into a separately good, yet possibly unnecessary habit of knowing every single line in the show!
Everyone…or most of us anyway, knew every role inside and out. If someone needed to replace batteries, we knew how to cover on stage without that actor present. This became additionally useful if quick changes didn’t go according to plan, someone called in sick for the day and we couldn’t get a sub, the principal came ON to the stage (mid-number) announcing we had to cut the show short by 20 minutes due to a fire drill they ‘forgot about’, or even if the school simply didn’t have working electricity at the time! Very sad, but ultimately true.
There was a LinkedIn article I remember reading about essential skills that don’t require an education. Number 1 on that list was SHOWING UP ON TIME: Being prepared! For the most part, in the professional world, we return to working with people because we know we can rely on them. Like batteries! A fresh battery ensures a smooth run. What could go wrong? How could you lose power without batteries?
But what do you do without them? Can you survive then? These instances of ‘the show must go on’ are when my whole life perspective shifted.
On the day we had no working outlets, I beat boxed our way throughout every musical number. When we had a skipping CD, instant re-writes became an essential skill. When our best rollerblader called in sick at 11pm the night before a 6am call, I rallied the help of my new boyfriend to teach me how to rollerblade on an inclined driveway in shoes 3 sizes too big. The next morning, the principal came to compliment me saying, “I’ve never seen such good acting! You really made me believe you didn’t know how to roller blade!” “Why, thank you.” I said. They bought my slapstick number, thank the stars.
I never felt more entertaining in my whole life. Sometimes, all you need is to show up to send that joy out there. Rolling with the punches became a great skill, yet it never stopped grinding my gears. I always ached for more consistency and reliability. After a few years, I became tour manager along with performing. The previous tour manager had played around with the idea of re-chargeable batteries. I thought it was time to get our boss on board to fund this endeavor. It took some convincing and my enthusiasm for batteries was never matched, but rechargeable batteries became the norm. My life was changed. Preparation meets survival meets evolution. I noticed the improvement immediately. The idea of batteries was nearly forgotten because they never came to mind! My peace of mind was restored once again. I felt prepared and proud and ready to deliver for the cutest audiences in the whole wide world. I still don’t think anyone else noticed, but that’s what they say, no one notices the best stage managers. They’ve done their job right.