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LJI:home game - the waffle house index
Take your breaks.  It’s one of the things you learn to hold sacred as a stage manager, especially during technical rehearsals.  It’s easy enough to want to do one more thing after the break is called, but then someone asks just one question, and someone else asks just one more, and you need to make just one note, and then you’re left with barely enough time to pee before rehearsal begins again.

I asked my friend Zelda how she guarded her breaks.  She said “Easy, I smoke.”  So I started getting up and going outside for breaks.  It was a short walk, got me out of the dark and into the fresh(ish) air – after all the smokers were also outside.  But I learned to value those ten minutes out of every ninety away from the current issues of tech.

Most of our crew folks worked with us for years, the turnover was slow and never all at once, so there was a shared history of horror stories and camaraderie.  After a few shows together, when I started regularly appearing outside I would jokingly get asked, “Hey boss lady, want a cigarette?”  I don’t honestly remember the first show it happened, when I answered “Sure, why the hell not?”

The crew was stunned for a beat, and the smokers debated who had the lightest cigarettes so they wouldn’t kill me.  Then I lit up a cigarette for tech.

Now, I’m not a good smoker.  I don’t think I inhale properly; I’ve certainly never had any kind of rush from the nicotine.  But I do like the way cigarettes taste, better than how they smell, and the act of taking deep breaths was certainly welcome.  So a new routine was established.  My tech week cigarette.

I didn’t always have one.  The super easy shows didn’t require it.  But if things were on the higher end of stressful I’d have one.  Or sometimes one a day.

Doing a world premiere musical with a cast that included six girls under the age of 16 was one of the stressful ones.  Before the first preview I was outside having a cigarette when one of the young girls happened to see me.  “Beeker’s smoking.  But she doesn’t smoke.  Did we break her, is she okay?” she worriedly asked a dresser, who told her I was fine, it was just that time of rehearsal.

I learned years later that the crew would gauge how tech was going by how early I asked to bum a tech week cigarette, and how often.  I know cigarettes are expensive so I made sure to bum around, and to occasionally hand someone five bucks for a new pack.  My awareness of not wanting to take advantage of the crew being amused to see me smoke typically set a high water mark on how many cigarettes I would have on any given show.

Until the last big musical I stage managed.  I was burned out and the show was a mess.  Friday morning, the first day of technical rehearsals, several large pieces of motorized scenery didn’t work yet, the ASM had informed me she was scared of numbers and therefore couldn’t do a large piece of her job backstage, and I was toasty done.  By early Saturday I had already bummed from every crew member who smoked, and at least one surprised cast member.  At the next break I went to our production manager.

“David, can I bum a cigarette?”

“Beeker, you don’t smoke.”

“David, I do this tech week.  I got here at 8am yesterday and didn’t leave until after midnight, today is looking the same.  I’ve already bummed from every member of our crew and they make less than you or I, please give me a cigarette.”  David, looking a little scared, gave me several.  I bought my own pack at the dinner break.

By the end of that weekend we had almost finished teching the show and I felt slightly ill – a combination of not enough sleep, too much fast food, not enough water, and definitely too many cigarettes.

I only stage managed two more shows after that.  I left the company where I had been a resident for twelve years because I knew it had become bad for my mental health and I needed to do something, anything, different.  It’s been five years since I last worked on a show, and now I miss it: the camaraderie of backstage, the learning really random small things necessary to just this play, the fact that the job regularly took all of my brain.  I don’t know if I will stage manage a show again, but I’d like to try.  I’d like to think I can even do it without a tech week cigarette.

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This is a great response to the prompt! Your writing is succinct and flows really well here and I love how relatable you made this kind of stress. Stress smoking! Will you get back involved in theatre - in your new hometown?

Thank you, this piece was very much about the edit. Taking out a lot of extraneous stuff and making sure that people who hadn't worked in theater would understand what I was talking about.

I would like to get back into theater but I don't know if I'd do it as a career again, the schedule will always be difficult. The move and time since I last worked a show will make finding an 'in' more difficult, but not impossible. I'd love to do someone's New Work's festival - where you work on a project for a week and are done.

I would be afraid to try cigarettes, for fear of becoming a smoker. I already have nightmares where that's happened. :O

There is a lot of stress and responsibility in managing a show, and it sounds as if it finally became too much. At least, with that particular group or after so much time in.

Any chance you might think about taking it up again after you've been in Colorado awhile?

I watched my Dad quit cigarettes when I was in grade school, which is how I got through college without smoking. If that first one had been amazing I probably would have stopped right there, not wanting to go through the pain of actually quitting.

I would like to get involved in theater again, but as much as I miss stage managing I'm not sure I'd go back to it as a career. The schedule - all nights and weekends - just gets harder as you get older, and was a part of my growing dissatisfaction the first time.

Also, thank you for adding a link in the voting thread! It's really appreciated that you noticed murielle and I and took the time.

Edited at 2017-07-26 10:16 pm (UTC)

Oh, you're welcome. I always kind of wish the Home Game entries would be linked on the poll post, say down below the poll but not in it, so more people would read them. But my request for that has not made any headway in changing the policy. ;)

Yipes! I guess everyone comes to the cigarette thing in their own way. I was allergic to cigarette smoke and so I never took a puff, but I wound up working at some night clubs as a DJ before they put a ban on smoking in places of that sort. I breathed in a pretty good share of fumes during those years.

All things in moderation, right? :) Maybe now you're ready to light it up again!

My Dad smoked until I was 8, and one of the big reasons I didn't start in college was remembering how hard it was for him to quit. But family members had always smoked so I was around it.

Heh! I don't hang out with nearly as many smokers since I stopped doing theater, so I don't have the ready access anymore. That would be a fun argument to make to a doctor, though.

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