“Tech of the Year”: When Volunteer Work is So Much More

Over winter break, I was invited to attend a meeting with the State Theatre Players, a small and relatively new theatre group in the area, to see what I could do to help with technical production, something that I’ve been passionate about but not very versed in. When the director asked the few of us at the meeting if we knew someone to run tech, I slowly raised my hand and told them that was why I was there. Instead of the, “Oh, good!”s that I was expecting, I was instead asked a bigger and altogether more influential question, one that I do not regret saying yes to: “Do you want to be my tech producer?”

Up until this point in my life, I’ve never been much of a “producer” as much as a “technician.” I’ve run sound for events, knew how to work a light board enough to turn them on, and was most versed in the world of stage managing, not tech production. But I said yes anyway, and so began one of the greatest adventures of my life. For the first few rehearsals, I simply sat in the seats and verbalized the sound effects when they came up: “Bang, bang!” “Woof woof!” “Ring, ring, ring.” And when the equipment appeared, I tried my hand at it, read through the manuals and learned next to nothing, and learned the best way I knew how: by doing, pressing buttons and flipping switches until something worked.

But something much greater than a knowledge of light boards came out of all of this, something that I hadn’t really experienced in the past as a crew member at the student level: interaction with the cast. Like, real, pure, personable interaction. We were all in the same boat, learning together, doing together – and with a show like “Steel Magnolias,” sometimes even crying together. That’s not something that you can get out of a class, or even really out of a big production. It comes from small, wonderful groups like the one that I have been graced with being a part of, ladies (and two male crew members, and Jake), who have been, for once, openly grateful for the work that I  have put into their production even though they have put in so much, much more.

But I’ve been asked, more than once, why I keep at it, especially at this point in time. And sometimes, I’ve even asked myself the same question, when I’m rushing to work after rehearsal, or going right from teaching to rehearsal. But the reason, as strange as it may be, is a simple one: I have been granted the opportunity to do all of the things that I love doing, all at the same time: student teaching, working in an environment that I enjoy, planning events for the church, volunteering as a youth leader, and volunteering the rest of my waking hours to the State Theatre Players. My schedule is more than full; some nights, I’m even double- or triple-booked. However, it’s not just volunteering, but it’s so much more.

When it comes to the State Theatre Players and this production of “Steel Magnolias,” it’s knowing that I have been a part of a production like this, knowing that the work I have done is not only acknowledged, but is appreciated, and is part of the experience that has moved not only the audience but also the cast and crew to tears. I have worked as a crew member for three musicals, countless concerts, a handful of plays… and have never felt as important, accepted, and part of the group as I did when surrounded by the “Steel Magnolias” cast and the State Theatre Players. It’s a running joke in the crew community (or, at least the ones I’ve been a part of) to laugh at the fact that we get little to no credit for all the work we do – but it was no joke to these ladies, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I may not do it for the glory, or even for the recognition, but seeing my name in that program and hearing them thank me for all my hard work sure did feel incredible, and made me feel incredible about myself and the work I put into the production.

So, then, why do I do it? Why do I dedicate hours – days – of my already busy life to a world where I rarely get credit? Because I, like Shelby Latcherie, “would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.” And my experience with “Steel Magnolias” has definitely been wonderful.”