Electricity, Too

Having begun a complex set of recollections from reminiscing about me and electricity yesterday, I feel it is only right to bring the memoir to its natural conclusion, and so…

During the early 1990s Janet and I actually got excited about possibly changing our lives and getting the heck out of Jackson County. As a result, I engaged in quite a few odd job searches and quests (none of which, obviously enough to those who know me or had me as a teacher until a year ago, came to fruition). I looked into becoming a technical writer (and I still think I could have done all right devising manuals and Help files — certainly writing better instructions than some I have tried to follow myself, including more than one set of directions for installing ceiling fans). I did everything I could to learn more about that career path, including joining the Society for Technical Communication for more than a decade, even after the job applications I had attempted had failed and weʼd settled back into our little eastern Iowa rut again. (And STC is still out there going strong without me!)

Out of all the applications I made, interestingly (because we had no such plan) focused primarily in the Milwaukee area (I still notice Johnson Controls vehicles as they drive by with no support from my own personal technical instructions), I only received one interview, and that was for a tech theatre instructor job at a private school in a northern Milwaukee suburb. Ironic, hey? Still in education. Janetʼs sister and her husband lived nearby, however (although I donʼt remember thinking that was a reason for our interest in that region), so I took a personal day (or two?) and we made a long weekend of the job interview/family visit. The interview went nowhere right away. It was an entry-level job and the interviewers almost filled their pants in front of me when I told them I would have to make $40,000 a year to consider the change (which I would have, and it was also a very nice improvement to my pay scale). They did pay teachers there that much in those days, but not for this position: they were looking for kids right out of college, willing to work for less than what I was making in Iowa (in Andrew!) at that time. And the kicker was this — they wanted a certified electrician because I would be setting the lights for their high school plays.

At that time, I had set lights for nearly every production with which I had been involved since my junior year in high school, hundreds of plays. There had been very few shows (still havenʼt been many more up to now) that I directed, acted in, lit, built, helped with make-up or whatever, that I hadnʼt also done at least some of the lighting set-up. Including wiring up our own homemade, jerry-built 110-220 circuitry to run a lightboard in traveling circumstances (like a motel restaurant for dinner theatre or the science lecture hall at Wesleyan for kidsʼ shows) — itʼs a pretty simple procedure, needing just two separately fused 110 circuits that you patch together into a 220 outlet plug for your lightboard to plug into. Admittedly, most of that accomplishment was due to longtime lighting partner Kevin Wiley, if not all of it, but I learned. I had wired up the 220 hotbox at Andrew every year after we got the new lightboard (ha, “new” in 1980 maybe— that Andrew lightboard is thirty years old already!), wired the male and female ends and rigged (hanging in midair over the gym floor) a vast array of homemade extension cords for a few years when the original lighting circuits were bad, and with the drama class one fall even delicately opened the lightboard to try to get more of its dimmers operational (and they succeeded).

The wrong color — cream!

But I am no certified electrician, and strangely, I didnʼt get that private-school job. (Yeah, I was being sarcastic; I knew it wasnʼt going to be me well before I left that job interview, and that was okay with both sides). That school was just too professional-theatre for the likes of me. Iʼm just an amateur through and through. So I kept doing the job at Andrew until retirement could kick in, although the coming of the Ohnward Fine Arts Center (and the essentially consequent closing of Peace Pipe Playersʼ by-then decrepit old Kirchhoff Theatre) pretty well ended my lighting career. I lit and hung the first PPP show at Ohnward, The Silver Whistle, but the ladder-on-platform-suspended-over-the-seats to get into their rafters to hang lights was too hazardous for this old man (I really did get spooked a bit up there), and I didnʼt really enjoy using a computerized lightboard very much anyway (at least not that “state of the art” item) — just another old fogey not with the new technology, you know. Besides, there were others already in that system, and I had always told the students that if I was still hanging in rafters to aim lights when I was fifty, something was wrong (and I was doing just that until I was 55, boys and girls). And I retired, and even school lighting tasks are for others nowadays.

Now I just do what is needed around the house, having years ago put in those ceiling fans I grumped about already and redone all our wall switches and outlets (so Janet could have lovely white covers and plugs instead of the aged-cream/yellow ones we bought with the house itself in 1984). Last summer, I fixed up our doorbell (I hope more than temporarily) that hadnʼt quite been done right when the new siding went on after the big hailstorm a decade ago, but especially as those little tiny screws in plugs and outlets seem to keep getting smaller and more fragile, I keep thinking at some point electricity and I are going to have to drift apart. Except for using the service, of course.

Yes, you are right. This is actually the end of the reminiscence, and the middle is lacking. After all, I left you hanging back in Michigan, with me about to wire up some illumination for a cellar hideout atmospherically dense with the fumes of model-airplane glue. How did that get into theatre? I will just have to write the middle portion of this essay some day. But this is the part my teeming unconscious wanted to write about today (well, actually yesterday, so we could all read it today). And tomorrowʼs a holiday (who can guess which one?), so I have to write about that next.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

One thought on “Electricity, Too

  1. My mom was a wiz with doing lights. When I got my own room she put in the drywall and added the lights. She also rewired lights- something I don’t think I would attempt.

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