The plan was to move to New York City, get into a Broadway show, and find a composer to finish my musical. No, not your plan, mine. Oh, it was yours too? Well, you'll appreciate this: only the first thing happened, and that remains true more than seven years on. Oh, I've had many great theatrical experiences since moving here, but my contributions to the productions have never been what I always wanted them to be. On one hand, that's been hard to swallow. It's hard to take so much pride in something that you do and then not get the opportunity to do it. On the other hand, as Tevye would say, I'm still making contributions, as are many who aren't quite achieving their dreams but have not been completely shut out of the world of theatre either. It has been my experience, I recently realized, that often times a person's role in a given production goes well beyond how they are described in the playbill. By the way, in a previous On Stage Blog article I...griped that I had been left out of the playbill of the production I was working on as a Production Assistant due to a clerical error. Playbill printed up a small batch after the show closed, in which I was listed. As the Press Associate. I rest my case, but you should still read on.
For my current job, Production Assistant once again (I'm going to leave out specific names of shows to emphasize the general theme I've come to recognize), I have been asked to do many things outside of what I studied in college and participated in in my hometown. I assembled a set prop that had been ordered from the internet. Anyone could have followed the directions and done that, and it has been painted, by the actual props person, to go more nicely with the set, but every time I see it, especially when it is being used during the show, I feel like I helped make the production. There also came a time, during rehearsals, when everyone was asked to draw and write on sheets of blank printer paper. Many of the images are projected on the set at various times throughout the show, and one of mine in particular, the one I was happiest with, was selected, and what started as a marker doodle on a folded 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper is projected to, I would estimate, six feet long, right at the beginning and end of the show, and can be seen in press photos (even though I'm not the Press Associate on this production either), and every time I see it, it helps me feel, I imagine, similar to how designers must feel when they see their designs realized on the stage.
I hope this sort of feeling is common to all who hang around on the bottom rung of the production ladder, dreaming of higher things. It even extends to instances where I have been brought on late in the process and found some un-thought-of solution to a set storage problem, which has happened twice, on the latter of which I saved myself and the Assistant Stage Manager trips across the stage and into the audience during intermission for the purpose setting the stage for act two. That would break the fourth fall. The first time I really felt this way about my role in a production, though I didn't completely grasp what the feeling meant to me at the time, I was a Child Wrangler. I would watch the children in the production between scenes, cue them to go on, assist with tricky entrances and exits, and eventually it became a kind of back stage choreography. There were two of us Child Wranglers on that production...until after opening, when the other one quit suddenly. I gathered the children the next day (four of them to one me) and said that now that there was only one of me, I needed their help to keep the show running smoothly more than ever. They rallied with me, accepting their increased responsibility. Some adult cast members helped me out as well, but for the most part, it was like I had a little team of my own within the bigger team of the production team, within the bigger team of the whole production. The five of us also, in my humble opinion, made one of the finest (and most adorable) Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS post show collectors in the history of the enterprise. I wasn't the author, composer, or star of that musical, but I had been responsible for important elements, and I had done so never having thought I would be in such a position. And I was having a good time.
Even as an usher, my devotion to the show and the audience's experience got the show's creator, a very well-known and accomplished man who I will, as I said above, not name, to call me the fifth-Beatle cast member (there was never a true "fifth-Beatle" in the Beatles, but the term is used to describe certain people who, at one point or another, were important to the band from just outside of it). Theatre is a collaborative medium, that is what I have always loved about it, what drew me to it, and what made it important to me during middle school and high school. Somewhere along the way, I decided, falsely, that the collaborators were the writers and the performers, the things I wanted to do, and maybe the designers. In college, everyone was required to do some kind of backstage work at some point in their theatre or musical theatre programs, and I think that is a good practice in the professional world as well. While I still hope to get my play put on or my musical finished or at least one role in a Broadway show, at this time, I am curious, even excited, at the prospect of what contributions I may make to some production that I never would have imagined making. I would encourage those like me, hiding just off stage and resisting the urge to storm it, to look at things that way, as a different spectrum of possibilities, not as a wall going up between the world of possibilities and us.
Aaron Netsky (@AaronNetsky on Twitter) is a singer, writer, actor, and all-around theatre professional who has worked off and off-off Broadway and had writing published on AtlasObscura.com, TheHumanist.com, Slate.com, StageLightMagazine.com, and ThoughtCatalog.com, as well as his own blogs, Cantonaut (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com) and 366 Musicals (https://366days366musicals.tumblr.com), and his Medium account. He is currently the Production Assistant for the off-Broadway production of "Kennedy: Bobby's Last Crusade" at the Theatre at St. Clements, which runs through December 9th. Bring in a new, unwrapped toy worth ten dollars or more and get two tickets for the price of one.