I’ve been going to a climbing gym a lot lately, and loving it. For whatever reason climbing is the only athletic pursuit that I’ve ever both thoroughly enjoyed and had the slightest bit of natural ability to do. There are so many appealing things about it– collaborative problem solving, reliance on your partners, occasional breaks in the exertion that you can spend sitting on comfy gym mats– and it seems to lend itself to all sorts of sweeping metaphorical interpretations. Which, come on. Aren’t those the best?
So it was with great excitement that I clicked on Rich Dionne’s examination of climbing and theatre today, after seeing the headline on ArtsJournal. “What resplendent joy!” I thought to myself. “Another one of my theatrical fellows has decided to take a traipse about the allusionary maypole! What a smashing bit of symbolic frippery this bit of reading shall be!” I put on my Abstract Thinking Cap, opened the page with a flourish and prepared to draw all sorts of connections from one thing I love to another.
What I got was a bit different.
My first realization? I’ve been belaying for years–just not in harness, not with a belay device, and not–obviously–for people. But as I was doing it, I found myself falling into some familiar body-memory motions. The physicality was not terribly different from hoisting or guiding scenery with a bull rope, especially when you holding it in place for a rigger: the rope often goes under your foot, non-dominant hand on the live end of the rope, and dominant on the dead end. Your foot becomes–in some ways–like a belay device, helping to brake the load.
What’s that you say? There are things about theatre that actually exist in a physical space, and are dictated to practical and even mathematical concerns?! Pish, posh, osh kosh b’gosh! My whimsical being was rocked to its core. I had to break out the smelling salts just to make it to the end.
It all operates as a nice reminder, though, of the many many many disciplines and experiences that go into putting on a show. We have one of the most multifaceted disciplines around, and the fact that creating the art encourages/requires working with folks who rattle off load-bearing measurements in casual (and blogified) conversation is its own kind of magic.
One of my favorite largely inconsequential trivias about being a playwright is the name itself: we’re not writers. We’re wrights. We build things; we construct them; we practice an artisanal craft. And the best part of it all? Somebody else is there to do the math for us.