You hear the phrase “fragile coalition” bandied about a lot these days, a term referring to everything from the United Nations in the wake of the Iraq mess to the schemers on Survivor. It's also a very apt term for the various parts of this industry.
Theatre is an obvious example. The producer hires a director, who in turn brings together a group of designers. Some have worked together before, some have not. Some like each other, some not. There are discussions, arguments, much cajoling. Yet they all come together to create what they hope will be art. Same with the tech crew. The TD, the manager, the electrician, the board ops — they all come from a wide range of places and points of view but pull together to make the show a reality.
You could also say that this magazine is a fragile coalition; from set, lighting, sound, costume, and projection designers to technical directors to consultants to manufacturers and dealers, nowhere else will you find such a wide range of disciplines and points of view profiled. This month's issue is a perfect example: a cover story on the design and build of the controversial Man of La Mancha set on Broadway; a look at the very delicate juggling act of the designer/instructor; a case study on the latest in costuming software; an exclusive first look at the new Colosseum at Caesar's Palace in Vegas; and columns on acquisition mania in the lighting industry, sound design snubs at the Tonys, and a highly topical look at intellectual property rights for projection designers. As far-reaching as this may seem, this is the industry today.
Perhaps the most fascinating fragile coalition to me is that among shops and manufacturers, technicians, and designers. All obviously need each other, yet their relationships can sometimes be surprisingly contentious. The manufacturers and shops sometimes view the designers as spoiled brats, always expecting the very latest gear, in abundant supply, and at the lowest possible price, and, oh, by the way, they want it yesterday, too. The designers sometimes see dealers and manufacturers as completely unresponsive to their needs, out only to make a fast buck, with no respect for art. And, of course, the poor technicians are stuck in the middle, fed up with shops and manufacturers for their customer service, and with the designer for assuming that he/she can easily fix any and all glitches in his/her design.
Such contretemps seem to be on the rise. Just this month, one sound designer said about a manufacturer he worked closely with in the past: “I just don't think they care anymore.” A week later, a dealer, talking about an LD who had spec'd his gear for a retail project, said, “He doesn't have a clue.”
Fellas! Take it easy!
I'm not sure why I'm seeing this more than I used to, other than the fact that all relationships seem a little more strained in these uncertain times. To be sure, in a creative industry such as ours, flare-ups and disagreements are part of the terrain; in some cases it's even the spark that creates great art. But let's hope all parties involved always keep in mind how dependent they are on each other. Perhaps the designers could be a little more pragmatic and learn to be creative with the tools they are given; maybe the manufacturers and shops could be a little more open-minded and responsive to their client's needs. And the technicians … well, the technicians could probably use a set of ear plugs. That should help make this most fragile of coalitions survive even the toughest times.