Tag Archives: Theater

Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other

Interview and Context

DO – It just means its pretty much, two different ways of doing the same thing, and neither is better than the other.
Interviewer – And it gets used all the time here (in the wood shop).
DO – Yes.
Interviewer – When was the first time you heard it?
DO – I have no idea, like when I was a kid.
Interviewer – Have you always worked in shops?
DO – No, I heard it before. I don’t think it s necessarily a shop only saying, but it is heavily used in shops. Between… (shouts to shop manager, DM) would you agree that between you, me, and (other shop manager) that we say six in one hand, half dozen in the other— like how often do you think we would say that phrase, or a version of?
DM – Ehh, at least weekly?
DO – It, it’s generally used in the planning stage of a thing because we’re like, “How are we doing this, what do you think?” and it’s like, “How do you suggest we like—”
DM – There’s usually two or three ways to accomplish the same thing. At least.
DO – And sometimes there’s an advantage to one way and sometimes there’s not. It’s comparable.

Analysis

This metaphor is used frequently in this informant’s environment. They mentioned that it is most common in planning stages of set construction, which explains why the regular student workers had not heard the saying (because they are not involved in the planning or designing stages), while set designers and technical directors had heard it.
Because six is equal to a half dozen, the metaphor is saying that there are multiple ways to achieve one goal, and neither way is necessarily better than the other, so it does not much matter which option they choose. However, it also signifies a tiny roadblock caused only by indecision between two equal choices.
The informant doubted it was a saying unique to construction shops, even recalling they had heard it before entering that specific culture, suggesting it was more of a crafting cultural saying than a specific construction one.

Money is first. Creativity is second. Safety is third

Text and Context

DO – Money is first, second is art, creativity, whatever, third is safety
Interviewer – Is this something that just you says?
DO – No, no. Safety third is like, grips will say it like all the time. Like carpenters and everything.
MI – Money comes first—you know getting paid, comes first. Being creative comes second. And being safe comes third.
DO – Right. Like the producers come in and will be like yeahyeahyeah! Safe first! Safety first! But then when it comes time, and it’s like no, no. You’re costing me money, get up on that fucking thing and get that done. Right? Uh, the director comes in, and is like, this is my vision! This is what we want to do! But its like, I can’t do that, I’d have to like— “I don’t care! Get it done!” y’know, kinda thing. And AFTER that comes safety. Like, what else, like what is fourth, I don’t know. So it’s be safe, unless it’s costing us money, or impacting our vision. Essentially
DO – So it’s something that people like us say, when we’re feeling like: alright, we’re putting our bodies on the line and not being treated well. We’re like, “Hey safety third!” Because they looove saying safety first. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
Interviewer – So it’s kind of an ironic saying.
DO and MI (at the same time) – Yes!
DO – It is very sarcastic. But it’s also very, very true. The number of times when we’re like, y’know, you’re talking about working like, sixteen hour days. You cannot work sixteen hour days and use a power tool safely. It’s impossible. Like if you’re sleep deprived, you cannot operate heavy machinery, power tools safely. Like you, you’re gonna do stupid stuff. We were talking about it, not so much as a danger type thing, but when you work sixteen hour days you get so—you make stupid decisions, and you do stupid stuff, and you come in the next day and spend the first two, three hours fixing the mistakes that you did at the end of the day before because you were just trying to get stuff done. Y’know? Uhhh, but given that fact—a lot of studies say, like if you’re driving on the road and you feel a little sleepy. What do they say? Pull over and take a nap. You know, like whatever. Because that’s the safe thing to do. But all the time productions go, like, sixteen hour days when it’s costing them money, like why don’t you just rent the sound studio another week or push for— nope, that costs money, we gotta get it done. We have to get it done. Or why don’t we cut this scene? No, no, director wants that scene, or whatever. Get it done.

Analysis

The informer(s) clearly had strong feelings about this saying, as they spoke extensively on the subject. I collected this saying while the informant(s) were sitting in the break room of their wood shop. We were talking about general wood shop sayings, so it didn’t come up in the context in which the saying would generally be used, such as during construction.
It is interesting that this is a response to another common saying, “safety first,” and would not stand so well without the popularity of “safety first.” It shows a folk group within set construction, while director and producers are the out-group, because the hierarchy creates a binary separation where the people in power (producers and directors) risk the safety of those they employ. The set construction workers are aware of the danger they are sometimes being put in, and understand the bitter irony of their superiors pretending to care, or caring until it interferes with their money and creative vision.

Midnight Requisition

Text/Context

HS (informant): So it’s, unofficially lending something. Lending without renting, but with no formal requisition process. The idea is, the boss has gone home, any administrative types have gone home and the people left there just let someone borrow something.
Interviewer: So its like if you’re working at a costume shop and you have like, a friend or someone who wants to use a piece, but you can’t like rent it, or don’t want to rent it, so your friend working in the costume shop might just like, wait until everyone else has left.
HS: Ya. People who, people who are working late at night just let someone they know, borrow something, off the record.
I: Do you know how long that saying has been around?
HS: I would’ve heard it by the early 80s. It may have, I don’t know if it exists in other fields. It might.
I: How long have you been working in costume shops?
HS: Since, Oh, I can’t tell you that! ’73? 1973!
I: So there was like, seven-ish years that you hadn’t heard it.
HS: No.
I: Did you hear the term when you were working late night?
HS: Oh, it was like when I was a grad student. Dealing with ISPs (Independent Student Productions). When something wasn’t going to matter to just let it out, or lend it out. I don’t know how limited it is as a term. One of the other grad students was the one who I remember using it the most. Somehow I don’t think it would apply to tailors, because I think it has to do with if you have access to stock.

Analysis

The informant and I were speaking generally about sayings around a costume shop, so this term did not occur in a fully natural context. In addition, this particular costume shop does not operate late into the night, so the term does not apply in this particular environment. I recorded our conversation and later transcribed it.
The term midnight requisition is an official-sounding label to discuss under-the-table activities behind the backs of workplace superiors. Costume shops generally have hundreds of items of clothing in storage for use and reuse in theater performances, ranging in time period, culture, and levels of decay (some pieces are decades old and barely holding together). Generally a midnight requisition would be a request by a costume shop worker’s friend to borrow a costume, which they may not want or be able to spend money on. The informant mentioned such requests may be for 1920s flapper dress, a pristine top hat, or something more comical for a halloween party.
The term recognizes the improperness of the lending, but makes it sound more official and therefore less objectionable.

Circle — A High School Theater Ritual

Main Piece: 

Before every show we always had this thing called Circle, and the purpose of Circle was to kind of like, get you hyped up and get your nerves out, and kind of keep you from being shy or feeling stage fright by doing silly, silly things, and seeing people do silly things. And the whole tradition of Circle is that you chant, “Oooh, I feel so good like! I knew I would! Oooh I feel so good!” And you would just continually chant that while clapping to a certain beat until someone went into the circle and would be like, “Like [something now]”  and everyone would just mimic them no matter what it was. It could’ve been something that had been done every year before them; that’s like a very simple one, like “Like a chair now!” And you do a squat [laughing] and, y’know, you do a squat and then you continue the chant. Or, you could make one up every single time. I remember [a classmate] once went in the circle and went like “Like a parabola!” and literally did a backwards handstand and bent over backwards. And it was crazy, and people started doing it all the time after that even if he wasn’t at [the high school] anymore at the time. That was a fun one that, like, caught on. 

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends from high school, and was very involved in our school’s theater department. Circle was one of the most consistent rituals prior to every show, no matter if it was opening or closing night, and the chant from the piece was one of the most popular and well known. When I asked my informant what the tradition meant to him, he said it was about “being vulnerable and bonding with other people, especially if it’s your first show and you’re nervous.” Seeing people perform silly antics removed the fear of embarrassment and let everyone come together to prepare for a great performance while also feeling supported by those around you.

Context: 

This came up when my informant and I were trying to remember traditions that happened in our theater department during high school. While I was involved in a few shows, my friend had more experience than I did and was able to remind me of a ritual that the department participated in before every single play or musical show. 

Thoughts: 

In this ritual, we can observe that the purpose is to create an energetic atmosphere where the cast and crew could get excited for the show; in a way, this ritual is meant to bring good luck to them and alleviate tension. We can also observe that there’s an expectation for what to do during the chant, but not only that, there’s a myriad of variations to the chant that have been made up by people from past generations of the theater department. I also liked that my informant gave the example of “Like a parabola now!” because it shows that Circles functions not only as a stress reliever before a show, but an opportunity for a theater kid to leave a legacy behind, as seen by the fact that our past classmate’s variation is still performed even if he no longer goes to the school. Additionally, we see the multiplicity and variation in the different chants that are performed at each Circle, and know that some will die out and be replaced with others depending on how popular the chant becomes. 

123 Shakespeare

Main Piece: 

Everyone comes early to rehearsal and they play 123 Shakespeare. What that is is there’s one person who starts, and you have to try— its in a field—  and the goal is to run away from the field without getting, I guess, eliminated and once you are, you join the eliminators. So it starts with one person. To eliminate them you have to drag them out of the zone of the field, and then they join your team, and you work together to get more people. And then once you have a couple more people, you have to start lifting people up and shouting “123 SHAKESPEARE!” while no part of them touches the ground. And then you have eliminated them. And you’re allowed to do whatever you’re comfortable with to be the last one standing, and that happened before every show. 

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends from high school,  and was very involved in our school’s theater department. As he told me, 123 Shakespeare is a ritual game that’s done before the opening of every show, and was one of the most anticipated traditions of our theater department. However, it was also kept secret; only the cast and crew of the show knew about it, not the general rest of the school. It was additionally kept secret from anyone who was participating in a show for the first time. What would happen is that people would be told to come to rehearsal early, “not explaining anything, but [we had] the decency to say ‘bring a change of clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.'” Upperclassmen in the theater department would make up ridiculous rules as a prank, like telling newcomers “No tool boxes allowed,” “Guys, make sure you leave your hoverboards at home!”, and then reveal the actual rules of the game once everyone arrived on the day 123 Shakespeare would be played.

Context: 

This came up when my informant and I were trying to remember traditions that happened in our theater department during high school. While I was involved in a few shows, my friend had more experience than I did, so I asked him what events he could remember, and he described 123 Shakespeare for the archives. 

Thoughts: 

I remember participating in 123 Shakespeare when I was in high school right before the spring musical, and it went exactly as my informant described it. Looking back on it now and knowing what I know about peer groups and folklore, I thought it was fascinating that this tradition was both a ritual, and a bit of an initiation for people who are getting involved with the theater department for the first time. The upperclassman keeping the secrecy of what 123 Shakespeare is establishes the social hierarchy of the theater department, and the joke of making up nonsensical rules can be viewed as a display of that status, and simultaneously accepting the new members into the peer group by initiating playful behavior with them. Similar to the wedding tradition of pulling pranks on the groom by the bride’s family, I think this game of 123 Shakespeare demonstrates a liminal space that new cast and crew members must cross before they can be fully accepted into the peer group of the theater department. This game stands between the tireless rehearsals and the opening night of the show, so this is the point in which they are invited to participate in a longtime tradition passed down through the generations of the theater department.