I've mentioned my involvement with the newly formed Black Box Arts Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. As a facilities/house manager. We're having a small open house tomorrow, during which some of us will read "A Christmas Carol".
The building itself was a bit of a mess. A wall in the lobby that greeted patrons needed painting. (The logo of the old group that occupied the building was still stenciled all over the place.) Plus the green room needed tidying. I was there to do said painting, and I opted to do said tidying when the painting took less time than I thought.
I'm not going to recount my cleaning activities here; that would perhaps be one of the most boring blog posts in the history of the internet. I will say, though, that during slopping around in paint, scraping my thumb, (an injury I didn't notice until about an hour later), washing windows, sweeping, dusting and storing things, I felt in true service to the arts on general. True, bare bones, blood sweat and tears dedication to improving one small corner of the arts universe.
My biggest contribution to that universe is through performing, and sometimes directing/teaching theatre. Depending on who you ask, writing fiction is also part of the arts. If so, I feel I do, or very soon will contribute to that universe via my fiction as well. But there is something different, (not superior) to the actually getting physically dirty of making things work for the arts. That cleaning, and moving and storing and sweating. It manifests one's total commitment to the theatre or the arts as a whole. Lots of people can walk onto a stage someone else dressed and perform without having to clean it up later. But when you put in the time and the energy to literally get cut, bruised and exhausted in the preparations of arts presentation, you know you're truly a part of the process.
I haven't gotten that feeling as often over the last few years, due to various circumstances. I used to have it all the time back in college, though, where the work ethic I have described was first planted into me by my alma maters modest but dedicated theatre program. Back then I didn't see it as three-dimensional as I do now. The cuts and splinters and bruises and labor came with a bit of grumbling in college. But even then I was cognizant of the teamwork, the labor and the time that went behind getting a show ready. The submerged part of the iceberg of a play that involved sawdust and lumber, paint and brooms. Mops, buckets, nails and power tools. All so the glistening white part of the structure that was the performances could peak up over the cold waters of an otherwise average weekend, and sparkle in the moonlight for all to see.
I'll always be an actor. That will remain my primary contribution to the stage, I think. But times like yesterday, as I worked to get that space ready help put what I do in perspective. I may have been alone at the time, but I was breaking my back in communion with the thousand if not hundreds of thousands of people who for centuries have done so in theatres and arts centers all over the world in pursuit of ars gratia artis, or, "art for art's sake."