Texas Tech University

Chatting with Charney

Mark Charney

February 3, 2020

mark charney

Last Friday, our Director of Marketing, Cory Norman, graduate student Emily Pritchard, and I spent the afternoon filling a piñata with candy, confetti, and cards. Then we blew up 72 balloons and arranged them to drop from the grid of our new Black Box Theatre, and flew that piñata from a rope suspended also from the grid, all in expectation of a photo shoot on Saturday morning.

"Why?" you may justifiably ask.

Last week, our marketing team had the idea that, to most creatively announce our 2020-21 season, we should play with the idea of a "gender reveal" party, which morphed into asking our directors, in true Quentin Tarantino-style, to saunter into the new Maedgen (in slow motion), grab instruments of "destruction" (from baseball bats to crowbars), and destroy a piñata, vying for the cards inside that reveal our ten upcoming theatre and dance shows.

So we gathered at 8 am on a Saturday—directors, staff, faculty, students, and four generous undergraduate filmmakers from Media and Communication—and following our rough story board, spent a little over two hours brandishing sunglasses, dropping balloons, and, yep, even making a confetti "snow" angel, all to reveal our upcoming season. It was great fun, and, if anyone minded spending their Saturday morning doing our best imitation of Reservoir Dogs meets Office Space, they didn't complain.

sznThis willingness to do whatever it takes to experiment with marketing our next season is just one example of just how much our faculty, staff, and students love what we do. There is some saying, and I paraphrase, that folks who love what they do never work a day in their lives, and that's so true in the School of Theatre and Dance. Not everything we do is fun, nor is it all creative, but more often than not, the act of making art, be in within the realm of marketing, scholarship, dance, theatre, improvisation, and, yeah, even the running of our program, is a privilege.

And this is a philosophy that unifies us. Throughout all of the budget woes and national threats to reduce funding for the arts, we never forget that the act of making art is an honor not to be taken for granted.

This is true of our audiences and donors as well. Recently, we had our inaugural meeting of a new Friends of Theatre and Dance organization, an idea floated by alum Jim Douglass, who helped us coordinate (and will lead) the first gathering of a group of theatre and dance lovers to brainstorm best ways to raise money for our students, involve the community, market our shows, and share our talents. These twelve folks met after hours at my house, and enjoyed sharing ideas and committing their time, again, after hours.

Those of you who have ever built sets, hung lights, designed costumes, rehearsed, directed, played music, danced... know that those events are all after hours. In other words, making art never fits within the traditional 9-5-hour work week, so unless we love what we do, we'd best choose another profession.

The downside of this, of course, is the guilt that comes with the drive that we can always do more. But it's often the good guilt that accompanies the desire to improve ourselves, to be the best artists we can be, and this holds to no conventional schedule. While I often tell my students that neurotic guilt is hurtful and unproductive—worrying about the elements in life that we can't change—aesthetic guilt is just fine because we should want to dedicate our lives to excellence, and while we can't let that consume us, we should strive for a perfect balance. I met with a graduate student just last week, discussing how celebrating should be a reward after we accomplish realistic goals.

As we embrace 2020 and look not only to DanceTech, Hay Fever, Guys and Dolls, and RROAPS/RRADS but also our next season, Phase Two of our new building, and all furthering all of our initiatives (from WildWind to the Marfa Intensive to our international connections), achieving this balance is a skill that we hope to impart to our students, and when this means an 8 am shoot on Saturday, so be it. Those of us in theatre and dance know just how fortunate we are to be in a profession that feeds our souls, and we are thankful for the community that encourages such an exciting, albeit daunting, challenge.