Got Your Back, OR Help is a Four-letter Word

A common saying in Chicago theater, particularly in sketch/improv is “got your back” or “don’t worry, I’m here to take care of you.”

Brief and absolutely unscientific research (read: clicking on the first link in a Bing search) informs that “Got Your Back” was originally a military term used by soliders to indicate they will prevent someone from attacking you from behind.  Read here.  And then do your own research, scientific or otherwise.  Hard as it might be to believe, sometimes people on the interwebs are wrong

However, as it is Veteran’s Day, I choose to delight in the connection between the two worlds.

Yet, as it is also the penultimate performance of the show I’ve, er, choreographed/stage handed/acted as mama/bought donuts for/understudied/wept over/laughed about/loved/hated, the phrase takes on more depth.

Our AD, who is the one who generally helps me set up the stage (ok, I help him.  It’s mostly his handiwork and that stuff is heavy!) has a preview of a show at the theater where he works.  Yes, it’s his day job to work in theater.  He’s very good.  I’m envious of his talent and how he gets to make a living. 

He will not be able to set up this week.  I swallowed my pride, listened to my back, my poor aching, scoliosis-riddled back, and actually sent out a message to the cast with a four-letter word in the subject: HELP.

I don’t normally ask for help.  Not because I have control issues, not because it’s “easier” or “better” or “faster” to do things myself.  It’s because the times I’ve asked for help in the Chicago Theater World, it hasn’t really arrived.  That’s a post for another time.  Probably the next one, as I am blessed to have some writing time over the next few days.

I don’t say that with much malice.  It’s fact.  I can point to last week’s show as example.  Or to other shows.  What I try to do, once the sting wears off and I stop bleating about “But we’re supposed to be a community and a family and isn’t improv/sketch predicated on this kind of helping shit?” I put on my I’m-gonna-write-a-story-about-this cultural anthropologist hat and observe.

I asked the cast if anyone could come five minutes before call and help me set up the heavy set pieces.  For 24 hours I got no response.  Finally, one of the younger women replied (all) and explained she couldn’t make it early due to work but, and here’s where I was gobsmacked in the best possible way, urged the cast to please help.

Three more responses came: two from young women and one from a guy in the band.

The cultural anthropologist in me finds this fascinating.  The solo pilot in me is so happy I’ll be getting help!

As for the dearth of responses:

The lack of male actors responding may be a sign of gender roles shifting in today’s confuzzled world.  What’s right and wrong for a man to do for a woman?

The lack of male actors responding may be a sign of male actors not liking to respond to emails and it is entirely possible they will show up without RSVPing, as it were.

The lack of male actors, directors, and one veteran female performer responding may also be that they won’t help because they don’t have to, don’t want to, or need to.  Let’s hope this ain’t the case.

There tends to be a stream of anxiety in the Chicago Theater World, stemming in part from the “Here’s How Sketch Artists/Improvisers/Actors Are Supposed to Behave!” vs “Here’s How Sketch Artists/Improvisers/Actors Really Behave” cage match that goes on.  It’s one of the few reasons I am glad to be a relative ancient in this young business.  While the disconnect stings when it affects me personally, I tend to process and get over it a lot faster than I would have had I started this journey ten or fifteen years ago.  However, the flip side is that maybe, just maybe…I would have gone far with an earlier start.

Tonight, though, the victory, the “distance” is all about some kind people helping a choreographer move a giant, heavy desk onstage and reach for some props that are in an overhead shelf that I just can’t reach.

They have my back.  I need not get my back up.


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