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2020 was the year media changed forever. If we’re coming back to theaters and stages in 2021, it needs to be with a greater sense of recognition for the absolute assload of work theatrical designers do for the rest of the industry.

If you ended up on a theatre’s email list, you know the “I’m doing my best” Zoom performance. The 720p MacBook Pro webcam, a $25 Amazon lapel microphone, a ring light, and a button-down. This revolution in people learning how to do something themselves is amazing; professors laud performers for the resiliency in a difficult era. Largely ignoring the fact that there have been people doing this for you the whole time.

They are backstage. Not ten feet from where a performer would stand.

They are rarely unionized and only making living wages. It takes an act of God for a designer to reach an eighth the wealth of an actor of equivalent merit.

They are often underemployed — more underemployed than actors, in some markets.

They often edit Logic files for hours to make the Zoom concert sound natural.

If there is ever a time to address treatment inequality between performers and other theatrical artists, it’s now. For every slap-dash digital performance in 2020, there was a team of a dozen designers whose work and plans were radically altered.

Now that we have a greater understanding of how shallow this art form is without the full effect of the collaborators behind it, I hope we can move forward treating stagehands like equals. Continuing to pour equal funding into programs to teach and employ designers and performers. Recognizing that there’s a ton of energy and hundreds of hours of work involved with getting the lights just right or achieving that feeling of “completeness” in a costume.

Performers are the embodiment of text and direction and emotion, but you might not feel it unless it is designed for you — and something more than the sum of its parts appears. Throw your next bouquet at the stage door, not the stage.

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P.S. if you were one of the performers who set up your first camera equipment, I’m so proud of you 🥺 did you thank your designers after?