Book Review: Theatre Artisans and Their Craft

Before I get into my review of this new anthology, Theatre Artisans and Their Craft: The Allied Arts Fields (edited by Rafael Jaen, Holly Poe Durbin, and Christin Essin), I have to make a full disclosure:

I am the author of one of the pieces included. 

Even so, I think I'm capable of reviewing the other 13 pieces and the book as a whole, so here goes!

This book serves as a broad overview of the field of theatrical production, being a collection of profiles of and interviews with many working artists in various specialties within the field. It purports to be across all disciplines, but the representation is heavily costume-related. There are a couple of scenic artists and a props master, but otherwise it's a whole range of careers in areas like wig making, millinery, costume painting/dyeing, draping, tailoring, armor-making, etc.

It's most illuminative for those considering a career in the field, but who might not have a clear picture of what a broad range of work there is to be had or how one might make a living at it. As a working mid-career or late-career professional, it may also pique your interest due to the insight into how others in your discipline or related ones came to their work.

The book suffers a bit from the "too many cooks" shape of it, with three editors and fourteen contributing authors--there's no cohesive structure from chapter to chapter. One might be an interview transcription while the next is a narrative essay on the career of its subject, and a third is a hybrid between the two.

The production quality of the book is good, in that it includes full-color images throughout and the formatting of the pages are logically laid out (this is not always the case in contemporary academic publications, unfortunately). I have the paperback, and the binding is good and sturdy, which can also be an issue in niche-appeal publications.

I'd like to see this become the first of a series, with future editions featuring pieces that focus on, say, a projection artist, a sound designer, a composer of incidental music for the stage, a rigger, a flying engineer, a dance shoe maker, a theatre electrician, a soft-goods prop artisan, a scenic carpenter contrasted with a props carpenter, etc.

I also am not quite sure what the goal of the book or the intended audience is--it reads like a collection of profiles in Sightlines or Stage Directions (periodicals for technical theatre professionals) rather than, say a textbook or a reference. Parts of it qualify as oral history...I dunno. I'm glad to have been a contributor, and I'm glad this information is recorded for future social scientists and historians of technical theatre artisans/methods/foci.


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