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My friend MB and I, both theatre majors and lighting designers, once had this really wonderful conversation about the nature of being successful as a lighting designer. His point was that lighting designers in theatre–even someone as revered for their work as Jules Fisher or Don Holder or Anne Millitello–are still only known to a handful of people, basically just other lighting designers. Yet there’s this strange cult of personality thing at work; interns revere these designers. They are considered The Shit, and they are What You Are Supposed To Aspire To. Assistants run themselves ragged in the service of these people. They are treated like demigods by people who recognize them.

Yet, the number of people that recognize them is actually very, very small. A few hundred people maybe, dispersed all across the country and/ or world? That is the extent of your fame. You work on these huge projects–movies like Dreamgirls, theatre like The Lion King, and music tours like Tom Waits, respectively–yet you are just a cog in the machine to the vast majority of people who see your work. People don’t think about the lighting, unless as a general rule it is bad. People don’t go home amazed at what the lighting designer did.

Tonight I was thinking about how the world of academia–and literature in particular–is really just another weird niche that I am getting myself involved in. For instance, unless you are an Early Modernist or really into New Historicism, you most likely don’t know and have never heard of Stephen Greenblatt. Yet in those fields, he is the example of the high-water mark as far as what you can do with an academic career. It’s the same apparatus at work–you are revered, but only by a small handful of people. Yet to that small group, the sun shines out of Revered Academic’s ass.

I guess the same is true of any niche, really, but I am amused at my continuing attempt to yet again shove myself into a tiny niche, this time with lots of other eager grad students jockeying for position rather than a small army of intense and overcaffeinated aspiring lighting designers wielding c-wrenches. At least the grad students seldom carry big tools that can double as weapons, unless you subscribe to that adage about the pen and the sword.

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