This is the companion blog post to Audio Chimera Episode #68: “What Are YOU Afraid Of?” I thought I would mention my fear of heights here.

When I was growing up I had a fear of heights. Going to a second floor balcony on a rickety wooden fire escape was okay, but once, at a Gettysburg battlefield, I ascended one of those metal lookout towers. And there was a tug in part of my brain that kept saying, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t be doing this!” I couldn’t wait to get back down.

Then, as an undergrad at Temple University, we had to take theatre practicum every semester. While some students opted for easy tasks (one person constantly volunteered to do costume laundry so they could do their own as well), I would walk in to the practicum supervisor and say, “What do you need?” One semester this got me on the set change crew for Madwoman of Chaillot, and that taught me so much about backstage work, and how to quickly choreograph an intermission change. We, the crew (the happy crew!), figured out who would move what and when, and after rehearsing it numerous times (and doing it in performance) we reduced the time needed from 25 minutes to 5. And that included moving a 2.5 ton metal staircase.

Another semester was instrumental in curing my fear of heights. “What do you need?” Was answered by “lighting set-up crew.” Again, this was important in my development as a theatre artist, since I learned how to hang and focus lights. But here’s where the fear of heights comes in—or should I say departs? One of us needed to ride the bosun’s chair up to re-focus some lighting instruments. No one would volunteer, so I did. A bosun’s chair consists of a plank with ropes on either side, and an additional rope that acts as a seat belt. The side ropes connect to a rope that ascends into the ceiling; someone on the floor pulls on the rope, raising the chair and its occupant.

I think it was about 60 feet off the ground. I may be overestimating it, but that’s what it felt like. And it didn’t help that the person holding the rope, with a foot on it to secure it, kept moving his foot nervously, so I would feel a twang with every foot twitch. AndI had to lean out and over to get to some of those lights. Why did I look down? I guess to get over the fear, which I no longer have. A couple of years ago I visited the Hoover Dam and had no qualms about walking across the pavement to see the Dam head on.

Here’s a photo I found on the web of a bosun’s chair. Imagine that’s all that’s between you and the earth dozens of feet below.

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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