The Summer Centrifuge

Slightly off-topic today, a post dedicated to my fellow arts administrators. And to anyone who experiences the agonies and thrills of meeting a critical deadline, shipping a product, or climbing any sort of steep mountain.

The Rotor

I’ve clearly never been inside a centrifuge, and my scientific knowledge of them is limited to what little I remember of high school physics. But I do remember the experience of being inside a Rotor at county fairs during my childhood in the 1960’s. Decades later, one of ways I come to terms with the slightly masochistic cycle of my work is to recall that experience.

Phase 1: Welcome Aboard

The sense of expectation is thrilling as we load up. For us, that means onboarding over 50 young artists and apprentices in a few weeks, and firing the starting gun for multiple theatrical and concert productions. People and projects fill the ride to capacity. Optimism reigns, and delusion is at an all-time high.

Phase 2: I’ve Got This

As the ride speeds up, everyone is thrown to their place on the outside wall of the centrifuge. But somehow I (and this is where the scientific analogy goes out the window) remain in the center, with everything else whirring around me. I convince myself that if I find the exact center and stay preternaturally still, I’ll still be able to see everything. And for a while, I do.

Phase 3: Dropped Balls and Regret

The ride gets faster still, and people on the outside start throwing things at me as they pass. At first, there are softballs and soccer balls, and I catch them all. Then they start coming faster and faster, and they turn into BB gun pellets and daggers. Catching them while remaining calm is almost impossible, but if I don’t they could put out someone’s eye, you know… Yet I miss a few. And a few more.

Phase 4: Thanks for Playing

Eventually the combination of increased speed and allowing myself to be pulled off center means that the centrifugal force hurls me to one of the walls, where I am relegated to the position of bystander. The g-forces make me sick, and I throw up a little in my mouth. But miraculously (usually…), I look around and see that around me is a thing of beauty. And of course, it doesn’t need me anymore. This feeling of euphoria is brief, and it’s a prelude to…

Phase 5: The Morning After

I’ve blacked out, and while I was unconscious, it seems that the ride has stopped, and I’ve fallen to the bottom again, in a headachy puddle of sweat. As I look up, I see a new set of problems to be solved, and I despair. But slowly, I stand, determined to remain still and focused. Rinse and repeat.

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