Monday, April 25, 2016

It Wasn't the Macbeth Curse, It Was Bad Maintenance

Photo by our friend Teresa Ortiz

Here is this week's edition of the "Desert Sage" column I write for the Deming Headlight.  It is sometimes excluded from the online edition, as it was this week, so in order to share it I am posting it here.

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Anyone who has spent time with theatre folk knows that you do not say "Macbeth" in a theatre. Antiquated superstition holds that if one utters the name of Shakespeare's Scottish king, disaster will befall whatever show is in production there.

Theatrical superstitions are a communal bond for actors and spectators, a vestige of the theatre's link to ritual and magic. The mind is a peculiar and mysterious force, and superstitions draw power not from magic but by a community lending them credibility. If an ensemble even halfway believes their show is cursed, they start having more accidents. When people change their behavior over something that isn't real, in a certain sense that thing becomes real. This is why even skeptical people generally don't test their luck by uttering "Macbeth" in a theatre. The social stigma is strong even among highly rational people.

The Macbeth curse is easy to avoid, at least. It's not a word that accidentally crops up in typical conversation. Thus I feel reasonably confident that no one uttered the name of that doomed king at Deming's Pit Park on April 16, where Las Cruces musician Randy Granger and I gave a public performance at Deming's beautiful open-air theatre. The Deming wind was high and icy that afternoon, yet 50 people turned out with coats, blankets, and lawn chairs to enjoy a rare theatrical performance in the Pit Park stadium. At the curtain call, Granger praised the audience, comparing them to sports fans.

The stadium, dedicated in 2007, is Deming's great underused asset. Its official seating capacity is 1,000, not including the covered pavilion area which has itself been used as an event venue. The simple concrete structure with metallic canopies has decent acoustics (with the nearby interstate creating surprisingly little interference) and has ample power for sound and light equipment. Its location at Pit Park, on Country Club Road across the street from Starmax, is easy to find and located near restaurants and hotels. Its potential as a center for music festivals, political and other community events, programming that might draw travelers for extended visits to Deming has barely been explored. Instead, it sits locked up behind chain-link most days of the year; and, inevitably, the asset is beginning to deteriorate.

That deterioration, rather than a magical curse, explains the terrifying crash we heard shortly before that Saturday performance. One of the theatre's lighting fixtures had dropped from the canopy to the seating area, a 10-pound missile of aluminum and glass that landed just a few feet from my 5 year old son. Upon inspection, the flimsy ring binding the lamp to the ceiling fixture had given way to metal fatigue - simply twisting off in the wind. Two electrical wires had been bearing the weight of the lamp. When those give way, watch out below.

Accidents happen; but when I looked up, I noticed the "stumps" where several lamps clearly had fallen previously. This indicated (as a maintenance officer for the city admitted to me the following week) that the city was aware of this hazard, yet were allowing public events in there anyway.

As it happened, a member of Deming's city council, Victor Cruz, who has been a proponent of using the stadium for more events, was present and within hours he had alerted Mayor Benny Jasso and City Administrator Aaron Sera.

Public safety is not a matter for wishes or magic. Let's make the repairs, keep the space in safe condition, and put it to good use. Letting it rot is a terrible waste.

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