My cousin Melanie (who's 14 now) has joined the proud ranks of high school drama techies, doing run crew for the first time at her school's production of Sweet Charity. (She's been doing set construction all year.) She loves tech. Loves tech. Comes home from it late, talks about it in the same casual-but-eager way I did when I was 14 - I think it's the first community of practice she's really been a part of on her own. And seeing her grow into doing this - having and managing and running a part of her life that's completely separate from anything her parents or her teachers tell her to do - has been a wonderful thing to be able to watch.

She needs black shoes (she borrowed her mom's for the first show, but they don't exactly fit). I probably ought to take her out to get a cheap pair of black sneakers at some point; I told her what I'd done when faced with the same dilemma, and then anti-recommended it. When I needed black shoes, I took my old sneakers (spattered with paint from set construction, and already ragged enough that my mom wanted to toss them) and spray-painted them off in a corner of the set construction room. I had to touch them up before most opening nights because the black spraypaint would flake and scuff and peel (especially the paint on the shoelaces) and they continued to degrade into black things that looked lumpily like the former remnants of sneakers, but they worked. After I worked my last show in high school, I brought them home to toss; my mom found them, was appropriately and predictably horrified, and off they went into the rubbish bin - but they'd served their purpose.

Had I a driver's licence/car/permission-to-go-out and $30 at the time (I had none of the above), I would have gotten a cheap pair of sneakers and been far more comfortable and set. So. Melanie is getting some black sneakers.

The two of us were talking after she got back from the show on Friday night about why we liked being a techie (Mels In Black!) more than the thought of having to be out on stage. I think it's the feeling of being able to support and shape something without having all eyes on you - the audience doesn't see you, they see the work of your hands. You watch the watchers in the dark - you see not just the stage, but everyone's reactions to it. You can see what happens as you move a finger on the light board, sliding night into day, or after you scurry across the blackout switching a forest into a living room - you're part of what's happening and you're simultaneously pulled back enough to see the hive of invisible activity that keeps the magic happening. And at the end, it's not you that gets applause, it's the work that you've made possible - and you listen to that applause while running around the back doing something useful, like shuffling away props or packing up the booth or what-have-you, rather than awkwardly bowing under these blinding lights on stage.

It's nice to hear Melanie come home talking about gaffer tape, circular saws, how the tension between the music and dance directors is affecting the production (with a "huh, grown-ups are sometimes silly" sense of bemused analysis), how the lighting and the costumes and the acting for certain scenes just comes together - she's becoming fluent in this world. And she's balancing her other responsibilities very well with it, load-balancing so she can take on a heavier theater tech commitment. Very pragmatic, very mature - and very excited to be learning something cool and new. I'm proud of her, and also thankful that I get to watch her grow up for a bit.

I love living with my cousins.