Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
A friend of mine is currently teaching stagecraft and recently sent out a mass Email to her theatre friends, asking for thoughts, stories, peeves, and/or cautionary tales, etc. on backstage etiquette to share with her students. I thought I’d weigh-in with a couple of stories, and for your reading pleasure, I’ve posted them below. Happy reading!
Ingrid – Proscenium Puddle Ponderer…..
Subject: Re: looking for input
Date: September 29, 2007 11:13:18 AM PDT (CA)
Ha ha! Great!
Well, let’s start with “don’t show up drunk for work”.
It was Naked Boys Singing, at the Vogue, and I was the stage carp. It was an IA call, so you get who you get for crew. One of our crew members was a notorious alcoholic, but had been told by the President and Business Agent of our local that he had to stay on the straight and narrow for the duration of the set-up, run and strike. The set up wasn’t a biggie, I think we had a couple of days for lx and flown pieces, and there weren’t any other major scenic elements besides props and costumes, so we were humming along nicely, got into tech without a hitch and into rehearsals just fine. Our alcoholic was the props hand on the show, and was doing a good job and the talent really liked him.
Opening night came and went (it was heavily papered, but that’s another story) and our first week was uneventful as the crew all did their jobs extremely well. I think it was a 2 week run, and we were paid sometime in the middle of the second week for the set-up and first week’s run. And that’s where this story takes it’s turn, with that pay cheque.
Our alcoholic took his cheque, cashed it, went on a bender and came into work that afternoon, drunk. He wreaked of booze and was acting unprofessionally, was belligerent and ornery. The stage manager and I talked it over, and we fired him that night. In retaliation, our drunk took all the buckets of ice and emptied them on the stage, and walked out, slamming the stage door. We all jumped together as a team, the stage crew put things in order, we found a replacement (another crew member’s wife, who was as sharp as a tack and a real fire cracker) and we finished the run successfully.
Alcoholism and drug abuse is a problem in this industry. All I can advise anyone is, if you have a history of addiction in your family, stay away from it, the consequences aren’t worth it.
How about another one: “Make sure you know how to run the equipment when you take a show call.”
There’s a member of our local who’s notorious for his mistakes. One of my favourite stories is this one.
I was doing the strike of Sunset Boulevard at the Ford Centre, and I was somewhat new to things, maybe only having worked in the industry for 3-4 years or so. I was up on the onstage truss, taking down lights, follow spots and cables and such, and chatting while working with a guy I knew through Kids Fest. The follow spot reminded me of one of a myriad of stories my partner would tell me about our Notorious Tech. It just so happened that while I was working on Sunset, my partner was down the street at the Vogue running Forever Tango. He would come home every night with a new story.
So I started telling some stories to my acquaintance, but he stopped me in mid-sentence and told me to hang onto the stories because he HAD to get so-and-so to hear these stories… he’d have a good laugh.
So coffee was called and we wandered down to the Green Room and started shooting the shit. I was introduced to so-and-so and began telling my Forever Tango Follow Spot Story, which is as follows (and out of respect for Notorious Tech, I’ll just call him P for anonymity.)
The crew on Forever Tango had finished their tech and it was opening night. The follow spot crew climbed up to their onstage truss positions, and settled into their chairs. They turn on their spots, start doing their checks, when P comes over headset and says to the head electrician “Uhh… Uhh… J… There’s no light coming out of my spot.” J starts trouble shooting, asking questions like, is it on, is it plugged in, check your head cable, when M, the spot op on the other side of the stage comes on and says, “P, turn your spot around.” [for our blog readers, P had turned on the spot, but the reason he thought it didn’t work was because he was staring at the rear of the light and had the business end of the light, the front part where the light comes out of the spot, turned around behind him so it was lighting up the back wall like a search light]
Three weeks later, after running the show numerous times, the stage manager did what he had been doing for 3 weeks and called a cue: “FS 2, pick up the dancer coming from SL[stage left], no colour, FS 1 pick up the dancer on SR[stage right], frame 4, FS 3 pick up both centre, no colour” (or something like that… I don’t know exact positions or colour) when P comes back over head set and asks the SM, “What frame is no colour?”[Again, for our blog readers: on a followspot (FS), there are little frames that have coloured gel in them, and you flick one of several levers to pivot a frame with colour into place, which changes the colour of the light. When someone asks for “no colour” that means you don’t flick a frame, you leave it open; therefore, “no colour” = no frame]
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, at the Ford, I’m telling these stories (and more) in the Green Room to so-and-so, and I find that the whole room with about 75 crew has become dead silent, listening to me. I had never met P, and I thought these incidences were rare, but as soon as I was finished talking, the room erupted and people were swapping P stories, telling the incredulous Sunset touring crew these stories, and what should have been a 15 minute break turned into just over a 1/2 hour. P stories abound!
Theatre is no different than any other job. A good work ethic will get you places. Remember to be courteous, friendly, professional, continually update your knowledge, accept the numerous personalities you’ll work with – we’re in the arts, and there are a lot of “personalities”. And if you’re sensitive, like me, start getting counseling.