I Was a Stage Tech a.k.a. I Started in BLACKS
The only thing that got me through high school was the Work/Study program. A senior program that I started doing as a freshman after strong-arming Mrs. Miesse (mee-see), the school guidance counselor.
Most kids would go into vo-tech but I interned in TV production (see page __). But the deal was, no job, back to class. So when my station contract ended in my senior year, I applied and was rejected by every mall job available.
“What was the last book you read?” – B. Dalton Books manager
“Errr … Entertainment Weekly? … Juggs? … Maybe I’ll see if Cinnabon is hiring.” – Me
My soon to be, great friend known as “John O.” told me about a stage tech gig at, what was once, an amazing dinner theatre, tucked away in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and home to flashy, exciting Las Vegas-style revue shows.
There I learned the craft of theatre production that later took me around the world. But while I was there I became a staple. Honing my skills in the 560 seat theatre as spot op, fly rail crew, stage management and eventually sound engineer. I had excellent timing, common sense and worked my best during emergencies.
John O. and I were known as “wind and rewind” … the comedy duo of the theatre. John had amazing ethics, character, smarts and was as dry witted, snarky and silly as myself. Many nights we would sit on our cars for hours post show recounting events and laughing so hard we’d roll around peeing ourselves until security would come by to make sure we were ok.
We took our goofing off as serious as our work. So when casts would make attempts to play tricks on us, we came up with some brilliant moments …
- The dancers wore black leather bra and g costumes. We took artist charcoal and colored in their bras, so when they took them off, their boobs were black for the rest of the show.
- We bought a Hallmark card that beeped “Happy Birthday”, removed the mechanism and mounted it inside one of the showgirl’s headdresses. Activating it as she walked out on stage, only she could hear it and it was super loud against her cranium. Her eyes went wide and she was completely out of step with the other dancers. Everyone thought she was nuts.
- During an ice skating adagio, we cut out a black circle of duvetyn (curtain), laid it on the ice and pretended to ice fish in the middle of the production number.
Tons of known, unknowns and has-beens came through:
We had the “Stars of the Lawrence Welk Show”. All the deadbeat poor cast members that grumbled at the thought of Lawrence in Palm Springs lounging in luxury even after his Parkinson’s set in. They traveled cross-country in a VW Bus and sold 8-track tapes but the audiences loved them!
We had Loreen Yarnell of the famed mime team Shields & Yarnell, who was the stereotypical, flighty, 1970’s beatnik actress. She was fired after she ended her 18 minute set, 10 minutes early, walking off stage leaving it bare. Her reason? “It just felt right”. Ummm, not to the 12, naked cast members in the lower dressing rooms while the closing number began without them.
And from “Eight is Enough”, “Happy Days” and “American Graffiti”, Susan Richardson who on press night, deviated from the script of a fun Rock & Roll revue show to talk about apartied, her abortion and to introduce her gynecologist in the audience. It was alleged that her doctor was paid off by the producers to tell her she could no longer physically do the show, rather than paying a huge firing fee.
It all certainly prepared me for the future.
“BREAKING OUT OF SHOW BUSINESS: What I Discovered by Not Being Discovered”
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