Memories of A Stagehand #1
I worked for several years as a Stagehand, Sound Engineer, and Follow-Spot Operator at the Chatham Cultural Centre. More than a few celebrities came through and performed there; between them, and the multitude of inept amateurs, I’ve collected some amusing stories. Full credit is due to Mike LeBrain for his most excellent suggestion I tell them here, after a discussion on his amazin’ blog about concert contract riders.
#1“Only The Pure Of Heart”
ERNIE “MR DRESSUP” COOMBS toured quite often in our area, and he was a joy to work for. Some children’s performers copped an attitude because they considered what they did a public service or “higher calling” (e.g. Sharon, Louis, & Bram) as if the table upon table of merch in the lobby didn’t show their real motives. But not Ernie, he was down-to-earth and humble about his luck in being able to earn a good living doing what he enjoyed so much.
The first time he was scheduled when I was there, we were sternly lectured by the administrator about being polite, and neatly dressed in our new, official polo shirts. We practically stood at attention as an old station wagon, pulling a small trailer, rolled up to the door. Ernie and his son, who acted as road manager, climbed out and approached us. “You boys the crew? Pleasure to meet you!” Completely un-assuming in a plaid shirt and jeans, and puffing on a cigar. We started emptying the trailer, only took a few minutes before we saw it; The Tickle Trunk! there it was, wrapped in an old blanket. Carried it in and placed it on the stage. Now, in his contract rider, he had specified that only “Clean-Shaven, Morally Upright Young Men” could directly handle his props. As the new guy, I had been the subject of much ribbing, that some type of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” situation would occur. As if the trunk would pop open, sensing my impure thoughts, and I would melt into a waxy puddle.
“We just did a few shows in Quebec, so you could say it’s now the French Tickler Trunk !” Ernie said with a twinkle in his eye. We all laughed, and his son quipped “We might have to get Casey to sing Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir to convince it to open!” While we continued setting up, it was explained to me that the reason for the oddly strict rider was to make sure, through the office grapevine, we were on our best behavior. From years of touring, Mr Coombs knew what stagehands and roadies were like, and wanted his reputation protected. He didn’t want the kids exposed to any swearing, or lewd t-shirts, or alcohol-and-other-substances on the breath of anyone perceived as working for him. Thoroughly professional ethos; NOTHING interfered with the show. We booked Mr Dressup a few more times, and the ribald humor during set-up, over headsets during the show, and tear-down afterwards, got dirtier and dirtier. But no Mommies ever had a reason to complain.