Archive for the Memories of a Stagehand Category

Memories of a Stagehand

Posted in Memories of a Stagehand with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2014 by theEARLofSWIRL

#2 “I Hears You Comin’ Oh LORD!
The new Black Keys video “FEVER” reminded me of a story from the very early days of the C.C.C. Until we started booking better-known professional shows, a needed source of income were the Tin-foil Evangelists. They got the nickname due to the foil-covered KFC buckets they used as collection plates (often filled with 10’s & 20’s!!). There were several who rented the hall, peddling their phony grease-my-psalmistry.
But before I go any further, I have to explain The Booth– our refuge and armor against the tide of idiots that swept through constantly. The lighting control board was in a 10×10 room at the very back wall in the balcony, tucked up against the ceiling. Dim red lights (had to maintain night vision), reflective window angled down, it was impossible to see in, and nearly soundproof. We had a mike hanging from the lighting grid to listen for advance warning of anyone entering the theater. To get there, you had to thread your way through the entire crowd, risking being cornered for something (“there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom””can you turn the Air on?”) and if the Light Guy wanted to be left alone and locked the door, fight your way back. Or there was the emergency route that we tried our best to keep secret. The dressing rooms were up a flight of stairs, behind the backstage Fly Tower. Hidden behind one bathroom were thin slats nailed to the wall. climbing these took you through a small hole in the ceiling. This took you into the giant air system ductwork, where the slightest sound would be amplified down below on the stage. Climbing as silently as possible over the ducts, through a hole chopped in the Proscenium Arch, now came the dangerous part. Only the tiny bit of light leaking from below illuminated the metal beams of the ceiling- in between was nothing but thin plaster-coated chicken wire, with acoustic tiles lining the bottom, If you stepped off the beams and put your whole weight on that, you risked tearing a hole and plummeting 75 feet to break your back on the metal seating below.
One night, three of us were on duty, but hiding in The Booth and leaving Gilligan (I believe his nickname is self-explanatory) to deal with Franklin Walden’s Gawd Crusade. He’s tried the door twice, and stood on the armrests of the seats in vain hope of seeing in. He’s been gone for a while, so we’re now drawing straws to see who investigates, and BOOM!! ba-baBOOM BOOMboomboomboomboomBOOM!
Not only we have heard- the fervent testifyin’ of Walden’s Flock has faded to curious mumbling. Are their prayers being answered? The steady rumble of thunder is drawing closer, LAWD-A-MIGHTY!!
Gilligan finds & climbs through the Arch hole, and starts toward the booth, but STEPPING OVER THE BEAMS! From our vantage point in the booth, we can see the ceiling tiles bowing down alarmingly, with dust and pieces of tile raining on the slack-jawed Sheeple below. From THEIR vantage point JEHOVAH HIMSELF is striding across the ceiling, each footfall echoing loudly in the now DEAD silent auditorium….


It’s too much for us, we’re gasping for air and holding our sides in chest-heaving laughter, even Gilligan’s pratfall down the last four rungs of the ladder into the booth has no further impact (“What, guys, what happened? Wh-what?”).  Down below, the not-so-Reverend Walden has been thrown a whammy- he’s not gullible like his flock, and knows the source of the noise ISN’T divine. Glaring furiously up at the The Booth he calms the crowd, and sets them to singing along with his wife. By this time we have individually snuck out of the booth and vanished to far corners of the building, hard at our chores when he tracks us down.

“What in the DEVIL‘s name was that racket from the roof just now?”

Racket? Oh apologies sir, the raccoons must be back in the attic, this is an old building, y’know…. Reverend


yup, racoons. big ones.

(went back to mopping with a smirk on our face..)


Memories of A Stagehand #1

Posted in celebrity, Memories of a Stagehand with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2014 by theEARLofSWIRL

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”

Voulez-Vous Avec Moi Ce Soir

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.



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