10 August 2011

Occupational hazard of being a stagehand: the audio bomb

Unbeknownst to me, our local historic theatre has been closed all summer. (That's what I get for moving an hour from town, that's what I get for not answering the phone to certain people who call me for work, that's what I get for isolating.) There have been some pretty major projects going on there, projects that couldn't be put off. Hence the closure of our beloved theatre.

They had to restore the some of the plaster on the ceiling. To give you an idea what an undertaking that is, pictures of some of the ceiling details: (sorry for the odd angles and shitty picture quality)

the medallion in the center of the ceiling

a detail in the ceiling

They had to bring in a massive amount of scaffolding.

The executive director says that this is only the second time he has seen this sight. Once was almost 30 years ago when they did the restoration. This would be the second. He says that he hopes he never sees this again in his lifetime. Me too.
They had to do some plaster restoration because of the water damage left by the air-conditioning unit that gave it up and started leaking through the roof back in 2006. Thankfully, the damage was all on the surface, so all they had to do was scrape it and touch it up instead of redo it through and through.

Another of the projects turns out to be an upgrade to the building's audio system. As a stagehand, audio is my love. It is where I was initially trained, it is where I am most comfortable, it is what I enjoy the most when working a call.

The guys who initially trained me in audio are the house audio engineers for the theatre. Nice guys both of them, in very different ways. The "mad scientist" is the scary smart one that thinks on an entirely different plane than the rest of us; when you ask him a simple question, you get a long, drawn out explanation that goes into the physics that you probably don't understand. The "bossman" is just as smart, but he is so very good at breaking the physics down into a few sentences of "physics of a soundwave for dummies" that I can write a paper about it that anybody can understand.
The "mad scientist" is definitely a Type-A personality. He can be overbearing in his quest for perfection on the job, and he throws a spectacular temper tantrum. The "bossman" is just laid back, doesn't get upset; if he raises his voice above a mumble, he is fucking pissed.
Sounds like a match made in hell, those two working together, right? Actually, they wind up complimenting each other pretty well.
"Bossman" is more of a monitor engineer mentality, and I am usually working with him when we are all on the job together. The "mad scientist" is more of a front-of-house engineer type. This is not to say that they are not proficient enough at all parts of the job to trade places. This just seems to be where they naturally wind up when on the call together. Having spent so much time on the stage and in monitor world with the "bossman", I've learned how to think like he does, and can even understand his ways of doing things that are influenced by his dyslexia. While they may not make sense to the "mad scientist", they make sense to us, and any other monitor engineer could probably figure it out, since monitor engineers have to think a little dyslexic anyway (truly, we have to think backwards, from right to left).

So when they called me up to come back to work for them in that building, I jumped. I don't mind working for them; I rather enjoy it.

However, the next time they BOTH tell me that it is a mess, I may just run like hell in the opposite direction. I can't believe that I didn't listen. Or, if I did, that I was in that much denial about what I was walking into. I know that the "mad scientist" gets messy when he works, with shit strewn from one end of the building to the other. I've known them for six and a half years, I should have been more prepared for what greeted me when I walked into the theatre.

I had been told that it started at the top (near that dark little stairway I wrote about yesterday) and ended in the front-of-house mix location. I just didn't realize that it would look like an audio bomb had exploded in there.

The only picture I took was in the lobby, and I only caught about half to two-thirds of it.

The third floor, the mezzanine (second floor), and the lobby all looked pretty much like this picture of the lobby. Multiple piles of tools, cable, wire, connectors, old equipment, empty boxes, and gak. The green room also had this mess going on inside it; along with the horrid stench of sweaty chinese food that had been sitting in the trash can for heaven-only-knows how long. Also, I found the vaccuum cleaner that everyone had been looking for; they had written each other notes about it on the dry-erase board in the offices. We all blamed the "mad scientist" for the vaccuum cleaner, even though bossman admitted taking it. See, the mad scientist was not there to defend himself.

The truly frightening part was the front-of-house mix location. The mess at the FOH location actually spread out and encompassed a frightening percentage of the nearby seats and an even more frightening percentage of the floor. It was obvious that the "bossman" had not been here, because there were no piles of anything. It was just a ground zero of bits of sheetrock, screws, wire clippings, tools, wood shavings, connectors, tape, pens, bags, boxes, weird asbestos-removal suits, receipts, wiring schematics, owner's manuals, etc.

I refused to even look at it again until the "bossman" arrived. I would have cried had I been left to my own devices to figure out that part.

At one point during my day yesterday, the audio bomb ate my Ferragamos. I found them before I got a splinter in my foot, thank heaven. That mess would have taken me two full days to clean up had I not had the bossman's help. And I would have had the shit all mixed up and in the wrong places when I was done.

I am proud to say that we got the majority of the mess cleaned up and loaded out yesterday. What got left behind was: stuff that they still needed for the remaining work they had to do, old equipment that is headed for the scrap heap, leftover metal rails, trim that the carpenter will have to reinstall, and a cart filled with equipment that needs to be returned to the cage (the place where all of the theatre's stuff is stored). The bossman kept looking at that cart full of gear, and he finally couldn't stand it and rolled it as close to the cage as we could get it with all that scaffolding in place, and we got that shit put away, too.

In spite of the audio bomb that had exploded all over the building; in spite of the scaffolding that soared 80 or more feet in the air; in spite of all the disarray, I still got that same sense of peace I always get in that building.

When I am inside that theatre, I feel like nothing going on outside her doors can touch me, physically or emotionally. Some of that might have to do with the fact that she was constructed in the 1920s and was built like a battleship. When I am in that building, I can feel the comforting weight of time and history. It wraps me up in its embrace and says to me "you are safe here."
Some of it probably comes from that sense of welcome I get there. The building seems to say to me "None of what happened before you came here matters. None of what comes after you leave here matters. You are here now, that is all that matters." Her permanent staff is equally as welcoming.

There is this sense of grace. Timeless and eternal. There is a sense of anticipation, waiting for the wonders that the next production will bring. There is this sense of comfort, of escape, of peace. And it stays with me for days after I have been there.

However, even in such a safe and welcoming place, audio bombs can explode.

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