Back when I was in college, I took a summer to work as a master electrician/prop master/stage manager for a fledgling theatre company in St. Louis. (Sadly, the company would fold after the season I worked for it...go figure.) The second show, True West did very well, but it had a fast turnaround into our next show, Raised in Captivity. When I say fast turnaround, I mean we had to strip all the lights and sets down and then rebuild and hang in a 48 hour period. And when I say we...I mean me. I had to go and pull everything down and then put everything back up. The only help I would receive was from my then Lighting professor (who hated me so...probably because I was not a small, hot, Asian girl) who offered to give me thirty minutes of his time (at time and a half) to put up flats and curtains.
Ok, strike (when you take everything down for those who don't know the lingo) is always quick. You're tearing down the wall, so you can pretty much speed through taking out screws and bringing down lights as long as you have a good ladder, a working wrench, and a good set of leg and arm muscles. One of the first lessons in lighting I learned was that in a black box theatre, you can grab on to a ladder with your legs, grab the lighting pipes with your arms, and pull yourself with ladder to the next destination. It's like being a monkey. And later you learn how to hang upside down and do work with your feet when necessary...I'm not kidding.
And that's where I was.
People schmoozed and talked for 20 minutes.
Strike took about 25 minutes.
I decided that I would begin by placing the lights where they would eventually be hanging. This way I could gauge how much cable would be needed as well as which circuits I could use (this would all have to be written down on the light plot as well as the master list.
The best part about Monday morning at the university is that the coffee shop (conveniently next door to the scene shop) opens at 5 am. As the sun begins to peak on the horizon, I run the last of the cable and begin plugging in everything. Again, I'm alone on this, so what could be done by now is not finished...and the cavalry might come. And because the floor is clear, the set can now be loaded in. I call the artistic director at 5:30 am as I am walking to coffee shop to eat something and then go home to sleep.
"Nic," I begin. "Everything is up. The set can be loaded and locked down.... Oh, and good morning."
After some bursts of half awake dialect I don't recognize, Nic responds, "Ooook. We'll have the set in by two. I want everything focused by five."
"We still have more than twenty-four hours," I respond. "Why are we rushing?"
"Robert [the director] wants to up the timetable. He needs more time on stage. Show's...not going well."
I sighed. While I really liked Robert, his antics were a problem for the tech people.
"Ok," I tell Nic, "I've got some errands to run, then I'll go home, sleep, come back at four, and try to finish everything tonight. One thing: I have everything up. Tell Jerry no more changes."
"No problem," Nic replies, "Now fuck off! I need to sleep." And with that, he hangs up on me.
The plan sounds easy enough. I have to quickly get my errands done (this included doing stupid things like, you know, getting groceries so I can eat, depositing a check so I can buy said groceries and pay my rent, and turning in class work (I was taking a summer course to get done with college faster).
The problem with working near where you live and where you go to school is that you are going to run into people you know. When you're really tired and trying to rush, Murphy's Law takes over. You WILL run into people, and they will suck up your time. First stop was the ban k, where I ran into two of my professors, who tell me everything about the upcoming year (it will be my senior) and what they expect the plays to be as well as what work will need to be done. Because I want to have a prime position, I play the part. I should have said, "Oh my God. Leave me alone!" I didn't. Next, I'm in the grocery store buying a few items (biggest item: cat food), and I run into a friend of mine, who is also there with his fiancee...and his siblings.... So of course I have to talk to all of them, and this takes over an hour.
And, after a quick stop on campus to turn a paper, I'm finally in my little mushroom house (Yes, Virginia, they called it the Smurf House) ready to sleep. I still have time. I feed the cats, drop the pants, and hit the bed that is lulling me to it with it's siren song and false promises of rest.
And the phone rings.
Here's what you need to know about Rick. Even though he hated me, I really respected him. He was and is an amazing designer. It's no wonder he was asked to work the Olympics more than once. However, his personality was a major turn off for most people. He was the runt of his family, and the other men had been military. He wasn't, due to an eye issue, and then picked theatre, which was very unpopular in his Southern-rooted home.
"Where the fuck are you?" The drawl spits across the phone.
"Well get the fuck back up here. Your 30 minutes of my time are about to kick in, and I need some answers as to what's going on around here."
"Shut the fuck up, get in your car, and get your ass back up here! Or I walk."
No time for a shower, just throw on some new clothes and deodorant, grab a Coke for lunch, and run.
"What the FUCK is this shit?!" he yells at me
"Look at the cube. Shiiiiiit. This is coming out of someone's budget." And with that, he looks squarely at me. His mind obviously saying, "And I mean you, fucker."
With no set and no set designer around, I had to buy Rick a tall latte to keep him from bolting. I dialed up the tech director.
"Yes," I hear Doug reply. He sounds out of breath.
I hear more breathing coming faster and faster. My first thought is a very dirty one. Doug is having sex and is making me listen. When he finishes, he'll talk. This, thankfully turns out to be wrong.
There is a moment when you hear something that makes no sense. Your brain almost stops like a derailed train. Logic disappears. Like when someone says something so incredibly off topic or stupid that you can't fathom how that person's brain could put those words together. That's what happened when I heard they had lost the set. All I could say was:
"We lost the set. We put it in the scene shop [which was directly below the theatre] last night. Came in this morning, and it was gone. Someone took the flats. We were rebuilding them."
"And did you guys take your fucking flats off the paint rack? I had to move them because they were blocking the prop cage."
"Oh fuck! They're on the paint rack? You're a life saver!" And the huffing begins before I hang up.
I turn to Rick, who has just finished the latte, and say, "Can we focus in like twenty minutes? I need to get a drink and use the bathroom. Weird, right?"
"Fuck. Give me the cash for another latte, and I'll give you ten minutes."
"You can't count this time, man. This is like an act of God."
This is actually a punishment. Mark liked to talk...alot. He would talk about whatever was on his mind. One conversation ran from a light, to a baseball stadium, to his ex-wife, to football, to movies, and then to his hair. A typical five minute visit anywhere else was a half an hour with Mark.
Instead of being done at 10 PM, we finish around 1 am. Robert could not get out of his own way. We would build a look, get it all set, run it, and he would then say, "NO! That's not what I wanted. Do it again. Weren't you listening to me?" This would happen with almost every cue.
When you're really tired, the mind sometimes misfires. You don't fully follow logic. This was about to happen to me. One light wasn't working, but the lamp was fine. This meant it was wire related. I went to the light board and turned the circuit on, then I check the light itself. Wires were fine there, so it had to be the cable. I checked the wires at the plug first. They were fine, so it was where the cable connected to the light's pig tail (or cable). I opened up the cable head and found a loose wire. I started trying to pushing it back in place, but it wouldn't go with the gloves I had on.
Now I don't know if it was the fatigue or a deathwish, but I did something so stupid that the fact that I am alive makes it funny.
I started thinking about how to make the wire fit.
"Well," says my brain, "When you work with sewing thread, you lick the thread to make it stable to go through the needle. The wire here looks like thread, so logic dictates you should like it to make it go through here."
Now, because my body was so tired, it did not scream, "No, you stupid fuck!" Instead it went, "Just FINISH!!!"
When I woke up a few minutes later, my back hurt, my mouth hurt, and my pride hurt. I had a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my back (I would see this later) from the fall. My mouth was burned from the electrical adventure, and my pride kept saying, "You LICKED a live wire, you stupid moron!"
So I lay on the floor of the theatre trying to make sure I was actually alive. When I could finally get up, I went and turned the circuit off. Then, even though I was still shaky, I climbed the ladder and finished. Then, with my hands still shaking, I dialed Nic to tell him what had happened. After exchanging pleasantries, I told him.
"You did what?" He responded.
"I haven't slept, Nic. I licked a wire."
A quick sigh. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah," I say. "Just shaking," and watch the bottle of water in my hand jitter around.
"Can you finish?"
"What time is it?" I ask.
"Oh shit, that means I actually passed out for like ten minutes."
"I don't hear that!" Nic yells. "If I hear that, I have to fill a report, so shut up!!!"
In the background, I hear Nic's wife stirring and then quietly saying, "Just hang up."
"I have to go," he says, "Finish up and go home. Sleep! We have alot to do the rest of this week and I need you alive for now. Good night."
The phone call ends.
I managed to pull myself together and finish everything in time to see the sun rise as I walked outside. The first thought in my head was actually not the sunrise, which I would eventually watch, but how jealous I was of the janitor's cigarette. I didn't smoke, but I really wanted a cigarette. Actually, I really wanted a drink, but drinking in the early morning is usually frowned upon. It's eggs and bacon...not eggs and Jack Daniels...but it could be. So the constant smell of burned hair (seems I singed some beard hair) was to be with me until I showered.
As I walked to my car, however, I saw that sunrise. A deep orange and golden amber that spilled across the sky with delight. This led me to walk to my car, hop on the hood, and just watch. No music, no one with me, and no reason to rush. Just myself, the sun, and the universe as a new day is born.
The film City of Angels (an inferior remake of a brilliant film called Wings of Desire...Go watch the two. I'll wait...see I was right.) has a moment where the angels watch the sunrise and act as if they are hearing the most pure sound in the world that reaches to the core of being. Humans, however, cannot hear it or feel it. That rising there, sitting on my car a few hours after almost electrocuting myself, was one of the greatest sunrises I had ever watched. It has only ever been rivaled by a few days in my life.
Lest you think I'm sappy, here's the rub: When you do lighting design, a problem begins to occur. While I enjoyed the moment and watched the sky in awe as the stars winked out and became replaced with the blue hue of life, I started seeing gel colors in my head. The more you design lights, the more you start to see the world in terms of color gels. Imagine looking at the gold light spilling across the sky and thinking, "Hmm..Roscolux 04 [Medium Bastard Amber] with a hint of 08 [Pale Gold]." This was one of the reasons why I would end up leaving theatre: the wonderment and beauty of the world became colors in a swatch book.
So I watched the sunrise and made the decision to take the day off. No work. No helping anyone else out. Just get in the car, drive home, and sleep. So, with Helios above the horizon and being dragged higher and higher by Apollo's Chariot, I went home. I sat down on the couch that had been left by the previous tenant, and looked out the window one more time at the sunlight moving between the trees. Then I passed out...hard. I would wake up several hours on the floor. The cat (my grey and white one) was pulling on my ear. Either he thought he was helping me to get up and go to work...or he was trying to eat my ear for nourishment. I like to believe the former, but it was probably the latter.
The show went very well. It was sold out every night and, after the reviews came out, it was standing room only for a while. In the end, however, the theatre company went out of business when the artistic director moved to Florida.
And there was a cast party, which ended with Jerry trying to sleep with a woman in the loft of my house and showing his ass to everyone before falling out a window. I had to burn those sheets. Wish I was kidding.
So what, dear reader, should you take from this? Well:
1. Don't lick a live wire. Seriously...don't do it.
2. Rest. Even when the hurly burly is flying about and the shit hits the fan, take a moment to breath and rest.
3. You live theatre. It's not a job, it's a lifestyle. If you're thinking about doing it professionally, make sure you know that.
4. Don't lick a live wire. It's just really good advice.
5. All people, no matter how horrible or schmucky they seem, have a heart. Appeal to that.
6. Never, ever, let a day go by without seeing, learning, hearing, or doing something new. Take an appreciation for the light of life if nothing else.