As we reach the eleventh week of this digest and work, at least in the virtual world of presenting future concepts, seems to be slowly emerging from the chrysalis of the pandemic lock down I have a few final short stories to share with you and hopefully lighten your day.
Back in the dinosaur days of lunchtime drinking at work and a healthy machismo disregard for Health and Safety we used to start our theatre fit ups on a Sunday morning.
On one tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, lit by Howard Eaton, we deployed the first use of rock and roll fast rigging techniques for a theatre tour. We had trussing and 6 lamp bars of par cans fed by Lectriflex multicores which connected to our AVO racks and at lunch time of the first day as was the custom we took the local crew to the pub for a liquid lunch.
I remember on a separate occasion and on a different tour we were fitting up in a theatre in Bradford and the Production Manager ignored this tradition and during the afternoon one of the fly men dropped a counterweight from the fly floor very near to him and he never made that mistake again. I recall that there were eight fly men on the roster but at any one time four were in prison and they seemed to rotate through the weeks as we visited the venue.
Anyway the point of this recollection is that when we returned from lunch and climbed the wire caving ladder to the truss after a few pints it became necessary to abseil off the rig again to use the loo; or a chain bag would be abused. So I decided in my early twenties to switch from beer to my life long affiliation with Scottish single malt whisky and take my bladder under control once more.
On a visit to Glasgow for a trade show our team and our American client visited a pub which poured a fine pint of Eighty Shillings for our ‘lunch’ break. 80/- is a traditional Scottish premium ale and the beer of choice for McKewans brewery workers they also had a good range of malt whiskies so all bases were well covered.
The crew ordered their beers and I asked our client whether he preferred beer or whether he would like to join me in a fine malt. He opted to join me in the malt and I ordered two large measures of Macallan 30 year old, a little cheeky of me as one small measure of this cost more than the entire beer round for the crew.
Now this local pub was very popular and stuffed to the rafters with a boisterous Glaswegian Sunday lunch time crowd and when I ordered our whiskies my American shouted at the top of his accented voice “I’ll have blackcurrant juice with my Macallan!”
A deathly hush descended on the pub and I quickly defused the situation by adding “He’s only joking!” and kicking him firmly in the ankle, poor fella never did understand his faux pas or how close he came to be tossed into the Clyde.
On another occasion in Glasgow we were contracted to launch the New Holiday Inn which had opened a few weeks earlier at reduced rates to trial staff and facilities and we were to stay in the hotel.
At this time in the late Eighties key cards were being introduced in major hotel chains and they were not without their problems, during the week we were there every time I retired to my room after a hard days work the door would not open.
I had to go back down to reception and the engineer would push a wheeled Dexion frame up to the room with an electronic device mounted on it to reprogram the door; rather than issuing another key card as they would today.
On our final day we had a few drinks to celebrate and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and finally having the opportunity the next morning to enjoy at my leisure a full Scottish breakfast.
I arrived at my room and tentatively pushed the key card into it’s slot… nothing… again. Right I’ve had enough of this I thought, pulled back my size eleven boot and let fly at the portal to my night’s rest.
As I stumbled into the room a light came on and a startled couple sat bolt upright in bed…I was apparently on the wrong floor! I mumbled an apology and backed out sharpish, I recall that I also missed my breakfast through concern that the poor couple might recognise me.
Another hotel tale comes from one of our lengthy stays at the Hilton hotel at the NEC Birmingham, some of the ground floor rooms had windows which looked out onto the lake and had stickers on the glass advising to keep the windows closed at night to keep out the midges and mosquitoes.
As it happens this was the least of the problems associated with leaving the windows open. One hot summers night I had gone down to dinner leaving the window open and for some reason that I cannot recall I was storing a flight case in the room just below the sill.
Upon my return from dinner I reached over the flight case to pull the window shut and I remember thinking that I was sure that the lid had been up when I had left the room, anyway no matter, to bed perchance to dream.
I had just got to sleep when I was jolted a wake by a series of banging noises inside my room and when I turned the light on the light was rather disturbed to see the flight case sliding about the floor apparently of it’s own volition.
I cautiously opened the lid to find a full grown goose which must have jumped up onto the window sill and stepped in to the room in search of God knows what and fallen into the flight case upon which the lid had fallen closed.
I wrapped the inquisitive bird in a towel and took it down to reception where I plonked it on the desk of the bemused night manager and suggested that they might want to update the warning stickers on the lake side room windows….
My final story comes from a time when I was lighting a dance production for the bundle of energy and mischief that is Wayne Sleep. We flew into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport (see above!) with a company of dancers for a performance of The Hot Shoe Show on our way to Japan for a National tour.
The venue in Hong Kong was rather unusual in that half of the auditorium was in the open air and on the occasions when it rained the upper half was closed off and half the audience given refunds; the follow spots were also at the rear of the circle.
I had specified quite a number of pars from the theatre stock to be rigged mainly as side booms and had been assured that the lamps in them were medium flood MFL.
Having been bitten by this before I had brought along a pile of Par 64 size cut frosts just in case and sure enough when we came to do our focus all the Par lamps were narrow beam NSP and the stage wash was a little blotchy to say the least.
I called for the working lights to turned back on and handed out the piles of frost to our local electricians. When they had completed the task we turned off the workers and tried again, I called for all the side pars to be brought up and a lot of very bemused locals were puzzled by the gloomy result on stage.
Slowly, as smoke curled up from the front of each fixture, the stage was illuminated as though a passing cloud had moved on; they’d only left the tissue paper protection on the gel when they framed it all up!
This keen but idiosyncratic approach to the lighting process was to manifest itself further the next day when our rehearsals began. I just had a fixture half way up the proscenium boom to refocus and then we were ready so I asked our locals for a fourteen foot ladder to reach it.
After waiting for fifteen minutes I thought sod it, and rather than holding up the rehearsal any longer I climbed the boom, focused the fixture and we cracked on. At the next break it became obvious from the crew’s grumpiness that I had committed some mortal sin and I approached our crew boss to find out what I had done this time to incur their ire.
Apparently when I had asked for the ladder, though they had a ten foot and a twenty foot one both of which would have done fine, the theatre carpenter had gone away and within half an hour had crafted us a fourteen foot ladder and everyone was upset that I had not used it!
Next day during the Dress Rehearsal I spoke to Wayne and during the second half of the show he called proceedings to a halt and complained about the proscenium boom special being slightly out of position. We called for the ladder!
The proud craftsman brought out his handiwork, I focused the fixture and after much nodding of approval at this face saving gesture, the rehearsal moved on.
The show was a great success and it was a real shame that the Japanese tour was cancelled at the eleventh hour. The local promoter stated that the reason for the cancelation was the expense of the lighting equipment that I had specified and producer Armand Gerrard, Wayne and I flew out to Tokyo for meetings with Japanese lawyers.
It transpired that the local promoter had got cold feet about Wayne’s popularity in Japan and had not booked a single venue. During the week we were there each night we went to a different restaurant and Wayne was instantly recognised and I have to say mobbed, what a shame.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tokyo learning of these unique and friendly people and there sometimes, from our perspective, very bizarre ways and I sincerely hope that 2021 sees them finally stage their Olympic Games.
Stay safe as we muddle our way out of this mess and I hope to see you all soon on the other side.