It was 1979, I believe, and I was working as an LD for a local lighting production company, and one of my gigs was lighting the “rising star” concerts at a local 3,000-seat venue. I had been sending out resumés like a madman and had gotten a tentative “yes” from Supertramp and a firm “yes” a few months later with Styx as a production assistant. As was my custom, I studied the band's style, designed a plot, and executed two shows in Portland and Seattle. After the Seattle show, the road manager of a lesser known band approached me and said, “The band was really impressed with what you did the past two nights. Would you be interested in joining us on the rest of the tour as our LD?” So, I informed him that I had a couple of really strong irons in the fire [with Supertramp and Styx], and even though I did really like the sound, there was no telling where they would be a year from now. I respectfully declined and went out on the road a few months later. The name of the band? The Police!!
Jerry Clausen, designer/installer
ACME Specialties; Kent, WA
A sleepless summer week concluded with a load out of a Steve Miller Band show in Centennial Park. It was outdoors, on a medium stage, in the hot Georgia sun, and the job was to be four hours maximum, beginning early morning. That evening, I got a call to change gigs and walk to the CNN center to load out for the MLB all-star party. Well, 8 am finally rolled around, and they sent us on to our originally scheduled gig (Ricky Martin at Philips Arena). I worked all day, as both truss focus and truss spot operator. Though not a fan, Ricky put on a crazy show, although I slept through quite a bit of it. Load out finished around 8 am the following day. I hadn't seen home in two days, started three gigs, and finished one. I was on the clock for 36 straight hours, and since they were three separate gigs, I received no overtime. I don't remember driving home, brushing my teeth, or waking up at 10 pm. I don't remember much at all only to occasionally check my pay stubs to make sure it happened.
Nic Lawton, 2nd Year MFA Student, Lighting Design
University of Virginia
I was contracted to perform tech ops and spotlight cue calling for a number of concerts with Johnny Cash and “the family” in the mid-70s for some Canadian concert dates. All was well, until we got to an eastern Ontario town, which can remain nameless. I made the classic error of assuming that the two followspot operators were experienced. I found out five minutes before show time (since there had been no tech rehearsal) that the two guys slated to man the Super Troupers had never even seen one, let alone laid their hands on a carbon-arc lamp system. Needless to say, it is impossible to talk someone through a change of carbon trim (stop smirking you guys with xenon-only experience) on one of these behemoths if the person doesn't have a clue, let alone try to cue them for color changes and talent follow. I was forced to dash up the stairs to the catwalk and douse one to re-carbon it, just in time to fire it up as the other one burned through the last few mm of carbon rod. I had one helluva cardiovascular workout that night! The show was a success due to the incredible professionalism of Mr. Cash and his troupe. They didn't bat an eyelash and just kept on a-pickin' and a-grinnin'!
Al Soifer, freelance tech (retired)
When you work in a profession that is part art and part technology, there are plenty of ways to err, but if you haven't killed anyone, killed yourself, or blacked out the stage in the middle of the show, these become “learning experiences.” The one that sticks out in my mind…as a very young techie, running the followspot for a concert by the late Yemenite/Israeli singer Ofra Haza, I set up the followspot in what looked like the best place, first row center of the balcony! When I stood up for Ofra's opening number, I caught a sharp slap across the back of my skull. “Sit down, you idiot,” and other comments best not to repeat. I was in no position to start a fight with the entire audience on the balcony or to lose the gig, so I ran the whole show seated with my arms reaching up and around the scorching followspot. I never blocked the audience's view with another light or speaker after that.
Uri Rubinstein Lighting Design; Paris/Tel Aviv
I was the production manager for the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto. One evening, as part of one of our concert series, we were presenting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Everything went off without a hitch until the end of the show. As the group was not traveling until the following afternoon, they asked if they could leave their gear on the loading dock and load it the next day so that it did not sit in the truck and risk getting stolen. We placed their gear on one side of the dock and the rented gear for the show on the other. Somehow, when they loaded up their gear the next day, they accidentally loaded the microphone trunk from the rental company. Off went about $17,000 of rented mikes to Indiana. The hard part was getting them back. Somehow customs just didn't understand. “What do you mean they left the country accidentally?”
Charles R. Kaiser, technical director
Newmarket Theatre; Ontario, Canada
The worst mistake I ever made was moving a group of African Drums from the front right of the stage to the back middle of the stage 45 minutes before a concert, without checking with the music director. At the beginning of the concert, the drums were put back at the front right, messing up the sound and lighting — the mikes were set up at the back, and the lighting cues were for the center back.
Kris Jongenotter, sound technician
African Children's Choir; Vancouver, BC
On my first tour many years ago, we were touring a mid-sized theatre rig with three trusses, 12 High End Systems Intellabeams, and a couple of Leprecon dimmer racks. The problem occurred because I made the mistake of trusting the local electrician when the local power grid measured 130V: “lots of people use it — no problem.” Well, against my better judgment, we powered up…mostly. The fuses all popped in the Intellabeams and the MOVs blew in the DMX converters, effectively eliminating the console. Fortunately, nothing really fried, but I enjoyed running my first show with nothing but PAR cans and test switches on the Leprecons, which took it all in stride.
John Stamets, President
JV Production Group, Inc.; Lancaster, OH
The worst mistake I ever made was as concert production manager for Paramount's Kings Dominion. On day two of a three-day concert festival, a band (The Newsboys) requested tanks of CO2. They insisted that they were necessary for the show and that they would pay for them when they arrived at the venue on concert day. I obtained the tanks, with permission from safety and security but did not mention it to the rest of the park's operational staff. Come concert day, I discovered that I had made two major mistakes. First, I never asked what the CO2 was for (as I didn't want to appear inexperienced, which I was). At the end of the band's set, they fired off enough tissue paper confetti to blanket a 7,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, much to the dismay of the ecology crew, who would spend the next three hours trying to clean it up. Did I mention that we'd had torrential rainstorms that day? On day three of the festival, during a rather dramatic moment in another band's set, a big gust of wind blew another 30lbs. of confetti off the top of the lighting truss, where it had come to rest the night before (the audience thought it was planned). Ecology got to clean up confetti a second night. I felt terrible, as I could've avoided the entire incident if I'd just asked what the gas was for and explained that we had a “no confetti” policy. The second mistake: believing that I would be paid back.
Shannon K. Baily, former production manager
Kingswood Amphitheater; Doswell, VA