BACK IN 1995, I FOUND MYSELF on the road again, running the lights on an Eagles reunion tour. It was a prestigious, well-paying gig. We worked three weeks on, two weeks off for over two years. But as great as this sounds, it created a big problem for me.
When you commit to one act for a long time, your friends will stop calling you with gig offers because they assume you are never available. And they are correct. Bands that you lit on their last tour will find someone else to fill your shoes. Plus at the end of a long tour (if you work freelance), you have to go through the usual process of calling and emailing all your old workmates and letting them know you're available for work.
I remember chatting with Jon Lobel, a longtime lighting guy who was out visiting one day. I moaned about how I needed to cover myself on other gigs and how bummed I was at the thought of someone else running lights for so and so because I was committed to this tour for another year. After putting me in my place (i.e., reminding me of the line of guys who would love my problem), he told me the solution: “Clone yourself.” He was serious.
While I didn't necessarily need a partner in my career, I definitely could use a smaller version of me to fill in on gigs when I could not physically be there. For years, I'd had friends cover gigs for me, but that inevitably meant that I was handing the gig over to them, usually for life. Of course I didn't have an immediate solution at the time, but over the next year I kept thinking about what Lobel had said.
As I've gone through my career, I've always had time to teach other lighting guys everything I know. I was a damn good crew chief in the old days. I would try and convey the proper way (as well as reason) certain things were done a certain way. I feel the same way about programming lighting consoles. I like to teach everybody everything. One of the reasons is that once I've taught someone something, I don't have to do it anymore.
In 1996 I found myself on another world tour. One of the techs was on his first tour: a 19-year-old rookie named Jason Bullock. Jason was in charge of keeping a bunch of Martin PAL fixtures working. This required a lot of hanging upside down from a truss while replacing parts on these huge moving mirrored fixtures. I'll never forget watching this kid drop a screw from the truss, then calmly rappel down, grab the microscopic screw, run up the truss ladder and continue his work, never griping once.
I was running a new console, the Wholehog 2, on this tour. Everyone was intimidated by this new-fangled console at the time. No one on the lighting crew could operate it when I got out there. So every time one of the 200 fixtures needed to be reset, I had to walk out to the console and deal with it. That lasted one day. I took Jason under my wing and every day I showed him something new. Within a week he was focusing all the lights every day and programming for opening acts.
The following year I went out with a new band called 311. I made Jason my FOH person to do all the daily updating of focus positions and cues. This left me some time to keep up with my drawing and keep in contact with other clients. All I had to do was run the show for a couple of hours a night. The next year Jason became their LD. Since then, either Jason, myself, or A.J. Pen (we'll get to him) has run every 311 show.
Over the years, Jason has learned to excel at drawing artwork. He was instrumental to me when we first started figuring out new programs such as WYSIWYG many years ago. Being young and a computer nerd, he would grasp new programs then turn around and teach them to me. I was getting something back. And I had my first clone. To this day, Jason and I still gig together when we can. He's moved on to become a brilliant LD in his own right, but still covers gigs for me.
After Jason, I met another young man named A.J. Pen from Toronto. A.J. was already a good programmer and on his way to becoming an LD in his own right. He just needed some connections. And I needed a gifted button pusher. When I found myself double booked or needed to bail on a gig, I called A.J. He programmed TLC and Faith Hill tours when I had to abandon the rehearsals abruptly. When Roy Bennett needed someone who could deal with the likes of Marilyn Manson on tour, I suggested A.J. He stepped up to the plate and ran a great show. Since then, A.J. has networked into the biz quite well, last seen behind the desk with his own design for Avril Lavigne.
He may be quite busy these days, but I know he's always available when I call him.
On occasion, I teach console and drawing classes for an organization called the Show Training Network. They travel to cities and teach young students, seasoned IATSE veterans, and university professors. Two years ago I taught classes in Chicago, where I happen to live. One of my students was a guy named Chris Tousey. In a class of ten students, he stood out. He grasped everything I taught immediately. After three days of classes, he came up and started asking me questions about other consoles and the WYSIWYG program.
I told him that if he wanted to learn some stuff, he was welcome to meet me at Upstaging Lighting (a major Chicago lighting vendor) and I would give him a tour of their visualization studio and teach him WYSIWYG. He'd be investing his own time, and that showed me a quality I recognized in myself all those years ago. And I could see a new clone coming.
I do a lot of artistic drawing. Often I do it for Upstaging Lighting's various clients and projects. When they need something from me, it's usually pretty urgent. It made sense for them to have a full-time guy who could draw anything, anytime and not be away on a job site as well. Chris filled that bill and soon was working there full-time. He was in charge of keeping all the various consoles and drawing programs up and working. In between all that drawing and downloading, he was constantly programming shows for me and anyone else who wandered into the Upstaging studio.
Due to his family's inability to adapt to frozen Chicago winters, he recently moved south to work from a warmer climate. He has started his own network of people to work with and is slowly filling up his schedule with a plethora of gigs. He's still covering gigs for me, but he is on his way to becoming a gifted LD in his own right.
I think this cloning thing has worked well for me and it was good advice. Maybe one of these guys will hire me for a gig one day.
Nook is a 20-year veteran of the concert touring industry. He divides his time between teaching lighting and designing lighting for concert and corporate events.