To: Willie Williams <willieworld.com>
Subject: Life after lighting
Dear Mr. Williams,
I am hoping you will be able to offer some advice as to what positions are available after one is through with touring and wants to work closer to home? I'm surfing on the Internet for jobs for a friend who has toured for many years, but all I can find are jobs in relation to replacing light bulbs or selling lights. I wonder if there is life after lighting design. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thank you, Norah
Ah…getting a proper job — that old chestnut.
For almost as long as touring has existed, this has been the subject of countless discussions in the back lounges of buses and in pubs between tours — grown adults making deluded claims, often during particularly hideous load-outs in the pouring rain, that “this will be my last tour.” The delightful irony is that, after every show, punters will crowd the mix position to ask, “How can I get job on the road?” Later that same evening, touring techs will be asking each other, “How can I get a job off the road?”
Noble escape attempts are continuously made. We have witnessed tearful farewells at a tour's end, as a good friend and colleague retires from the road, only to be followed by diplomatic greetings (or merciless slagging off) as the same colleague reappears at production rehearsals a year or two later.
It must be possible to get off the road permanently, right? Let's look at some practical options.
Death: Shuffling off this mortal coil and ascending to the great after show party in the sky would seem like a pretty sure bet. Mind you, the legendary Chooch McGee still has his road box on tour with the Rolling Stones, despite having passed away during production rehearsals in 2002.
Get a Job in the Lighting Company Office: I believe there have been some successful attempts at this, though, frankly, my first suggestion seems like a more attractive option.
Make Domestic Life Attractive Enough to Stay at Home: This is a popular plan. To a young roadie living out of a friend's squalid apartment, the “deprivations” of life on the road must seem more like luxury. The strategy, then, is to raise the level of domestic attractiveness to increase competition. This usually plays out through the approach of getting married, taking out a huge mortgage, and having a baby. Naturally, this is expensive and requires a sizeable income — probably the kind of income only legally achievable through touring, so back to the road you'll go (just for a little while, of course), with fingers crossed that house, spouse, and child will still be there when you get back.
Work in Theatre: This is often suggested for career continuity combined with a stable home life. I recently had a go at this myself. I was sleeping in my own bed every night, but being inside a darkened theatre from 10am to midnight every day for three months took the edge off the domestic bliss. At least on the road, there is the occasional real day off or travel days when you can enjoy the dizzying combination of consciousness and natural light. And, of course, theatre doesn't pay as well.
Go into Television: I can see that this might seem like an attractive plan for anyone who has never actually set foot in a TV studio. Let's just say that the adrenaline level might be a little lower than the average road hound is used to.
Design Shows, But Don't Tour Them: Now, this seems like a winner because you can design more than one show at once, whereas with touring, you can only do one job at a time. And we're sure this is an advantage, yes? The non-touring, home-based designer can now experience the “freedom” of meeting with one high maintenance client before rushing to meet with another client about a different project that must be conceived and drawn up at the same time. Imagine, too, the “advantage” of going through the usual high-level stress of rehearsals. Instead of watching it develop night after night on tour, you dive straight into another period of high stress production rehearsals with some other act…and then another…and then another.
Perhaps, we should look at this from a different perspective. Certainly, the level of personal and domestic chaos caused by touring is immeasurable. However, this does not necessarily mean it is an entirely bad thing, particularly if you disregard the assumption that the suburban lifestyle in the Western world is a model of healthy normality. Recent research unveils the possibility that touring is only undesirable for those not willing to embrace the concepts of working hard, seeing the world, spending quality time with extraordinary people, making a lot of money in a short time, then taking lengthy vacations to exotic locations. You're also an integral part of something that provides the public with some really significant and meaningful moments.
Yes, it's tricky; yes, it's tough. The road is not a job; it's a relationship that competes mercilessly with all others. As a wise friend and colleague of mine put it, “The road is a jealous bitch.” Treat it with respect, or it can mess you up, royally. Attempted desertion is a crime the road may not appreciate, but you never know. With sufficient negotiation, anything may be achievable.
Good luck out there,
P.S. Allow me the indulgence of finishing with a quote from Jack Kerouac:
And there we were. Our battered suitcases piled
on the sidewalk once more.
But no matter, the Road is Life.