I'm in a small nightclub working with one of the biggest rock bands of the 20th century. I've lost control of all lighting fixtures hanging over the stage. The only things that are responding are the fixtures on the deck and the audience package. All communications are down. We have no Clear-Com. We have no walkies. You can't talk on your cell phone because the music and audience are so loud that it's just a garbled mess. The only thing I can rely on is the technology of text messaging, the transcript of which I saved below (pardon the casual spelling):
Dierson 11:42pm SprintPCS: No everything on line A is dead. Check power supplies on Optos.
Tech#1 11:43pm Nextel: Opto power good. Tracing line A from Opto to first unit.
Tech#1 11:44pm: Lines are fine. Swapping A with B.
Dierson 11:44pm: Units freaking out! Swap back!!
Dierson 11:44pm: Don't do again w/o confirm from me!
Dierson 11:44pm: Line A and line B dead now!
Tech#1 11:46pm: Line B traced and OK 2. What next?
Dierson 11:46pm: Don't swap NEthing elese! Keep checking lines bk 2 desk.
Never would I have thought that text messaging would be helping us troubleshoot a massively failing lighting rig. I am also quickly learning that it is not the ideal communication technology for this type of situation, but at the moment, it is all we have.
Tech#2 11:55pm Nextel (phone call to Dierson): [Inaudible]
Dierson 11:55pm (via text): Give me a break w/the calls. What do u want?
Tech#2 11:57pm: Try swapping line A w/D & c what happens.
Dierson 11:57pm: Come 2 FOH 2B slapped! DON'T SWAP NETHING ELSE!
Dierson 12:05am: STROBES DEAD! GET ME BACK THE STROBES!
Dierson 12:06am: What happened to the Atomics. GET THEM BACK!
Tech#1 12:08am: Pulled Atomic lines on Opto to test. Back in now.
Dierson 12:08am: ATOMICS R GONE! GET THEM BACK!
Dierson 12:09am: ATOMICS FREAKING OUT!
Tech#1 12:11am: Swapped Atomic line with Univ. A 2 test. Back now.
Dierson 12:11am: ATOMICS WORSE THAN B4! KILL ATOMIC POWER NOW NOW NOW!!!
At this point in the show, the strobes are stuck in some random pattern from being plugged into the wrong DMX universe, and a bad looking show has gone to worse. It looked so great in rehearsal. Pity. The audience has no idea that anything has gone wrong, and the band couldn't care less. In fact, this band could easily perform with a mechanics bulb lamp swinging overhead, and it would be just fine. We're in a tiny little nightclub with a decent sized lighting rig that is here by accident. Nobody from the lighting vendor ever anticipated this temporarily installed lighting rig to be doing a rock act of this caliber. What we don't realize is that, between the time that we finished programming and left for dinner to the time that we came back for the start of the show, a backline tech inadvertently unplugged a 3-pin DMX cable on stage to tap something of his into it. When his equipment didn't work, he unplugged what he had done and put it back the way it was. A guitar effects peddle looks to be the culprit, but the voltage from it has fried the DMX line. Worse still is the fact that it has actually blown an already failing house lighting system cable run through the ceiling and fused the twisted pair together with some amount of stray voltage going through the line that the Optos haven't caught. It's a comedy of failures that has everyone scrambling the entire length of the band's set to try to rectify, and it's simply a lost cause. The spare DMX lines that were originally run for the project were used to add automated units on the deck just for this band because there was no time available to run extra lines.
We might even stand a chance if we could communicate properly but, alas, all that we have is the latest technology in cellular text messaging…and it sucks! This technology is slow to transmit across different cellular provider networks and often difficult to type out. Several crewmembers have QWERTY keyboards on their phones, so they're able to spit out messages faster than the ones that are fumbling around with triple-tapping a numeric keypad, but none of it can overcome the seemingly infinite delay of the cellular network. The whole process is a painful one. The Atomic strobes are finally turned off.
Dierson 12:15am: Lost the audience package. Put back what u did!
Tech#2 12:19am: Didn't touch NEthing!
Tech#2 12:21am: Stagehand unplugged opto. Should be back.
Dierson 12:21am: Audience still dead. Check lines @ opto.
Tech#1 12:25am: Opto checked - fine. Line was swapped to bad run and fried.
Dierson 12:25am: U TELLNG ME AUD PACKAGE COMPLETELY OUT???
Tech#1 12:28am: Yes. Line dead and run goes to ceiling ovr dancflr.
Tech#2 12:29am: Swap line C to new cable being run to you from audio desk spare run to test connection.
Dierson 12:29am: TOUCH NOTHING ELSE!! NO MORE TESTING! I'll be damned if I'm taken down by audio!!
Dierson 12:30am: Where's house LX for house lights Q???
Tech#2 12:33am: Backstage troubleshooting
Dierson 12:33am: House LX to houselght position 4 standby NOW!
Dierson 12:34am to House LX: Confirm STANDBY 4 house to full after [song name omitted].
Dierson 12:37am: CONFIRM STANDBY
House LX 12:39am Cingular: Standing by
Dierson 12:44am: GO 4 HOUSE UP @ END OF SONG. NO ENCORE!
It was meant to be such a fun night. We had a great show programmed in the desk. Spirits were high, and we were all obviously too confident with ourselves not to be overly concerned at the lack of good coms. In the end, the audience was thrilled, the photographers were thrilled, and the band was just so thrilled to be playing a small venue that it never even came up as an issue to us.
It was a solemn meeting after the show. I didn't have much to say. It was all clearly documented in the outboxes of our cell phones, and it read like the blackbox transcript of a flight going down in slow motion. According to the standards of everyone involved, technically, the show was considered a failure, regardless of how happy the audience was, and I was thankful to have a crew around me with such exacting standards, even when you know you're not going to overcome the odds. We had come to a screeching halt at the end of our journey, and we had the blisters on our thumbs to prove it. Lessons learned.