Friday, May 29, 2015

Like moving stuff in an attic

In the past I've compared hanging lights in a theater to moving stuff around in an old attic. It is cramped, dusty, and hot.

After four days of lighting hang I think I can improve on the analogy. Lighting instruments range from 20 pounds up, but as bad as the weight is that they are awkward. They are weird shapes that are hard to get a good hold on, have lots of parts (and sharp edges) that stick out, and have a nasty habit of unfolding or swiveling on you as you are trying to move them. Lighting cable is similar; it is remarkably heavy, stiff, long, and just slippery enough that when you have half of it where you want it it will suddenly slip down the other side of the pipe and yank at you with the weight of forty, fifty pounds in sudden free-fall.

So it is like trying to store bicycles in a dusty attic.

Lots of bicycles. More than will comfortably fit. So when you are trying to carry a bicycle up the ladder and stuff it into the hatch, there are already a bunch of bicycles in the way. And if you aren't careful some of the older ones start to slip and move on you as you are trying to wriggle your way through them.

And the ladder to the attic is thirty feet tall and rickety as hell and there are no handrails.

And the bicycles are hot to the touch; parts of them hot enough to burn you!

It is hard to explain just how the geometry conspires in a theater to make the work exhausting. The places where you can stick a ladder or even a manlift are afterthoughts to the primary purpose of having lights where they need to be to paint the stage picture. So in the vast majority of cases, it isn't like going up one of those bookcase ladders with the book you want in front of you and in comfortable reach of your arm. Instead you have to twist around on the ladder like a yoga exercise and stretch out as far as you can and then shove twenty to forty pounds of metal against rusty fasteners to get it in the right direction.

Your arms are all at bad angles for trying to apply leverage, the focus target is usually behind your head where you can barely see out of the corner of your eye if you twist around uncomfortably, your knees and elbows are in the way, and because your feet are still on the ladder your whole body is twisted around painfully. And all of this conspires against your strong desire to keep at least one foot on the ladder which is saving you from a potentially fatal fall. In practical terms, you often end up with only the friction of your forearm against a piece of gouged-up metal somewhere keeping your body from sliding off the top of the ladder, only your fingertips supporting the full weight of the lighting instrument, and your non-dominant hand turned the wrong way to try to jam a wrench into position to force a rusted, damaged fastener to where it will take the malevolently swiveling load off your fingers.

Repeat this over and over. In the dark. In sweltering heat. Covered in dust. With live wires that sometimes give you nasty shocks and of course the aforementioned bits that are hot enough to burn you in a fraction of a second (one of the gobos I took out last night was orange-hot; glowing so hot you could see the light it was casting projected on to the stage through the optics.

The base rate for lighting technicians in the Bay Area is $15 an hour. Some theaters still offer $10.

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