Did you ever fight a battle for truth?
The gear began to land on the stage at 9:20 am. A platform stage five feet high received almost 4000 lbs. of aluminum and glass in the form of three trusses with bulbs and wiring. The hot breath of the forklift punctuated the morning drill: cases weighing 75-600 lbs. slamming down the truck ramp and running in the tunnel to the back of the stage. In all, there were about 40 people working in the building, from tour management to catering. The most action was taking place on the deck.
All of the motor and rigging cases were up. The Columbus-McKinnon chain hoists weigh 109 lbs. each, not including chains. Pairs of people were lifting them out of their boxes and laying them on the deck amid the steel wire rope of the rigging. More cases were being forked up on the upstage edge of the deck; wooden "wire boxes" containing multi cables for the trusses, spotlights to be mounted on the mid truss, and I-Beam cases.
As the last of the cases came off the truck, Duck joined us in the room, beginning to work his downstage truss out in the house. Rob was arranging the dimming gear around the beach. I was up on the deck placing the five aluminum sections which make up the midstage truss.
I had four stagehands working with me, and we were rocking right along. I was able to direct cogently (on four hours sleep after a 19 hour day in Houston), and the hands were doing everything just right. It wasn't very long before we were in the stand-around mode; waiting for rigging points to fall on my truss.
The roof steel in the Lakefront Arena at the University of New Orleans is reasonably dense. The beams are not very far apart and bridles, when necessary, are short and easy for the riggers to haul up on lines. However, there was some figuring to do. So, we stood around and made my truss as ready to fly as possible before the motors were hung.
By 10:00 am, the stage-left motor was in. I showed it some power and made it secure to the truss. By the time I had loaded it to the point of take off, the middle motor was almost ready to go. However, there was a question of the hang under discussion.
The stage floor had been marked for center along a seam in the decking. This is not unusual. I had lined up my truss on this line, taking it for center as determined by our rigger, Bernie.
When the up-riggers were ready to put the center motor in, they called down to tell us that they couldn't hit the mark on the floor because of the catwalk which runs down the centerline of the room. The center motor would have to go to one side or another. This is what got me involved in the rig.
I couldn't tolerate the center motor falling on the point that they wanted it to, because it would impede the operation of the spotlight right next to it. I looked up and around, trying to see a point that would be a good compromise. Something didn't look right to me.
I stood on the centerline that Bernie had marked for us and looked up. I was standing directly under the stage left edge of the center catwalk.
I moved under the center of the catwalk. I looked directly overhead, then let my gaze fall vertically; down the back wall and onto the stage. When my eyes got to my truss, I saw that in placing the center of my truss on the line that Bernie marked, I had actually placed it two feet left of the center line of the room.
To stand out front and look at a blown center line can be a quietly tortuous affair. No matter how precisely you shoot your focus, the asymmetry of the look won't leave you in peace. It haunts you; no matter how well the show is going...no matter how much fun every one else is having, every new look you throw is wrong. On the best nights, your eye is always wistful. On the worst, you might begin to drink.
Directing a show with a blown center line is like riding 100 miles on a flat tire.
I moved my truss to the real center. When I did, the stage left motor chain fell two feet off the end of the truss. I called Bernie over and said, "Hey man, look at this."
"Look at what?" He had a really defensive look in his eye, and I thought, "Oh, man...here we go..."
He already had the two points for the upstage truss in. This meant that, if I was right, those points would have to be moved, as well as my left one. The riggers would have to move upstage and change the points. This is something that riggers generally don't like to do. High steel rigging is difficult and dangerous work. They don't like to waste time and effort. They like to have things done correctly the first time. For Bernie to direct them to change the points that were already in, would be an admission of a goof right in front of everybody. This can be humiliating far out of proportion to the extent of the problem: riggers can be awfully hard on a ground goof.
I pointed to the left motor chain, which missed my truss completely. I wanted him to see it for himself. I wasn't going to say, "Hey Bernie! Look what you did!" I expected him to understand after a couple of glances at the right things, and then cop to it.
I couldn't believe it when he said, "Oh, yeah...Well, when they put the stage in last night, they built it off center."
"Okay...", I'm thinking to myself, "So what?" I just looked at him silently.
Seeing that I wasn't going to go away, he said, "You see, the stage itself is off center." By now, everything had stopped on the deck, and everybody was listening to us.
I ran down the implications of his statement in my head. If the stage really was off center, then it was a simple correction to adjust the hang two feet stage-right, and put the show on center in the room. To hell with the stage. Our wing space wasn't that critical, and we had plenty of room to dance. If he knew that the stage had been built off center, then was I to understand that he was deliberately going to hang the show two feet left?
"So, Bernie, what are you telling me? Are you going to hang the show off center in the room?"
His tone became patronizing, in the manner of someone speaking to a child who doesn't understand a simple concept. However, he said the very same thing, with a condescending emphasis and a "get a load of him" glance at a nearby stagehand. "Man, I'm telling you that the stage itself is off center...When they built it, they built it two feet stage-left."
By now, people were becoming impatient with me. I was holding up the rig. Things were not getting done. There was some murmuring about, "What was he partying on last night?"
It was a major effort of patience for me to keep cool and go over the whole thing once more, complete with illustrations of the left motor fall line missing the truss, and pointers to the overhead catwalk.
People started laughing. Bernie dismissed me with a shrug: "Man, I don't have time for this."
He was going to go right ahead and hang the show wrong.
What was my point? Why did I bother?
This is only a 6 week tour. Before we ever left the shop, I had given this a lot of thought. The Divas were on their first headline effort with their own production. I had concluded that every one of these shows was going to be something very special to them and the people who came to see them. As I described in my rehearsal notes, this show is a series of special moments, each one unique. I had decided that it was worthwhile for me to make every effort that I could make in order to preserve the fullest impact of this show, in all of its moments. There had already been days out here when my best effort was nothing particularly stellar. However, they had been full of my best at the moment. Taken in context, I (and we) still carried a big league average.
In any case, I was watching this disaster unfold, and there was still something I could do about it. I was not about to let those points fly off center.
I jumped down off the deck, and found Duck.
"Come here," I said. "I need you to check me on something."
We went up on deck. Bernie ignored us as we looked around. I think Duck saw it right away. However, he grabbed a tape measure and started measuring the stage against the center line, which was painted on the concrete floor. I went back up on deck and stood around, fretting. I felt like I was going down for the third time.
It was 10 minutes later that Bill Reeves appeared on deck and asked, "What's the problem here?"
Bernie: "I don't have a problem. Mr. Beck here has a problem with the way points are falling."
I rendered my view of the matter.
It was just at that point that Duck came up to us with his conclusion: the stage had been built on center, and Bernie had goofed when he called the center on a seam in the decking. He took Bill and taped the stage again. There was no question, I had been right and Bernie was wrong.
When I first brought the point up to Bernie, I wanted him to see it and make the first move to correct it. I didn't want it to be a controversy. All he had to do was to take command of the situation. Instead, he fought me. He got blustery and defensive when he didn't have a leg to stand on. The scene attracted the attention of management, and really got in the way of a successful uprig. The consequences for his status on the tour were not good.
I didn't care about any of this: all I wanted was my shit to be hung on center.
Now, Duck tells me that there is serious consideration of letting me rig the show. I would be charged with the exclusive responsibility of hanging the show.
I don't think it will happen. We are too late in the tour for a move like that.
It doesn't matter to me, one way or another. I'll watch Bernie every day. I don't care if people think it contentious or not: I am not about to let him hang us off center.
We've worked too hard on this thing to put up with that.
October 4, 1992
New Orleans, Louisiana
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