So, I’ve been given my next job at RADA for the glorious new term – Production Electrician, also known as Prod LX. Which is, lets face it, kinda cool, because I really, really like lights. I even have time for hazers when they’re not leaking. (There is nothing quite as icky as a leaky hazer. The stuff just gets everywhere and a small forest worth of kitchen roll has to die before you’re even close to cleaning it up. The smelly pink slime that is badly mixed artex has nothing on hazer fluid for sheer urgh value.)
Technically, I’ve had this job before – in the same venue and for the same lighting designer, who is above all else a decent bloke and very easy to work with. But I figure that it’s a nice warm up for another year of tougher things, and at least this time round, I vaguely know how to change the lamps on the SL profiles. However, what it will probably mean, is that the rate of blogging decreases, and so, in order to kinda fill some gaps yet to come, I figured I’ll summarise right here, right now what it is that’s keeping me from the keyboard.
Production Electrician is basically the lighting designer’s minion, although her (usually his, lets be honest here) duties also extend to anything in the building that has a current going through it. This can include hazers, scrollers, working lights, cue lights, practical lamps and, when called for, fridges, toasters and general electrical appliances. However, the main theme are on the lights in the rig. Most of a Prod LX’s time is spent doing maintenance; this can be an easy job of just a day spent cleaning lenses on some eighty or so newish lights, or it can be a hellish lifetime spent with hundreds and hundreds of ancient, creaking, warped and battered lamps, up to your armpits in that special thin grey dust that just loves to linger near electrical appliances. The two great technical theatre buzzwords, ‘health and safety’ are also supposed to be regular partners from a Prod LX’s lips, to lesser or greater effect.
Once the lighting designer delivers on what they want where, it’s the Prod LX’s job to see that it is indeed, there, rigged and working. Sometimes this is easy; a simple case of whacking up the right light in the right place and turning it on. Sometimes this is a nightmare job, involving miles and miles of cabling, endless connections and plugs and runs of DMX; and when it’s all run and you hit the ‘on’ switch, something won’t work and that’s it, fifty yards of cabling left to explore with a fault at some point in some part of it, who knows where? (Even as I write this I can hear the ghostly voice of our Head of Lighting explaining that this, children, is why maintenance is so important…)
If it all works then the Prod LX will help with the focusing of the lights, and occasionally with the plotting, if there isn’t a programmer on the board. Then when the show is up, the Prod LX’s job becomes one largely of fixing the stuff that breaks, as stuff eventually does. The cliche of the Prod LX is of a bloke, perhaps a tad overweight, perhaps not the most romantic type you’ve ever expected roses from, not always that beautifully shaved or fashionably dressed, who, when faced with a problem, talks back in a language almost incomprehensible to the human ear. When faced with the statement ‘why’s this not working’ the Prod LX will usually give one of three replies based on his/her level of enthusiasm.
1. ‘I don’t know, but I’ll have a look at it and find out.’ [A good answer that does what it says on the cover.]
2. ‘It’s fucked, innit.’ [A bad answer which, while it may occasionally be true, can also be code for ‘lets go down the pub’.]
3. ‘Well, mate, well, it’s gotta be a PSU problem, innit, ‘cos if you ain’t getting power down there then I mean you’re gonna have the trouble in the 4-pin ‘cos I can see the little green light on the unit but it’s not just getting through from the 13-Amp to the scrollers is it so you know we can order parts or maybe try re-plugging it somewhere else but like if its your PSU that’s a Stage Electrics job unless some wanker hit the panic switch and knocked out the hard power or if those bastards in sound switched it off but yeah, yeah, you know, could go either way, see?’ [An answer which essentially boils down to the syllable ‘um’, while maintaining as macho and techno-savvy an exterior as possible. This too usually lends itself to the follow-on statement of ‘lets go down the pub’.]
All that said, I’m still kinda learning the ropes on this one, and my opinion of Prod LXs so far is based on a very small sample and may yet change. I’ve met some very good people who are very good at what they do – then again, I’ve also met one or two people with such a physiological urge to drink tea at every available opportunity, its a miracle anything ever gets done. At the LSE, back in the day when I was accidentally put in charge of anything lighting-based owing to the fact that no one else had fully mastered the trick of forcing the lock into the lighting cupboard, my experience of techying was a very enjoyable one of ‘well… let’s push it somewhere and see what happens….’ a principal which, I gotta admit, has kinda been carried over into my training at RADA. After all, in this modern age of circuit breakers and PAT testing, what’s the worst that could really happen? Really…?