“Yo yo, bitches!”
The young man who uttered this phrase is from Teddington, not necessarily your most bitchin’ hood in Middlesex, yo. He’d been in the lighting department for a week and a half, and for the first week and a half he was reasonably sedate. Then suddenly, out of no where, it seemed that he discovered that not only would the department not bite, but that we barely even growled, and he came out of his shell.
“Yo bitches, how’s it hanging?”
The first time he said this, I smiled at the joke. The second time, I rolled my eyes at his debonair wit. By the time I realised that this was going to be how he both began and ended all conversations, I was beginning to get frankly worried. When you’re working a 13-hour day, six days a week, it’s hard to maintain a jovial composure all the time, and in the face of a continual cry of, “Yeah, I’m gonna go get me a bitchin’ bitch!” my usually temperate nature was coming under strain.
It’s the end of another epic fit-up. For two bitchin’ weeks, the lighting department has hauled, heaved and grumbled its way up and down ladders, over lighting bridges and down the sides of some truly epic bits of scenery, all in the name of…
… well, I probably shouldn’t say what it’s in the name of, but I can promise you that Shakespeare would be surprised to discover how much of his work could be interpreted as a farting joke. I was working as a lighting electrician in my favourite theatre, for my favourite lighting designer, and beginning to remember why I’d dreaded fit ups so much in the past. It’s not so much the heavy lifting, the dragging and the hauling… it’s the sheer amount of running up and down you have to do before you’re even in a position to do any of the lifting, dragging and hauling. In a big theatre, there is nothing more frustrating than dragging tools and equipment all the way to the furthest lighting gallery, only to realise that you’ve left the one vital screw you needed back down in the lighting cage, some four minutes of bleak backstage corridor away. There is no such thing as a ‘five minute job’ in this theatre… because first, there’s the ten minute walk before you get to begin the five minute job, and by day 10 of this, your feet really know it.
I am, I realise, not a very good technician. I mean – I’m okay, I think – but the simple truth of the matter is, I’m a far better lighting designer. I care about colours and angles, beam and form, texture and rigging points, but I can’t muster the same passion for plugs that some of my electrician colleagues can achieve on these occasions. What’s the difference between .75 cable and 1cm cable? About 0.25cm, from what I can tell, and there my enthusiasm for the subject ends. I can do the maths involved in current calculations, no worries, but at the end of the day my primary concern is ‘will it explode’ and the finer details of ‘is the cable run elegant?’ largely pass me by.
I’m also very bad at taking orders, it seems. Good at taking orders when they make sense to me, but a lot of the time when doing big, big shows, you find yourself being asked to do a job that seems to ridiculous, so futile, and so liable to failure that the overwhelming desire to turn round and say, ‘I’m sorry, you want what?’ does indeed, alas, become overwhelming. Ask me to Go Rig That Parcan and I’ll do it… send me up there in a safety harness four hours later in order to peel off a bit of electrical tape of find a lost pair of pliers – jobs which really could be done at a later time, when there’s not 30 actors on stage – and there’s every possibility that my insubordinate nature defeats my rather subordinate role.
But! All that said and done, working as a technician has its perks. For a start, I do genuinely think it expands my knowledge of Stuff I Can do as a lighting designer, and exposes me to the ways other people works, even if occasionally that exposure takes more of the form of a dire warning. Working in a large theatre, you also find yourself, quite by accident, acquiring a rather odd family. As a writer, and indeed a lighting designer, your life is largely freelance and can therefore run the risk of becoming a little lonely, unless you work very hard at getting out of the house some time. As a technician, you spend so much time begging metalwork from construction, working round the painters in scenic art, blagging clamps from rigging resources and fighting over the last pair of snips with the boys in the lighting cage (where all the ever-vanishing tools are kept) that you can’t help but make friends, and maybe even influence people. The sheer diversity of people you can meet always come as something of a surprise to me – surprising the unlikely friends, and surprising too the occasionally frustrating nits who you have to deal with – and it exposes to me a world of politics and wranglings, unfulfilled attractions and implausible relationships – which otherwise I’d have nothing to do with at all. So while I may not be pleased to be perpetually greeted with, “Yo bitch, you getting some?” when walking into the lighting cage, I am at least, interested.