Saturday, December 27, 2008

From Limelight To Plasma

The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

Check this out. Imagine a lamp for a moving light or follow spot that is smaller than a dime, uses half the power of the current lamp, burns with the brilliance of the sun and gets its power from radio waves. Luxim has introduced a solid state plasma light source that is the step away from LEDs. LIFI™ light sources use a solid-state device to generate RF (radio frequency) energy to power a plasma light source while LEDs use the solid state device itself. The plasma lamp also has a life of thousands of hours. There go work calls.

LEDs Magazine has an article here and PLSN has an article here .

Luxim has a video here and Cnet has a video here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Little IATSE History

One faces the future with one's past. Pearl S. Buck

A friend recently lent me his copy of the IATSE convention minutes from the beginning in 1893 to 1926 and I've found them to be great reading. It started when he was telling me about the Clearers Local #390 and Calcium and Electro-Calcium Light Local #35 in NYC. I had never heard of them so I decided to do a little research. The things you find out!

It seems that there were Property Men and assistants but the rest of the work of setting props and decorating were done by "clearers'. This was a separate Local and the men were not considered to be as skilled as mechanics, flymen, carpenters or electricians. It wasn't until 1920 that these separate Locals were "amalgamated" into
Local One.

I knew that the Alliance was originally called the National Alliance (NATSE) but had heard the name was changed because it rhymed with Nazi. Turns out that this little item was planted by some Hollywood press agent in the 1940's. Actually it was changed because, among other reasons, Canadian locals were included in the Alliance. That was done at the convention meeting at Emerald Hall in Norfolk, Va in July of 1902.

Items from various minutes.
July, 1895 Resolution passed that offers support to Eugene V. Debs and his brothers in Woodstock jail.
Resolution offered by Local 5 Cincinnatti to do away with counterweights and sandbags. Rejected as interfering with local laws to much.

July 1896 Rates for Traveling Men
Master Machinist $35
Asst Machinist and Flymen $25
Extra Men $20
Property Men $25
Asst Propertymen $20
Electrician $25

In 1903, Local 4 in Brooklyn requested that the rates charged in Brooklyn were to be as follows:
Master Machinist $30 week
Asst. Machinist $20 week
Traveling Company $20 Week
Property Man and assistant $35 Week
Stage and Fly Hands (extra hours and broken time) .65 hour
Electrician or Gas-man $21 Week
Stage Carpenters Per Day $3.50
Stagehands Per Day $2.50
Stagehands and Flymen per performance $1.50
Sunday, Nights, Holidays Double Time

1905, IATSE locals collect $1695 for San Francisco earthquake relief.

In 1914 Quebec outlawed sandbags and counterweights being used over "the heads of actors, machinists or other persons on the stage." What we call "arbors" were required.

May 1917 Road Scale Rates:(Pink Contract)
Master Machinist $45 week
Asst. Machinist $40 week
Flyman $35
Extramen $35
Propertymen $40
Asst. Propertymen $35

January, 1919, Local 4 requests amalgamation with Local One.
May, 1919 IATSE Executive Board rejects the Local 4 request for amalgamation.

May 1920, President Shay reports that during the Actors Equity Association strike, IATSE supported the union with an assessment of $1 per member. It was the support of all members of the Alliance that helped AEA win the strike.
Electrician $40 Week
Assst Electrician $35 Week
Moving Picture Machine Operator $45

1917 $45
2008 Adjusted for inflation $759.73

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying

I came across this while watching an AFTRA video about the Employee Free Choice Act and the Chicago NBC/Telemundo organizing effort. I'm sure that when NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NYT, Chicago Tribune, NY Post and all the rest report Rod Blagojevich's indictment they've have forgotten about his support for organizing within the entertainment industry.

Oh wait, here's another one.

I'm sure messing with the Bank of America didn't have anything to do with it either.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Talkin' 'bout My Generation

Got into a conversation with another stagehand about personal influences (as opposed to being under the influence which is another frequent topic of conversation) and went online to reference some book titles I vaguely recalled. This lead me back to times and places when I was growing up and the speeches I’ve heard. Obama is such an inspiring speaker and, as such, a terrific actor. I hear echoes of other speeches that were electrifing calls to action. Henry V Act III Once more unto the breach. John Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address still has the power to move. Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath”, “where ever there’s a guy getting beat up by a cop, I’ll be there” was a quieter, low-key speech but still stirring. I got to thinking about some of the speeches that formed my generation and me. Not to sound like a Billy Joel song but there were some moving calls to action during our terrible times of turmoil.

I can vaguely recall John Kennedy’s inauguration and a little better the muted Requiem Mass. Everyone’s seen the stirring cadences of Dr. King and the I Have A Dream speech in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. A few years later was an angry Mario Savio calling for resistance instead of pacifism on Sproul Hall steps in Berkeley.

Nobody has tried to levitate the Pentagon lately though it thoroughly deserves it. As chronicled in Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night, the speeches from the 1967 March on the Pentagon were filled with anger, impudence and denouncement.

In my opinion the finest speeches I ever heard is Mario Cuomo's 1984 Convention Speech. Watch it again because it could almost be used intact, today.

Good oration is good theatre. It can stir a soul to do amazing things, move people in profound ways. I look forward to the next four years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On The Bounce

The business is slow right now and there is a lot of fear out there. As workers we’ve been inculcated with fear about our jobs, our future and our status in life since the Reagan administration. The middle class life we knew has moved further and further out of our reach. Rightly or wrongly we measure our self worth by the kind of work we do and when there isn’t any work, we’re diminished.
One of the odd things about this business is working on the bounce. There is a sizable population of our business who work as per-diems or daily hires. Technicians who by design or circumstance live a life determined by the ebb and flow of work calls, holidays, special events, swinging into a show track, one-offs or hotel jobs. Split shifts, back to back to back calls, clockers and short notice calls are all part of the career. Depending on what is going on in you home life will determine how quickly you take any call that comes along. A stagehand with kids and a mortgage isn’t going to get much sleep.
How one copes with financial insecurity often determines the part of this business one goes into. Stagehands sometimes get a basic, full-time job and never venture out of the venue into the rest of the jurisdiction. Others don’t have the skills or the contacts that allow them to get these jobs offered to them in the first place. Still others seem to have the job skills but lack the social skills to stay in one place for very long. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The hardest part is managing cash flow. After enough time in the business you learn that a steady job often means you can keep a smaller cushion since money is coming in on a steady basis. When your bouncing around, however, you keep a larger cushion because the checks arrive when they arrive. When doing a hotel job you know not to count on the check at the end of the call, the end of the week or even at the end of the month. Corporate jobs often tend to be slow since the payroll has to get invoiced, passed through the production company that hired you, then sent to the client, processed through their invoicing system and checks are then cut. Weeks can pass and sometimes enough time passes that a check comes in the mail that you had forgotten about. Sometimes you end up being fly-by-night operations creditors but the Local is pretty good about that sort of stuff. I’ve gotten ripped off a lot more often without a contract than with one.
It’s a balancing act keeping the bills paid, the calls filled and having a real life. Most of the time when things get out of balance it’s the real life that goes first. There’s no time for family issues or relationships or relaxation. You can’t really relax because every show closes, every job comes to an end and you have to find the next one. More work, a little sleep, another call across town and a quick meal. You get home to change clothes and grab some shuteye. And repeat.
I see fear in people’s eyes now. The cushion is getting smaller or perhaps has disappeared. The calls are fewer and after watching the news or reading their annuity statements, the prospects look grim. However fear is an emotion and not a fact. There is an ebb and flow to show business and to life and we need to keep that in mind. Watch out for people that are trying to play on your emotions, be they politicians, financers or commentators. The wealthy lose a bunch of paper money and it's a depression. Working folks lose their homes and it's a housing bubble. The multinationals that control the levers of power are jockeying for position with these bailouts and playing chicken with the financial system.

I have no idea where it will end up. I do know that we have more survival skills, street smarts. We had to have them in order to get by in the New World Order. Don’t buy what they’re selling. We’ll be alright if we stick together.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Ratings

I’ve been home ill the last few days and have too much time to think about the current financial crisis and my business as our little drama plays out. Not if the television networks will fail but rather the financial crisis as drama, how it’s presented.

Suppose your boss said to you if you want to keep your job you need to give up your pension and healthcare. What would your reaction be? You can choose to sustain the future or the present, not both. Presented with this Hobson’s choice, mine would be fear. And fear makes for good television.

What if this happens to a neighbor or close friend and confidant? You would be witness to and identify with a basic, existential conflict that you hope never happens to you. Put it on a stage and it’s called drama. Put it on television and it’s called news. You become a witness to an accident in HD.

Over the weekend a reporter corrected an anchor who had repeated the “fact” that the Saudi tanker captured by the Somali pirates was “three times longer than an the largest air craft carrier.” Someone had done some checking and found they were close to the same size. It sounded great, just amazing, but it only bore some semblance to reality. I have not heard this reference since.

“Legacy costs” are this week’s fact. We’re told over and over the damned unions are ruining the American economy with their greedy demands for creature comforts. “$2000 of the price of every Detroit car goes to legacy costs.” “The American economy will collapse if the automakers are allowed to fail.”

Like the story about the size of the tanker, these bromides are passed along with little or no examination by anchors and reporters. They ignore the multinational scope of GM and Ford or the bias of the speakers. One interviewee on CNBC (GE) went unchallenged when he said that this emergency will not pass until a chainsaw is taken to these union contracts (his metaphor, not mine).

I guess you need to be in a television studio or control room to understand just how mechanical the interview process is. A producer is whispering in the earpiece of the anchor who is watching a prompter and trying to ask the questions as a floor manager is pointing to cameras, the director is calling shots and rolling tape, and everybody is listening to the content with a third ear, as it were, for a sound bite they will use later. Which makes the accusation of a bias on network television news so laughable. They are putting on a show, filling hours with talk and there’s little or no time to filter or slant except towards the numbers of eyeballs. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Meltdown or Britney or Iraq or Anna Nicole, the song is sung over and over with only slightly different lyrics. Except for sweeps week when lurid sex is thrown in.

Here’s an interesting article about the Secrets of Talk Radio on how the process works in talk radio land. The medium is different but the end result is the same. Eyeballs, ears and asses in seats.

Television news is entertainment to fill up the space between commercials. And the more you watch, the less you know.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Opposing Viewpoints

Want to know what it's like to be in a television studio for a major news event? Imagine a whirlpool of corporate and political forces. Or black hole, that image will work also. For years and then months, weeks, days and hours, centrifugal forces built from a wide, gentle rotation to an intense tightening of spin. You reach the event horizon where there is not enough energy to reverse course. You're trapped. The spin builds to a point where either gravity tears you apart or you get sucked down and out the other side. You’re on the air.

One of the major drawbacks of being in this business is the distancing I feel from the audience and the illusion I help create. I know what goes into the making the images the public sees and doesn’t really see. I know what’s in the background and how it got there. Yet there are few viewers who really want to talk about camera angles, lighting and scenery. It’s like seeing the brushstrokes and not the painting. Knowing to much.

The election of Barack Obama may be a seminal point in US politics, a change I've wanted to see since the death of Robert Kennedy. However as the election campaign wound down to it's final days and there was electricity in the streets of NYC, I just wanted the damned thing over. There is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into the run up to these major media events that the public doesn't see, work that should go unaccredited, invisible and perfect. As someone who has been fortunate enough earn his living in a fascinating business, I've gotten accustomed to the long, intense hours leading up to going on the air or first curtain and the anticlimax of the applause. But like lawmaking and sausage making, to witness news making close up is to lose one's appetite for it.

The evening of the election, as I was getting teary eyed as the speeches were being made and the celebrations started, I also felt a little cheated. Exhausted to the point of apathy wasn’t where I really wanted to be at this moment in time.

And load out started in the morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thank A Socialist

Great post from Lostcheerio.

If you enjoy having weekends off, thank a socialist.
If you appreciate the eight-hour work day, thank a socialist.
If you approve of minimum wage, thank a socialist.

If you like living in a country where it's illegal to sell your child to a sweatshop for a dollar a week, you can be thankful that socialists, yes those are anti-capitalist, anti-free-market socialists, worked hard in the face of big business and government opposition to make that happen.

Do you like the fact that you don't have to step over sick homeless people on the way to your car? Do you feel thankful that hoards of starving orphans aren't begging you to carry your bag at the airport? Do you approve of the fact that elderly people don't have to die in the street if they run out of money?

At the very least this campaign has introduced some children to the topics of political science, economics, social science and history. Where did we come from, how did we get here? Good work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Plumbers Crack

I was going to post something in-depth and penetrating about class, plumbers and politicians but that Paul Krugman beat me to it in The Real Plumbers of Ohio in the New York Times. I hate when that happens.

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon made a remarkable marketing discovery. By exploiting America’s divisions — divisions over Vietnam, divisions over cultural change and, above all, racial divisions — he was able to reinvent the Republican brand. The party of plutocrats was repackaged as the party of the “silent majority,” the regular guys — white guys, it went without saying — who didn’t like the social changes taking place.

I had a conversation with a youngish ornamental ironworker today. With overtime, he was able to earn enough to stop paying into Social Security and take home an extra $100 to $200 a week. We agreed that in all likelihood, working people were going to continue to get screwed and the economy was going to hell. But we seem to be coming from opposite points of view. Despite these troubled times, he was studiously avoiding looking at how much he was losing in his annuity. I’m closer to retirement so I pay a bit closer attention to the haircut that I’m getting. He was upset because he had "nobody to vote for". New York wasn't going to vote for McCain so he wasn't going to vote at all. He also wanted to have Social Security privatized so he could do his own investing. Evidently doing his own investing by not paying attention to his investments. I think he'd be chum in Wall Street waters.

I see a connection between what Krugman is saying and the guy I talked to today. We have work to do with our union brother and sisters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Screw You

Joe The Plumber? Screw you.

What do you know about working people? You were a Navy brat and went into the government for your retirement. You've never had a real job in your life.
Screw you and your seven homes, more or less.
Screw you and "the Middle class is $2 Million a year."
Screw you and you snarky put downs of "community organizers."
Screw you for crossing a picket line to appear on "Leno."
Screw you for "Islamo-fascism" and 100 years of war.
Screw you for calling me a "fundamental." The rich are waging class warfare on us and the economy sucks.

In the words of Chris Rock,
"The choice isn't Republican or Democrat. The choice is you got a guy that's worth $150 million with 12 houses against a guy who's worth a million dollars with one house. The guy with one house really cares about losing a house, because he is homeless. The other guy can lose five houses and still got a bunch of houses. Does this make any sense? Am I the only one that sees this… I'm just saying, John McCain could lose half his houses… And sleep well."

Screw You

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stagehand of Babylon

A couple of folks with to much time on their hands have asked me why I’ve stopped posting. I’ve been blessed with a schedule that has been filled with a lot of work. Those of you in the business know what “busy” means in terms of time constraints. If you don’t, ask you family.

I think many of us like to think that we primarily make our living in the arts or at least on the periphery of it. But even in New York City it sometimes difficult to survive on just a diet of culture. As we get further and further from the hot sun of the fine arts, away from the nourishing atmosphere of Broadway we’ll work in the cold outer planets of “television” and “industrial.” Even these can be satisfying when the technological gee-whiz factor is high enough. A lot of product rollouts and events have a lot of bright, new shiny toys.

So where am I? Out in the cold outer reaches of our universe, there is a distant planet called “Cable.” It can support life but it’s a hardscrabble existence. Orbiting that planet is a lifeless, gray moon called the “Business News Channel“.

Business News Channel is inhabited by a race of people called “Clients”. It’s a soul-sucking place where the end result of a stagehand’s labor is to help tell the rest of the Universe about the importance of the “Market”. The Market and the Clients don’t produce anything. They do, however, talk a lot about how important they are and why they are the “Masters Of The Universe.”

Their main religion is a philosophy called the “Tao”; I believe it’s spelled. A great deal of attention is paid to the daily and even hourly moods of their god. Often you will hear it brightly said, “The Tao was up today” or solemnly “the Tao closed down today”. "The Tao went for a walk on Wall Street."

Space is often warped on Business News Channel. Regularly in the workplace, small groups of Clients will arrive, blink quickly and announce, ”It looks bigger/smaller than I thought it would.” For me, it looks exactly the size it was drawn to be on the blueprints but for the Client there seems to be a problem with perception on many levels. Sometimes color is a major problem. “It’s bluer/darker/flatter than I thought it would be” as if the sample of the color they were shown is not the same color as the one that appeared on the set.

The distortion in perception is not limited to scenery. Their measure of success in life is marked by the acquisition of things. They also seem to believe that a Bank is more important a Bakery. That Commerce is more important than Community. They put Profits before People.

There’s more, so much more and yet so very little. There will come a time when I’ll get off this little moon. As the saying goes, “when the money runs out, so do we”. The Client can hire my body for a couple of hours or days but the money always runs out and that’s my ticket back to sunshine.

Where have I been? I prefer to think about where I’m going, thank you very much.

And so it goes.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I had the opportunity to work the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium and I was again struck by unique skill sets required of stagehands that not many workers have. We take the known and create the new. And if it is done correctly, after the audience, the music, the applause and the bows, we make it disappear. After everything is swept and clean, the idiot check performed and the ghost light put out, we leave no evidence of our presence except the memory. Other trades build for permanence; we build to create a figment of a feeling.

Major league baseball understands this illusion. If you’ve been to a ball game in high school or even played beer league softball, the dimensions of the field are the same, more or less. What changes in a major league park is the scale. The immenseness of the stands creates a feeling of being dwarfed and changes the 90 feet between the bases to multiples of that. Television shots can create an intimacy with the players at home that is missing at the park much like the difference in theatre and film. Being on the field helps to understand the similarities.

Like a theatre there is certain sanctity about the place. The diamond and the outfield grass were as protected by the grounds crew and the security force as if it were a brand new auditorium and these were brand new seats. "Don't put anything on the seats" was changed into "don't walk on the grass". They may be different venues but it’s the exact same reaction.

Then there was a transformation. The fabled "House that Ruth Built" became something much more familiar. It stopped being a baseball cathedral and became a stage for a mass. It was going to be religious rite on a grand scale but also entertainment. Meaning no disrespect to the rituals involved or the faith of the participants but this was the start of a process we, as stagehands, knew intimately, creating entertainment out of a bare stage. Musical, concert, drama, religious ceremony, political event, business meeting, all require the same elements to achieve the same goal, to convey a message using presence.

Part of that transformation was a change in scale. During the day the trusses soared against the blue sky and at night the white ceiling glowed translucent. Although the stage was of a standard size commonly found in outdoor events, the upper decks of the Stadium that surrounded the stage provided an unusual point of reference. There developed an illusion of the stage/altar growing larger and the Stadium shrinking.

Then, as with any ballgame, show, event or religious rite, it was over. Silence settled over the familiar blue and green space as the last off the mats were pulled up and the forklifts backed up the runway. So lightly did the Pope thread on Yankee Stadium that there could have been a ballgame that night.

I wonder if the Yankee grounds crew has a ghost light.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Continuing Education

Due to a combination of work schedule and a lack of motivation, I've not been posting. Call it spring fever, laziness, whatever.

I came across this link to a SFX workshop that I thought looked promising.


The six-hour class will cover a wide spectrum of effects including uses of SFX in a variety of mediums from performing arts to print to TV and film. The first section of the class will cover Designing Special Effects: based on hundreds of images and drawings from 35 years of special effects design, Gregory Meeh will comment on and discuss the techniques and applications used to realize the needs of many types of productions, from the Off Broadway originations of Broadway hits to major Las Vegas hotel venues to fashion shows, auto shows, and daytime television.

Demonstrations and discussions will follow about the tools used to create the following effects: confetti and snow, water effects, atmospherics, wind, firearms, flames, and pyrotechnics. Each technical section will include experienced J&M technicians expert in the area and will include examples of functioning equipment as well as applicable safety information.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Vanishing Points

Funny how one's perspective changes as one sees more of life. Being a child of the sixties, I've often felt that, as in the words of Samuel Johnson, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Not the real patriotism of the warrior fighting to protect our liberties, the outcast striving for social change, the one who works for the greatest good for the greatest number or the statesman but rather the false patriotism of the politician, the promoter of causes that only they profit from, the bigot, the zealot and to many other to name. Spare me the loud ones who seek to divide and conquer and inflict their views on me as being the only right one and all others are wrong. The flag wavers who have contributed little to life except to take. There are many countries, religions or organizations that have flags, both real and metaphorical, so don't assume I'm speaking solely of the flag of the United States. I'm referring more to scoundrels.

I was doing a job lately that was only bore a vague resemblance to one that might be considered properly prepared, the type we all have suffered through and indeed, at times, profited from. In this case, the US flag was on a staff USR. I was in a bucket 25" in the air which always allows one a different point of view on things. In the turmoil the flag got knocked to the deck. Not a big deal. But then the knocker proceeded to step back and forth, from US to CS and back, over the staff and flag. Now the staff had one of those tips you would find on a pike, rather pointed and was right at knee height, a physical danger. I had two reactions. A.) How the knocker could be so self absorbed as to continually step over an obstruction that he had created and B.) "That’s an American freaking flag you're stepping on, asshole." I didn't know the knocker and can presume no malicious intent. What struck me was my reaction to the scene. I was honked someone was walking on the flag.

How in deeply ingrained are reactions. People have fought for, suffered and died for the ideas represented by that piece of cloth. Call it the Boy Scout training in how to treat the flag but I get annoyed at buildings that fly the flag at night without lighting it or leaving it exposed so long it turns black and tattered. Burning that piece of cloth as a statement of protest is something that I don't have a problem with because, to me, that is less a piece of desecration than a affirmation of those freedoms embodied by it, a price for having freedom of speech. It's a desecration to ignore it or to abuse it. Don't dishonor it by letting it get ruined by inaction or because you're lazy or too stupid have an awareness of your own actions.

Isn’t life funny? I’m an old hippy getting annoyed with someone for stepping on the flag. Aristide Briand, a Prime Minister of France is reputed to have said, “a man who isn't a socialist at 20 has no heart, and a man who is a socialist at 40 has no head." Times change and because I don’t have a choice, so do I.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Roosting Chickens

Finally politicians are being called for getting the support of religious bigots and extremist wing-nuts. As well they should, No candidate for President, Senate or the House should be allowed to let others spout hatred on their behalf without having to answer for their supporters views or disallow or refute or reject that support. However they want to phrase it. And we're talking about both Presidential candidates. The corporate media is also being taken to task for allowing their bias to show. Obama and Farrakhan? Small potatoes.

In a Salon column, Glenn Greenwald calls on McCain to reject the support of certain neo-conservative, radical evangelicals.


Thus, white evangelical Ministers are free to advocate American wars based on Biblical mandates, rant hatefully against Islam, and argue that natural disasters occur because God hates gay people. They are still fit for good company, an important and cherished part of our mainstream American political system. The entire GOP establishment is permitted actively to lavish them with praise and court their support without the slightest backlash or controversy. Both George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent formal greetings to the 2006 gathering of Hagee's group.

By contrast, black Muslim ministers like Farrakhan, or even black Christian ministers like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are held with deep suspicion, even contempt. McCain is free to hug and praise the Rev. Hagees of the world, but Obama is required to prove over and over and over and over that he does not share the more extreme views of black Ministers.

How come Tim Russert -- in all the times he sits and chats with Lieberman, McCain and various high Bush officials -- never reads all of the inflammatory, disgusting, crazed "Rapture-is-Coming/ All-Jews-will-Burn/ Kill-All-Muslims/ Hurricanes-are-Punishment-against-Gays" pronouncements from John Hagee and James Dobson and Pat Robertson and demand that John McCain and George Bush and Joe Lieberman "denounce" those views and "reject" their support? What's the difference, exactly?


Good read. Check out the follow-ups. Including the interview with Bill Donohue of the Catholic League (no flamer,he) about the religious intolerance of some of McCains supporters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Sneak peak at the new Yankee stadium. Sorry about the annoying ads at the start.

LOHud Yankee Report

Some folks are asking what was wrong with the old stadium? Lets put it this way. Imagine you've got a choice of working a show in an older Broadway house. The FOH is gorgeous but backstage is fairly outdated and small. You spend your free time in the plenum and your coat is hanging up in the hallway. The bathrooms are nasty and the walk up to dressing rooms or follow spot positions is heart attack inducing.

Then you've got an opportunity to work at the Met. FOH is beautiful, just like a Broadway house. But backstage is a different story. Big stage, loading doors, elevators onstage and off, shop areas, lounges, a space designed for theatrical production in mind.

Where would you rather work?

Also a blog by Phil Hughes

Monday, February 25, 2008

Just Living Is Not Enough...

One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. Hans Christian Anderson

One of the advantages of a little down time (hopefully very little) is finding out what’s up on daytime television. A little goes a long way. Jerry, Steve and Maury seem to have some pretty good gigs, all indoor work and no heavy lifting involved. Brow beating the helpless, hopeless and harebrained is always good fun. The shows help grown men to keep in touch with their inner adolescent and make a living at it.

One of the bright spots is Versus , the old Outdoor Life Network. It’s a guy thing. Not owned by a sports team, the channel takes a broader approach to it’s programming. Hockey, cycling and college basketball are the main team sports features. It’s here you can watch the Tour de France and other bike races in the US and abroad. There is also programming about things like hunting, fishing, wildlife management and maintenance of hunting plots and fishing areas. Catch and release is the standard in the fishing shows but be warned about the hunting shows. They don’t hesitate to show large animals being taken by gunfire or arrows and looked at as trophies. If seeing that bothers you then the watch something else.

Two of the best of the hunting shows are Escape To The Wild and Life In The Open . The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is a group that is working to keep wild areas and government properties open to the hunter and fishermen, promotes responsible energy development and wildlife habitat management. They also have a program that is called the Union Sportsman Alliance , a dues-based, hunting and fishing club of the TRCP and its partner unions, designed exclusively for union members and their families that hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors. Polls revealed that 70% of all union members hunt and fish and do not belong to any formal conservation or outdoor organization. I consider NRA to be an industry trade group for the promotion and sale of firearms and ammunition and not concerned with conservation. Promoting safe marksmanship is important but the mission of TRCP and the NRA are different. You can shoot on a range but you can only hunt in the wild.

While most of the work that TRCP is doing is based on the West and Midwest, there is a show City Limits has a professional fisherman trying to catch the legal limit of fish within major US cities, including NYC, DC and Chicago.

The Nature Conservancy reports that outdoor activities like camping and hiking are declining in a shift away from nature-based recreation. They lay the blame on people spending more time in front of their televisions and computers. I suspect that the decline is based less on indoor recreational activities than the loss of free time and vacations for working families trying to maintain what they have. But that discussion is for another day.

We may be the cultural capital of the world but we also have terrific outdoor things to do. The Appalachian Trail can be gotten to by the Metro-North at Pauling or the Day Line can take you to Bear Mountain. Oceans, rivers and the National Parks surround us. Teach your child to hunt and fish the proper way and they’ll respect nature for the rest of their lives. Spend the night away in a sleeping bag deep in the woods, looking at the stars and you’ll live longer, better. Get out of the theatre, studio or shop and enjoy life. Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at the office.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Arts? Who Needs Them?

Lindsey Dreyer, over at her My Dance Space has done a favor for lot of us in the theatre community by posting the Presidential Candidates positions on funding for the arts. I've written before about Mike (The Evolutionary Revolutionary) Huckabee and his position on increased arts funding. He sees the arts and arts education as a way to teach children how to communicate ideas in digital society. However he's had a limited impact on the arts in the national scene. The other candidates have had the opportunity to actually vote on the subject. Congress approved a FY 2009 budget request for The National Endowment for the Arts to $160 million. Bush proposed a cut in the budget from the present $144 million to $128 million. Bear in mind that in 1992 the NEA budget was $176 million.

from her blog:

Barack Obama:
-Supports increasing funding for the NEA from $125 million to $175 million annually
-Wants to expand both public and private partnerships between schools and arts organizations
-Supports the creation of an "Artists Corp" to work in low-income communities
-Promotes cultural diplomacy (send performance artists abroad)
-Welcomes international artists into the US
-Wants to provide health care to artists and their family members
-Supports ensuring tax fairness for artists
-As Senator, co-sponsored and passed legislation to honor the legacy of Katherine Dunham
-Supports the Artists-Museum Partnership Act, which allows artists to deduct the fair market value of their work when making charitable contributions

Hillary Clinton:
-Supports the NEA's mission and increasing Federal funding for the NEA
-Wants to reform No Child Left Behind to strengthen funding for arts education in public schools
-Believes in international cultural exchange as a form of diplomacy
-Supporter of Public Broadcasting
-Created the Finger Lakes Trading Cooperative, an initiative that links local businesses with artisans in upstate NY
-Helped to develop affordable living/work space for artists in Buffalo
-Entered a statement to the Senate Congressional Record in support of creative arts therapies
-As First Lady, was the honorary chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities

John McCain:
-In 1999, voted NO on funding for the National Endowment of the Arts
-Does not support abolishing the NEA
-Voted in favor of the Helms Amendment to withdraw Federal funding grants to art considered "obscene"
-An honorary member of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, 1997-present
-2007, proposed a bill to protect Indian arts and crafts

Marching Backwards Into The Future

Thanks to Theatreforte I've come across a new blog with a terrific idea. Lucas Kretch, a lighting designer here in NYC, posts a weekly round up of news about renewable energy and energy efficiency called Solar Sunday. One link will take you to an article about new solar panels that collects infrared energy and another takes you to an article about an all electric car for short hops thats called the ZENN. Like the feel of that old flashlight you've had forever? Want to keep it forever? Try an LED replacement lamp from LEDtronics that will stretch battery life to 92 hours, 15 to 20 times longer than regular bulb. The lamp will last for 50,000 hours. It's a retirement lamp.

Thanks Lucas. There is so much going on that is often pretty hard to keep up with all the changes. It's good to have it collected in one place. Theatre is such an energy and resource expensive art form. Sets are built an then thrown out. Lighting uses enormous amounts of electricity. As theatre professionals, we should take more control over the use, reuse and efficient use of the resources we have. Producers will complain about the operating costs of running a show but not think twice about having all new wings and platforms built while the show down the street is throwing the same away. I recently heard of a scene shop that threw out a large amount of stock scenery because the cost of the storage space was so high. There is the Set Recycling Hotline that does some terrific work but like many resources in the arts, it is woefully underfunded.

He also has some terrific pieces on art, aesthetics, lighting, theatre and politics.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

When Will McCain Lose It?

Finally there's some real red meat in this election. The question won't be black or white, male or female, old politic or new. Thats all the cerebral crap that fills MSNBC airtime and sells commercials on Fox. That's the polite nattering of talking heads. No way you were going to be able to keep peoples interest in this election between now and November. Not over issues like health care, snore. Even the war is being watered down. There needs to be an appeal to the lizard brain. And now we have it.

The question that will hold us on the edge of our seats will not if but when, in what form, where, with whom? Will we see it on Youtube or read about it thirdhand? Will it be this generation's Hunter Thompson vision of Election 2008 or repressed by the best handlers in the business with all the powers of censorship that they control? What am I talking about? When will McCain lose it? When will he go "Jerry Springer"? Will it be a grainy camera phone clip of he and Ann Coulter going nose to adams apple with spittle flying over the value of torture and patriotism? Or McCain storming into Rush Limbaugh's studio and bitch slapping him into submission on the air? Or will be more of a "Macaca" moment, unexpectedly lapsing into country club speak in front of a hidden camera saying what he really thinks of Mexicans. How base will his appeal to the base be? How much grovel is in him before he starts swinging blindly?

This is worth staying tuned for. This is going to be good television. You read it here first.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

That's Real White Of You

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the one voice of hope in a political campaign is a trial lawyer.

Now that John Edwards is gone, if you're poor, working class, a single parent, live in the wrong area of the country or just can't get a break, as far as this presidential election cycle goes, you're probably SOOL. While speaking kindly of him in tonight's debate, don't expect either of the Dems to really do much for the lower two thirds. The National Journal got some headlines and page views today with a headline that claimed that Obama was the most "liberal" Senator in 2007, ahead of Clinton. But it also noted "Of the 267 measures on which both senators cast votes in 2007, the two differed on only 10."

40% of the population of New Orleans lived in poverty during Bush years. Or rather, most of the Bush years, preflood that is before they drown or had to flee for their lives. But in the 8 years of the Bill Clinton presidency, 40% of the population of New Orleans also lived in poverty. Rhodes scholar, maybe, friend of the working man, I don't think so. That giant sucking sound of jobs heading south still can be heard. There has been less a war on poverty than a war on the poor.

Here are two different web sites that graphically display what is happening in this country.

The first is from a site called Social Explorer . This map displays poverty levels in the US according to the US Census in 2000. Go to the pull down menu on the top right and toggle the 2000 census. Then go to the middle menu and go to the Poverty.

Now compare it to this map from Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

Where are the fallen heroes coming from? Poor areas in post industrial US. Towns and cities that saw their jobs and industries shipped off to where labor was cheap, laws where easy and profits for multinationals are high. Men and women who would have had good union jobs now see their only way into the middle class is to risk their lives in the military in exchange for an education. It’s called an economic draft. This is not to say that they are not patriotic and don't believe in what they are doing. Their fathers and mothers taught them to believe in the American dream. It is a dream most parents were able to realize by working overtime. That option isn't available for many in places like the small towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, upstate New York or any of the other states that comprise the Rust Belt. Those factories are now polluting the Yangtze. The rapidly truncated Appalachians never really shook their poverty despite the efforts in the 60's. There are parts of South Dakota and John McCain's Arizona that skirt third world status.

There will be lip service to the lower two thirds tonight but neither candidates will really be speaking to the working and the poor. They'll be talking to the contributors. Again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WWED (What Would Euripides Do?)

I've always been a technology buff. The formative influences in my youth were the polio vaccine, the Mercury Seven, pictures from Mars and deep-sea submarines. I can recall watching open-heart surgery on local television. It was shown late at night so as to avoid disturbing the squeamish but the image of a surgeon holding a beating, human heart in his hand will always stay with me. Good theatre should have a similar gee-whiz factor, either in production, performance or at best, a combination of the two.

While theatrical plotlines remain essentially the same (seven-count em, seven), science, engineering and the audience drive the technological advances in the theatre. Moving lights can produce millions of colors, hydraulics can move tons with ease and high tensile steels and alloys allow for scenery and cables of incredible strength. But the audience doesn't want to see a show about moving lights or scenery or flying people. It still boils down to telling a captivating story. And that human element can still trump technology.

A case in point is automated follow spots. They've been trying for years to find a way to allow an automated moving light to replace a human spot operator. Cheaper and flashier, theoretically you could put twenty spots on a single performer. Its been tried with rock and roll and more recently on a Broadway show. There are two major problems. Lag time and head fakes. Currently a performer carries tracking device that the unit tries to follow. The problem is processing time. Even in milliseconds, the time it takes for a signal to get from performer to processor to the motors is long enough to create a visible lag or jerkiness in the moving head. If you try to preprogram moving head for a point to point cross following an actor, well, unexpected things happen in live theatre. Even the fastest computer processing power will not react faster to a head fake or the suddenly reblocking of a scene than an stagehand who can decide, on the fly, to open the iris and follow the changes as best they can until the regular blocking is restored. Try that with software.

In the first Darpa Grand Challenge in 2004 the furthest an autonomous vehicle got was 7 miles out of the 150-mile course. In the 2007 Urban Challenge, this clip shows how unmanned technology mixed with human traffic . It did pretty well for the most part. For the most part. However imagine being the robot car being a piece of automation and the actors name is Taurus. Ford Taurus. The bugs for follow spots will be worked out.

One potential answer for follow spots may lie in joining facial recognition software in a unit such as High End Systems DL.2 with its built in camera and infrared sensors. By eliminating the need receive a signal from a homing device and introducing the process directly into the software, you may cut down on the lag time. Which could make automated follow spots a reality.

Do I want to hang on to carbon arc follow spots for the sake of job preservation? I would if, with their heat and foul odors, a carbon arc would put fannies in seats. If not, give the people what they want and give me a healthier work environment. Bring on the next deus ex machina. Since the Greeks, it’s always been about spectacle and the story. Why change now?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

You design, we decide.

In my mind, the set I've just loaded-in is representative of the disconnect between the so-called information society and the rest of us. Framed out of tubular steel, it produces the illusion of being very slender while still being very strong. It's also been designed with a CAD program that is a marvel of functionality. It allows for 3D views, cut lists,cost estimates and multiple color combinations that the client can approve of without every leaving their office. It is also usually "drafted" by someone who is much more familiar with a hard drive than a drill press, with the language of software than the language of truck drivers. And when the lack of familiarity with the shop process collides with the computer process, it's the language of truck drivers that is heard the loudest when bolts holes don't line up. When the inexperienced doesn't account for the build up of welds when making joints, things can get loud and profane. It's the workman’s skill that makes the real the symmetry of the beautiful drawing on the dirty, sagging floor of the studio.

In my mind this typifies what is going on in much of the business and political world today. There are business school graduates running businesses who have never even watched people unloading the trucks in the business they're running and would never consider unloading one themselves. To them, a repetitive stress injury is an abstraction that only affects the cost of the health plan and not the reality of not being able to play with the kids after work because of the pain. Because of their income levels, politicians can relate in a real sense to tax brackets but only in an abstract sense to poverty levels because they have never felt the stinging isolation of being poor. Designers with MFA's who are breaking into the entertainment industry by doing computer drafting work aren't going to be able to relate to the shop carpenters or stagehands that are going to work the multiple 16 hour days it will take to build or load in the beautiful drawings.

To complain to the boss will result in some flippant remark about “that if I don’t like it here etc, etc”. At this point I know that his kid’s tuition has been paid for, his greens fees have been paid for and that he thinks that he’s probably immune to being fired. For the new designer, one can only hope that he or she acquires his or her skill without someone getting hurt because of the hacks required to make the illusion real.

As for politicians, I have a new rule of thumb. The candidate who has a net worth that is closest to mine will have my vote. I’ve had enough of Ivy League millionaires trying to tell me that I have to live my life according to their standards which they can apply to themselves at their discretion, meaning if they don’t get caught, it’s okay. The operatives of the two major parties seem to have less and less in common with the people they govern and are not working at improving the lives of the governed. They are skilled at fund raising from major donors, improving the tax code for the said donors and getting the government off “our” backs. By getting the government off our backs they really mean that corporations can have free run over the environment, workers, communities, our retirement system, our military, our health care, our education and then pit us against each other for their cynical ends. Here’s a radical idea. Lets bring the government back. Big badass government. A government that will take tax cheats to court, sues polluters, protects workers, gives us the health care we require, the retirement we’ve earned, the education our children really require and allows all of us to live in peace and prosperity. In the words of Lincoln, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Memento Mori

The Humble Nailbanger has an interesting post about tools and tears. We have a little different take on things so I thought that I would share mine.

While I can admit to a strong attachment to a Bluegrass Blue and Gray 22oz framing hammer that I acquired in Nashville 30 years ago, knives, not so much. I've always found a simple utility knife suitable for me. Cheap enough to be lost or stolen and having with a quick supply of sharp blades. The most dangerous tool in your toolbox is a dull knife. Working in a studio presents a variety of tasks that requires one to be able to go from cutting carpet one minute to slicing foamcore the next so a utility knife works for me. A tool is to be worked with and reflect the same kind of toil that the owner suffers. It develops character.

What I can't relate to is the family aspects of work. I didn't have that kind of relationship with my father. He was neither a carpenter nor electrician. He did not work with his hands. I'm not sure where I got my mechanical ability but it wasn't from him. He had no interest to find out how things worked while it fascinated me. He would drive around all summer with the heat on in the car because he couldn't figure out the controls. On the other hand at the age of 10 I took apart a window frame to find out why it was jamming. After figuring out that the sash cord that held the counterweight was broken, I replaced the cord and closed up the frame. Window worked like new.

I inherited a lot of things from my father, some good, some bad. Using the muscle between my ears was a trait I acquired from both of my parents and I am very grateful for that. Once, towards the end of his life and towards the start of the middle of mine, we were discussing my work in New York. He wistfully said to me that I had always done what I wanted to do, anyway. Not in a reproachful way but rather with a faint echo of envy. I escaped the closeness of a small town with its legacy of settlers and charted my own course. He honored tradition while I had no desire to hang lace curtains in my home. When he passed I feel like he pulled a truck load of regrets into the grave with him. And I suspect I'll probably do the much the same.

There’s a poem by Anthony Cronin that I enjoy quite a bit,

“For A Father”.

With the exact length and pace of his father’s stride
The son walks,
Echo’s and intonations of his father’s speech
Are heard when he talks.

Once when the table was tall and the chair a wood
He absorbed his father’s smile
And carefully copied the way that he stood.

He grew into exile slowly
With pride and remorse,
In some way better than his begetters,
In others worse.

And now having chosen, with strangers,
Half glad of his choice
He smiles with his father’s hesitant smile
And speaks with his voice.

Next time I get home I'll make a "cemetery run" and say hello.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

If It's In The Paper It Must Be True

In a Variety article, polls showing that the vast majority of Hollywood professionals feel that the WGA strike is losing cause.

"The town's opinions have budged a bit since the November survey on the question of whether the WGA's decision to go on strike was a "tactical mistake."

Among all respondents, 57% said no while 35% said yes -- not much different than the divide in November (57%-31%). WGA respondents are holding fast, with only 16% agreeing that going on strike was a tactical miscue.

But among DGA respondents, 42% now agree it was a tactical mistake, compared with 34% in November. Doubts among SAG members are also rising, with 25% agreeing that the strike was a tactical mistake, compared with 15% in November. Half of IATSE members are convinced the work stoppage was a tactical error, inching up to 50% from 47% in the November survey."

A lot of figures and percentages are thrown around as proof that the WGA strike is failing and creating a lot of hostility among other entertainment unions. According to Variety, half of all IATSE members are convinced that the dispute is a tactical error. Well, sorta. You see only 616 Variety subscribers responded and of that 616, 7% were IATSE members. So 3 1/2% of all the respondents who also happen to be IATSE members and subscribers thought that the strike was a "tactical mistake". And how many real people are we talking about? 7% of 616 is 44. So half of that is 3.5% or 22 people. Which means that in an industry consisting of hundreds of thousands of people Variety makes a statement that there is a large percentage of opinion against the strike and represents that "half of all IATSE members" are against it. The opinions of 22 PEOPLE now pass as consensus! Looked at another way, with it's circulation estimated at 31,000, Variety is making that statement based on the opinions of 0.07% of it's readership.

I'm not in the middle of the fight but from the outside, thats worse than sloppy, thats disingenuous. That's Corporate Media posing as a free press.