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.