EASTER WEEK 1972 – Oh yeah. Cybill Shepard, panties and bra, bring in the body-double. Wrap filming for the week.
I was looking ahead to a no-work Saturday and a nice call Sunday afternoon.
The phone rang about five on my, up until then, lazy Holy Saturday. I knew it was for me. It was. The Local’s Business Agent.
‘I know you’re off the movie job today Need you. There’s a show at the Guthrie tonight. Acme Dance. They need another hand for one of the numbers. Easy gig. You’ll just working the one bit and then you can leave.’
‘Acme Dance! I suppose I’ll have to dress up in a Wile E. Coyote costume and drop an anvil from the center cove.’
“Whatever,’ the BA growled. ‘See someone called Sally. She’s the show manager. She’ll tell you what to do. Wear tennis shoes. You got to do some running.
‘Oh, have a Happy Easter tomorrow.’
In those days you never turned a call down from the B.A. unless it was a real emergency. It was too easy for him to lose your phone number for the next job.
I broke the news to my wife, who wasn’t surprised. Then I looked in the paper to see exactly what I would be working. It was modern dance out of New York, The Acme Dance starring Jaimie Cunningham. Never heard of it.
When I got backstage I asked Old Martin, the union man working the deck on the show, to show me Sally. He pointed out a man wearing a plaid flannel shirt, loose jeans, work shoes, and a baseball cap on backwards. Sally, probably short for Salvatore.
I introduced myself and when Sally turned around, I had to think twice. From the front, he was a she. She took the fancy carved briar pipe from her mouth before she talked. She had a raspy voice with a thick New York accent. She looked more like an extra in ON THE WATERFRONT than the manager of a dance company.
We went down in the underworld under the stage. She gave me two flashlights and showed me how to hold them, one in each hand, one hand on top of the other. The top hand grasping the thumb of the bottom hand so both flashlights would move at the same time.
‘One of your lights is going to hit Jaimie’s sunglasses. The other one on his crouch. You’ll be laying on the top acting step. Jamie will be the center of the three dancers on stage. The other two will be picked up by a boy dancer laying on your right, a girl dancer on your left. The flashlights will be the only front light. Miniature follow spots. It’s the first number after intermission. you’ll enter from the audience right vomatorium. You’ll get your cue to go to the step from the dancers entering with you in the blackout.
‘Sounds a lot harder than it really is. I think the old stagehand could have done okay with the flashlights but he just couldn’t run on and off. Too slow.
‘You got a lot of time to practice working the flashlight bit. The other two spotters will be down when it is ready to get into place at the mouth of the vom.’
She re-lit her pipe and left. She was the company manager, stage manager, tech manager, sound person, lighting designer and cue caller. Probably drove the van and got to sleep in the warehouse studio back in New York. In the world of dance, especially modern dance, the participants have to love what they are doing because the work is hard and the pay is small. Bet she smoked a pipe because pipe tobacco, like a can of Prince Albert, cost less than tailor-made cigarettes and was less work than roll-your-own smokes.
I had the flashlight bit down before intermission was over. I went into the darkness of the vom and waited. The two dancers, wearing robes and red cowboy boots, came behind me and the gal repeated what I had to do. The houselights and stage preset blacked out. I heard two ‘Go’s’ and I took off running. Saw the glow tape center mark and flopped on the stage, got my flashlights in position. I heard the two dancers lay on the step, one on each side of me.
Music came over the speakers, it was Nancy Sinatra’s big hit, THESE BOOTS ARE WALKING. Back lights came on and there were three dancers. I hit the middle one, Jaime, with my two lights like I had been told, sunglasses and crotch. He was wearing a kid’s cowboy hat, a kid’s two holstered cap guns, and red boots. Oh, and the sunglasses, aviator style. And that’s all. No tights, not even a dance belt. The other two dancers, one male, one female, had the same costumes on – or off, depending how you looked at it.
The three on stage didn’t do much dance movement except stomping their boots on the stage, in rhythm to Nancy’s singing about ‘And one of these days these boots are going to walk all over you!’
I flicked my eyes to my two companions and saw a lot of skin. A lot of skin! I came to the conclusion that I was the only one in this bit that was wearing clothes.
The song ended. The stage went dark. I heard ‘Black Out’. I shut off my flashlights and took off running down the vom. I heard my fellow spot ops run on stage. I darn near tripped over the two dancers’ robes. The audience applauded and applauded. But there was no bow lights. Instead, after a long period of darkness, quick change I thought, music came over the speakers, an instrumental western swing tune and the stage lights popped on.
I knew I was in the dark of the tunnel and out of the audience’s line of vision so I turned around.
All five dancers were on stage. No mini-spots from the front this time, full- up front instruments. The original three dancers had discarded their sunglasses and toy gun sets. The two that had been with me had put on cowboy hats. Five dancers wearing nothing but kids’ hats and red boots! And doing a modern dance version of a western ho-down.
‘Swing your partners do- see- do.’
You can’t make things like that up and you can’t take naked dancers swinging their partners too long. I turned and went down the vom to the underworld.
Old Martin was backstage when I came up. He was smiling and shaking his head. ‘If the gals down at Augie’s On Hennepin undressed that deep, old Augie’d lose his license,’ the old-timer observed with a chuckle.’
‘Yup,’ I agreed.
We wished each other a Happy Easter, and I went home.
Easter was spent in our traditional way and I took a nap before I had to go to work. The Ice Follies were finishing their four weeks at the Met Arena. I was a packer on the Out. I got there when the show started. The road propman and other packer, a college student who worked occasionally for the Union, and myself got the two props standards, two huge box-crates where all the props were loaded on, down on the ice, upstage of the curtains. As the props came off, we broke them down and stored them according to the directions of the road man.
Easy work, but it took a bit of practice before my partner got the hang of walking on the ice. The knees of his jeans and the seat got wet in a hurry. His welcome to working the ice show.
When the end of the show was approaching the wardrobe personnel came down on the backstage ice pushing loaded costume racks. The chorus came off stage. Peggy Fleming went on for her final number.
The quick- change took place on the back ice. Men and women milling around, finding their dresser. No need to removed their skates. There was the ripping sound of separating velcro, that invention that had changed the world of wardrobe people.
Out of the one costume, down to boy’s dance belts and girl’s panties and bras, then into their Grand Finale costumes.
I continued with my prop work, making sure I didn’t get in the way of the skaters. My young partner, on the other hand, stood in one place fascinated by the precision of the change. Well, I guess the correct thing was that he was fascinated by all the panties and bras.
The music changed. The skaters went on ice. Peggy stood in the wing waiting for her entrance. But my young green partner remained where he had been all during the change. I had to holler at him to get back to work.
He had a silly grin on his face as he slip-slided over to me.
‘Is show business always like this? he asked me.
“No,’ I answered. ‘Sometimes it gets down right exciting. They tend to tone it down during the holy days.’
Yup! Four score plus Easters Seasons have passed through my life, but none like the one in 1972.