Stagehands come in all shapes and sizes. They come from vastly different backgrounds and educations. Some specialize in one aspect, such as sound, lighting, building sets etc.. Some take pride in being jack-of-all stagehand trades. Some are content to push boxes, pull cable, work in trucks, etc.. Some try to learn as much as possible about the show or project they are working on. Others are content to concentrate only on what concerns them at the time.

            The last group puzzles me and very often gives me great amusement.


Joey B and I were on spotlights for a rock concert. The cue caller told Joey to swing over and pick up the bass.


“The bass player. Pick him up!”

“Look,” Joey, who was a second generation stagehand with over thirty years in the business, explained, “I know a piano and drums and a guitar. I don’t know nothing about basses.”

“Okay,” the called sighed, “Pick up the ‘black guitar’. Ah, forget it! His solo is over.”

From then on, he used me on the solos.


I was working a spotlight at Orchestra Hall for one of the Oldies group.(Four Lads, Four Freshman,?) Hollywood, another stagehand, was on the other spot. Dick N was backstage working the light board. Since the group didn’t bring a cue caller with them, they gave Dick a cue sheet and asked him to cue the spots. Instead of cueing them as they came, Dick just read all the cues to us before the show started.

For the most part, they were simply fade out at the end of the song. Count to three and come back up. They did have one special cue though. During a certain song, when the quartet hits the bridge, the spots were to switch the gels to red and then to switch back to white at the end of the bridge.

“Dick,” Hollywood asked, “Where’s the bridge?

“How do I know?” Dick answered. “You can see the stage. I can’t.”

“Well,” Hollywood said, “There’s  gap between the key’s platform and the drum platform. Do you think that’s what they call the bridge?”

“Sounds good enough for me,” Dick said.

I cracked up. Since my mic was off, neither Hollywood nor Dick could hear me laughing, but customers sitting in the seats in front of my lamp could. They turned around and glared at me. Luckily, I got control of myself before the show actually started. Between Hollywood and Dick, they had some sixty years in the business and had no idea a song had a bridge. Basically, it is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, – bridge – chorus again.

The song came. I counted the verse and chorus twice and went red. Hollywood looked over at me, gave me a dirty look, and stayed in white. Since the quartet never did go to the gap between the two platforms, he never did switch to the red gel.


The-Beach-Boys In fairness though, there are some cues given stagehands that make no sense. For instance, Jimmy R came in to run a spot for a show of the Beach Boys at the Guthrie. He wasn’t there for the In, or the sound check. It was that dormant period where the Beach Boys were no longer hit makers and had not yet been designated America‘s Band. Jimmy was too young to have been a fan.

Cue caller – ‘Spot 2, (Jimmy), stand by to pick up Carl.’

Jimmy – ‘Which one is Carl?’

Cue caller – ‘He’s the one that was wearing the cowboy hat at sound check.’


Of course, it’s not just some stagehands that have tunnel vision in doing their work, some actors operate in the same manner.

One of my favorite actors was Ollie C. He excelled in taking a small role in a play at the Guthrie, and getting all he could out of it. He never fluffed his lines; but he never bothered to read any of the play other than his own part. And I doubt if he ever read much of anything else, like books or newspapers.

For instance, he came bounding in to the rehearsal for BECKETT, in which he had a small part as usual. ‘Guess what!’ he said to the director, ‘Do you know Beckett was a real person?’ The director just smiled and thanked him for telling him that fact.

Ollie’s cameo in KING LEAR occurred in the early part of the play and then he left the theater, never bothering to stick around for the curtain calls. One matinee though, he came up in the lighting booth and sat in the chair next to my lighting board.

‘I never saw it through to the end,’ he explained. ‘You don’t mind if I watch it from here, do you?’

‘Of course not,’ I said. And then I wisecracked, ‘Spoiler alert! He dies.

At the end, Lear dies. Ollie jumps up and looks at me. ‘He does die!’ he shouts. For the life of me, I never thought that Ollie, with all his years in theater, had had no idea of what happens to Lear.


To get back to Dick N. Dick was a very funny person, only he didn’t know he was funny. He was such a nice guy that you didn’t want to laugh when he came out with some wild statement and hurt him.

For instance, Dick and I were sitting in the stagehands’ room and Terry, Orchestra Hall’s sound man, walked in. Dick asked where he had been for such a long time.

‘I was down in the smoking room,’ Terry said. ‘Had a cigarette and then played some Solitaire.’

‘Playing Solitaire – by yourself!’ Dick said.

Each summer, the Minnesota Orchestra holds a Sommerfest. This particular year the theme was Vienna’s music. An Austrian flag was hung on the stage right and left wall of the orchestra shell. In the second week of the festival a patron pointed out that the two Austrian flags were hanging wrong. The imperial eagle’s head was at the bottom of the body. Tim E. told Dick to rehang the flag the right way. He showed Dick a picture of how the flag should look, the same picture he showed Dick when he told him to hang the flags in the first place.

‘I don’t remember seeing any flags with eagles on them when we toured there last winter,’ Dick commented. The Orchestra had made a tour of Australia the previous January.

‘Dick,’ Tim explained. ‘We went to Australia. These are Austrian flags.’

‘I know,’ Dick snapped. ‘I still don’t remember any flags with eagles on them in Australia when we were there.’ Then he muttered, ‘Eagles! You think they’d have kangaroos on their flag. I seen plenty of them down there.’


         gorme_320x245The recent death of Eydie Gorme got me thinking about the stories in this post. I have always enjoyed her singing ever since I first saw her on The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen. 

        She came to Orchestra Hall for a benefit. Dick had gone down to the smoking room after we had the stage set up; and either he smoked a whole pack or he took an afternoon nap, because he was gone for quite a while. He looked out on stage, where Eydie was doing sound check, and then he marched into the stagehands’ room.

         “Where’s Eddy? What’s that woman doing out on the stage? Get her off! Tell Eddy to get out there and do his sound check! That goofing around and we’re going to miss our supper break.”

         Dick needed his supper break. When he was just an ordinary stagehand, his supper was always two or three whiskeys and waters. Since he got the steady job at the Hall, he got refinement. He switched to vodka martinis.

         “Dick! She is the main act.”

         “Where’s Eddy? He get sick?”

         “Her name is Edyie. She’s the main act. Look, Dick, go take your supper break. We’ll take care of things here. If she takes too long, we’ll send out for some food.”

         “Oh! Okay.” He changed his attitude and put on his jacket. “She doesn’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me. Probably short for Edna or something. I have a cousin we call Phil, short for Philomena.” He was almost out of the room when he stopped. “But my cousin looks like a Phil. That girl on the stage don’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me.”

         The show went well. The audience finally came in from drinking in the lobby and bidding on the silent auction. There was the usual speeches and awards that are always a part of a benefit. Finally, Edyie came on and sang like an angel. She was only on for about 45 minutes. The audience still had to go across to the Hilton and dine and dance.

         Edyie and Dick had spent a long time waiting for her to go on and sing. On the Out, Dick did nothing but talk about what a nice person ‘Eddy’ was. A real nice person!

         “We talked and she asked me what we did up here in the winter. So I told her how we go deer hunting and snowmobiling.”

         Dick was one of very few stagehands who ever went deer hunting. And his idea of snowmobiling was to transport his sled and ride on his favorite trail. It was his favorite trail because it was never more than a 15 minute ride to the next bar.

         Somehow I don’t think that Edyie was interested in either deer hunting or snowmobiling. And, if she sat there and listened to Dick going on and on about them, she must have been the ‘real nice person’ that Dick thought she was.

         “So, Dick,” I said, “Did you ask her if ‘Eddy’ was short for Edna?”

         He frowned at me. “Of course not,” he said belligerently. “You think I want to embarrass her?”      




James Brown @ Orchestra Hall

There is no argument that James Brown was a musician and musical entertainer of the highest echelon. And there is no argument that James Brown, as a deep thinker, was…Well, as a musician and musical entertainer he was hard to beat.

          He was a friend of presidents and senators. President Johnson declared him a role model for the youth of the day. LBJ was as far off base on James as he was on Viet Nam. He based his observations of Brown on the fact that James went from abject poverty to the top of the music business. And James was also a crusader for education and civil rights, and against drugs, alcohol, violence, racism.  And yet, drugs, alcohol, guns, violence and even stretches in prison were as much a part of his life as his music.

          His contradictions is best exemplified in his adoration of the racist hypocrite, Senator Strom Thurmond. He said that Thurmond was ‘like a grandfather to me’.


In spite of all the cons against James, he was the Godfather of Soul, a pioneer in funk, even rap. His concerts were extravagant productions unlike anything ever presented before. And it was his voice that thundered out of our fighting men’s boom boxes throughout the jungles of Viet Nam, giving them an important link to home.

And in spite of the fact, his best days were far behind him, and his current tour was little more that an ‘oldie but goodie’ tour, when I got a chance to work him at Orchestra Hall, I jumped at the chance.

No trucks with equipment and a large set. Just a bus with a small band. Far cry from the 40 to 50 performers that he traveled with during his peak years. Local sound and lights, a minimum set up –  took a little over an hour to set up. The bus and band showed up, but James was flying in later. They worked a gig in Chicago the night before. Jimmy, another stagehand, and I went into the bus to get the band’s uniforms. The bus smelled worse than a locker room. The uniforms were piled on a seat and some spilled onto the floor. They were soaking wet from perspiration that probably included more gigs than just the one the previous night. We went back and got gloves and a rolling launder hamper.

Come sound check, James hadn’t arrived yet. No big deal, the road manager did a good imitation of James. Half hour came, and no James yet. No big deal, it was almost two hours until James had to be on. Show time, and still no James. It was becoming a big deal. The front act went on a comfortable ten minutes late. They played their set, and still no James. It was now officially a Big Deal. When the front act came off after two encores, Larry the promoter, told them to go back on. They said they really didn’t have any more songs to do. Larry told them the audience wouldn’t know the difference. Most of them were out in the lobby drinking while the front act was on. They were quickly  booed off stage and the intermission  started. No James.

Intermission can only last so long. For one thing, the bars were out of beer to sell. For another, most of the audience were back in their seats. No James. There was a rumble of noise coming from the audience. Some foot stomping. No James. The road manager suggesting that the band go on and start playing. Larry nixed that idea. Audiences can get mean. An audience busted up Orchestra Hall a few years before during a David Bromberg concert. And another audience broke up the Guthrie about the same time, when the drummer for Curtis Mayfield failed to show, causing a long delay.

Larry did the right thing. He went on stage. Told the audience the truth. Told them they would wait another fifteen minutes before pulling the plug. At which time, the box office would begin to refund the ticket money. And they would have a two week window to get their money back.

Time was up and we began to tear down lights and sound. First though, we told the band that if they wanted to get out quick, they should take care of their own instruments and uniforms, because it would be quite a while before we got around to it. They took the hint.

About a half hour later, we heard a scream as only James Brown could scream. He bolted down the steps to stage level. He demanded to know what was going on. Larry, the promoter, told him in no certain terms and also that James could expect a lawsuit for costs.

James screamed. ‘An act of god! And this man is a CookCounty sheriff,’ he pointed to the big man who had followed him down the steps. ‘He’ll tell you! An act of God. You can’t push me around. He’s a CookCounty sheriff.’

The big guy’s face turned red. Larry pointed out in a very loud voice that this was a long ways from CookCounty, and if they didn’t leave they would be escorted out by a HennepinCounty sheriff. ‘Look,’ the big guy explained, ‘I’m not a sheriff. I’m a Illinois highway patrolman and I picked up some extra bucks as a bodyguard for James last night. He asked if I wanted to come with to Minneapolis. He’d pay. I had a couple days off, so I came along.’

‘Don’t matter what kind of cop he is,’ James screamed. ‘He’ll tell you it was an act of God we didn’t get here on time.’

‘What kind of act of God,’ Larry asked?

‘Well,’ James explained, ‘They told me the flight from Chicago to Minneapolis was twenty minutes. They said it was a ten minute drive from the airport to here. That’s a half hour. I took the eight o’clock flight. That means I should have been here at 8:30. Plenty time for me to get on stage by 9.’

Larry just shook his head and suggested to the big guy to get James out of the theater.

‘It was an act of God,’ screamed James! ‘An act of God! The plane didn’t leave on time! My luggage didn’t come down the chute for a long time! Then we had to get a cab and the cab took forever just to get out of the airport! Wasn’t anything I could do. It was an act of God!’

‘Well, tell God he owes me money,’ Larry, said as he walked away.

James was still screaming as the big guy was pulling him up the stairs. I kept waiting for him to drop to his knees like he use to in his act. But he didn’t.

          So I never got to see James Brown perform. Although, I was part of a very small audience that heard James scream, ‘an act of God’, as only he could scream. And now I’ll never get to see him perform live. He died on Christmas 2008. An Act of God!

JamesBrownAnother great cartoon by the talented Joel Orff