I had been running lights for some of the theatre productions in the community. It all started when a group was going to do a show at a city-owned facility, and they didn’t have staff to run the lights on the nights of the performances. The city usually insisted their own people do it, but this time they were desperate.
“If you have someone who can run the lights with very little training, we will let them,” the city arts director said.
That was when the theatre director called me. “Daris,” she said, “you are very tech-savvy. Would you be willing to run the lights for the show?”
My family had run a community theater for about six years, and I had trained my children on the lights and sound, but I knew these new ones were quite different. However, I told her I felt I could do it and went for the training the city set up.
The lights were indeed far more advanced than any I had used. These lights had almost infinite capabilities. I got an hour of training, a digital manual I could reference, and the chance to come back and practice in an empty theater. I made good use of that opportunity.
I had a few muff-ups and got yelled at quite a bit, but by the time the production was ready, I was quite efficient. I won’t say I was perfect at it, but the show went well.
That is how I got to run lights for quite a few community events. The city would allow, and even request, for me to fill in when their staff was busy. I didn’t get paid like their staff did, even though I think they still charged the theatre groups a light manager fee, but I enjoyed it.
One summer, I received a request to run the lights for a community theatre group’s production of Beauty and the Beast. The director wanted lots of color changes through the dances and especially when the beast changed to the prince. I felt confident I could do the job.
The group had been practicing for a couple of months when I was asked to come for my first evening with them. When I arrived, the fire alarm was blaring. I went to the light booth and brought up the stage lights. A few minutes later, a friend, Vance, joined me there.
“Would you mind if I helped with the lights?” he asked.
I smiled. “Not at all. It would be fun to have you work with me, and I could use some help on some spotlights. But aren’t you going to be doing the fog machine?”
A few years earlier, in a production of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang, we had run a fog machine together. It was a big barrel that we loaded with lots of dry ice. He had taken that assignment alone in the following years.
At my question, he shook his head. “The director plans to use a commercial smoke machine for the beast-change scene. She doesn’t feel the dry-ice fog will be sufficient. That machine is what kicked on the fire alarm.”
The firefighters got the alarm off, and we quickly realized that the big smoke machine put out so much that we had to have something to draw the smoke quickly from the stage to the outside. Big fans were rigged for that purpose.
Everything went well through the practices and the first couple of performances. Then, with only three performances left, a wind came up, and when the fans were turned on, the wind fought against them and pushed the smoke back inside. With only about ten minutes left of the show, the fire alarm kicked on.
The firefighters came and would not allow the show to continue. They said they would cancel the rest of the performances if the alarms kicked on again. There was a lot of commotion, upset guests, a mad director, and all that goes along with an unfinished show.
We did do the last two performances by using the lights to create a surreal effect for that scene instead of smoke. And as we finished the last performance, Vance’s wife thanked me. When I asked her what she was thanking me for, she said, “For allowing my husband to help you with the lights. If you hadn’t, he would have been the one everyone was yelling at for the fog machine.”
As the saying goes (kind of), it is good to be in the right place when the smoke hits the fan.