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The Backstage Pass You Think You Want

I am hurting today.  Hardcore.  The used tissues on the end table next to me?  Yeah, that’s about how I feel.

It was a two part process, the destruction of my body.  Part one began with a phone call.  One of the girls I work with called me up and asked if I wanted to go try out our free membership passes at the local gym.  I’d been feeling a little…squishy, lately, and I hadn’t showered yet, (don’t judge,) so I said sure.  Strapped on a sports bra, and headed to the gym for the first time in about a month.  Go me.

Fabulous gym.  Nice and roomy, large pool, basketball courts, full room of weight machines, and just about any cardio machine you can think of, each with it’s own tv and remote.  Best part?  At 2:30 on a Friday (I said don’t judge,) the only other people making use of the gym were some senior citizens.  Hello, ego boost.

So I’m going along, bopping from one weight machine to the next, when I’m held up by some old guy who’s hogging the leg press machine.  Now, when I say “old guy,” I don’t mean a hip retired guy who runs marathons and stars in Kashi commercials.  I mean old.  Really old.  Frail and wrinkly, older than my grandfather, old.  The man couldn’t have weighed more than 125 pounds wet.

So he finally gets off, and I sit down, and I take a look at where he had the weight set at.  130lbs.  Okay.  I’ve always had rhino-strong quads, if this walking coffin can press 130 then surely I can do 150.  I upped the weight and gave it a shot.  I managed one press, and the weights fell back in their carriage with a crash.  Okay, fine, I’ll match the old man at 130.  I’m a spry, young 23, surely I can press as much as someone’s great-grandfather.

I finally found a workable weight at 90lbs.

Touche, old man.

But despite having my ass handed to me by Gramps, I felt really good.  Good enough that between the weight room and the treadmill situated in front of trashy MTV reality tv, I ended up spending two hours at the gym.  Which for some of you superwomen (*ahem* Kim,) is a normal Tuesday morning, but considering it was my first time back was probably pushing it a little.  I knew that I was going to be hurting in the morning.

Now, were this the ending to my little story, this would not be worth writing about.  I’d have woken up this morning a little stiff, but 10 minutes on an Elliptical and I’d have been back in the proverbial game.   Problem is, I forgot about  Part two.

Part two is that Kyle and I, along with some of our friends from the theatre, worked strike as overhire for the local stagehands union last night.  Some giant country-rock star did a show at the Wichita Coliseum, and they needed extra workers for the load-out.

Working a rock concert for the local union is always one of the bizzarest experiences in the world, because it gives a unique perspective.  It’s like if Satan was called up to Heaven to fix the satellite dish; you’re right where everyone wants to be, but you’re not really enjoying it because you’re just there to do a job.

Usually I get put working either electrics (tearing down the lights) or backline (packing up all the musician’s instruments.)  Because the road crew has been up since about 6am, (and have been setting up and tearing down the same show for the last month-and-a-half,) they want to get packed up as soon as fucking possible, if not sooner, so they can get back to the bus and pass out.  So more often then not, they’ll start packing things up the exact second that the show finishes, if not before.  For many shows, I’ve had to follow my crew head either on stage, just off-stage, or into the front row, so that we can either start tearing down or be ready to go when the show ends.

Think about it.  For the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, I stood in front of the crowd barrier for the last song.  For Blue Man Group, I watched the last number from underneath a platform onstage.  And last night, I stood on the stairs going up to the stage while Kieth Urban (whom up until right that moment I’d been confusing with Toby Kieth) took his bows.  He came within 6 inches of me when he left the stage.  I don’t think there was a person in that crowd who wouldn’t have gladly gutted me to take my place.  A little later, I was rolling a large road case down the hall towards the waiting semis.  As I came up to the door to go backstage, I saw three women in denim mini-skirts  trying to flirt their way past the security guard.  When I rolled up with my black road case with “KIETH URBAN TOUR” stenciled on the side, the security guard looked over the women’s heads and asked me, “Whatcha got there?”  I told him, “Backline, headed for the truck.”  He nodded and stepped through the door to open the garage door to let me through.  As I thanked him and pushed my case past, all six of those heavily lined eyes glared at me.  I’m honestly surprised that my hair didn’t catch on fire.

As a stagehand, you essentially have an unlimited backstage pass.  There aren’t many places you can’t go, and you’re handling first class equipment; literally thousands of dollars of equipment under your hands.   And yet, being all those places doesn’t even phase me because, well, it’s just a gig.  I’m usually too busy coiling cable or pushing road cases or breaking down truss to be bothered with the fact that I just stepped on a set list or walked past the star’s dressing room.  To me it’s just a cinder-block hallway with a laminated piece of construction paper taped to a door on the way to the trucks.  Besides, by that time it’s usually encroaching on midnight, I’m tired and hot and I just want the same thing everyone else wants: to pack up the trucks and get the fuck out of here.

Even if I was excited about being backstage, it’s not like I’d get to meet anyone of significance.  Stagehands are pretty much considered the lowliest creature ever spawned.  The thing is, those road packages are designed to go up and down as easily, quickly, and efficiently as possible.  Just like a Happy Meal toy, there are little to no moving parts.  So when they say they need hands to work the show, they need just that: hands.  Hands that are attached to able bodies with a 3rd grade education that (preferably) isn’t all tweaked out on meth.  They expect the overhire to be full of “neck-downs,” and plan for it.  So even if there are a couple of heads walking around with something in them, they still treat you like a monkey, because that’s all they need you to be.  And frankly, they don’t have time to learn otherwise.  So despite my easy movement into “Crew Only” and “Restricted” areas, I am a nameless, faceless body that coagulates with the hundreds of others that, in the minds of the important people, can be filed under the broad heading of “Crew.”

This out was particularly hard on us monkeys, because not only was it a million degrees outside, (thanks, Kansas,) but this particular coliseum doesn’t happen to feature a loading dock.  Which means that rather than rolling everything out a door and directly onto the truck, we had to roll it out a door and up about 20 feet of ramp.  And when I say everything, I mean fucking everything; this tour not only brought all their own light gear, sound gear, and truss, but they even brought their own stage.  They travel with 13 trucks, and every one is loaded to the back.  And let me tell you, this shit’s heavy!  It takes a minimum of  3 able-bodied persons to roll a single box or case up the ramps and into the truck, and some took as many as 8 people.

It took us until almost 2:30am to load up the contents of all 13 trucks.  There was not a single part of me that wasn’t dripping from sweat, and when I got home and into my pyjamas almost an hour later, my bra was still damp.

Which is why, when I finally made myself crawl out of bed at 11 this morning, I had to do exactly that: crawl.  There wasn’t a part of my body that didn’t ache, and I definitely washed my hair from the floor of the shower.  Even now, almost 24 hours later, I’m propped up on a pile of pillows and whining for a back rub.  Unfortunately, since Kyle had to get up and work 8 hours today, (electrics department was off today,) my request falls on deaf ears.  Or dead ears, considering he’s passed out on the couch.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • The Bee July 13, 2009, 6:07 am

    Who needs the gym when you have work like that?? I need a nap just from reading it.

  • andhari July 13, 2009, 7:22 pm

    Wow so it’s a gym plus more. I can’t imagine loading lots of stuff like that, I’ve been to concerts and see what every stage hand has to carry, load and unload. Sorry you’re hurting, a nice massage and wine is in order, I hope?

  • allison July 13, 2009, 10:53 pm

    i used to love rock concerts (is it sad i feel “too old” for them now??) so it’s really interesting to read your perspective!

  • CharmCityKim July 15, 2009, 7:28 am

    That job sounds like quite a workout! Don’t you wish Gramps at the gym could have seen you in action? 🙂

    Getting into the whole gym routine is tough. I just took a kickboxing class yesterday for the first time in a long time. I went in there very cocky thinking, “pfft – I am a runner. This is a piece of cake.” Yeah… I can barely walk up the stairs today.

  • Matt Delaney July 19, 2009, 10:09 pm

    What a cool post! I love hearing about stuff from an “insider’s” POV. Don’t think I’d love moving heavy crap on a hot summer night, though. Unless it got me a chance to get next to Eric Clapton. Then I’d do it. For free. One handed. While covered in wasps.

  • Jason July 30, 2009, 7:07 am

    Wow. That was awesome. I now don’t need to work out or spend money on a concert. Cause i got something better. A 1st hand experience that beat out anything i could have seen lol. Keep it up Steph. And tell your hubby to give you a back rub. That’s what husbands are for. =)


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