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Why People Give Me Money (And it Has Nothing to Do With Drugs)

There are questions in life that make me cringe.  “When are you two having kids? is one of them.”  “How much time do you need to get ready?” is another.  And I always hate, “So, where are you from?” because right now I don’t really know how to answer it.

But one question that I dread probably more than others* is, “So, what do you do for a living?”  I hate it because when I tell people that I’m a Theatrical Electrician, most have no earthly idea what that means.  Most people tell me their occupation and I can form a little tableau in my mind depicting how they spend their day.  It may not be complete or accurate, but it gives me an idea of how they fit into society.  Even if I don’t really know what they do, I can at least get a feel for what it is that they’re good at and what kind of industry they work in.

But say Theatrical Electrician and I’m mostly met with blank stares.  Some people think I install electrical outlets in theaters.  My mom thinks I run the spotlight.  And from reading my recent blog postings, I’m pretty sure you all think that the job is just a cover and that I actually just drink beer and watch sports all day.

So my goal tonight is to help you, the reader, understand what it is that I do.  I think it’s important because as the career paths that Kyle and I have chosen are unconventional, so will be our lives, and without understanding what drives us down those paths the understanding of our choices along the way will be incomplete.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you don’t understand my job, my life isn’t going to make any sense.


Imagine you’re having a party this weekend.  A real blowout.  But you realize that like in my first apartment, there are no overhead lights in your living room, and this time the glow from tv isn’t going to cut it this time.  So you go out and buy 4 really nice floor lamps, one for each corner of the room, and a couple of fun party light bulbs from Spenser’s.  It’s going to look so badass.

So you get home, and you set up your lamps, and you start plugging them in.  The one in the near corner is fine, because there’s an outlet right next to it, but the cord for the one in the next corner won’t reach.  So you have to get an extension cord, plug your lamp into it, run it around the edge of the carpet, (so no one will trip on it,) and plug it into the wall.  No problem.

But you still have two more lamps to plug in and you’ve just realized that there’s no more outlets in that room.  (It’s an old house, okay, give me a break.)  But you remember that there’s still one outlet open in the kitchen next to the microwave.  So you get a longer extension cord, plug your lamp into it, and run it around the edge of the room, down the hallway, around the edge of the kitchen, up the side of the counter, and plug it into the wall next to the microwave.  Problem solved.

Still one lamp to go, and you’re out of outlets.  Not to mention that you haven’t even plugged in your stereo, your chocolate fountain, or the pump for your ice sculpture/Bacardi fountain.  (It’s a big party.)  Then you remember that the neighbors are away for the weekend.  So you sneak through your neighbor’s kitchen window, plug a really long extension cord into their outlet, and run it the length of their kitchen, out the window, across the ally, in your guest bedroom window, around the edge of the room, down the hallway, and into the living room, where you plug an outlet strip into that.  You plug an extention cord into the outlet strip, and run it the rest of the way around the room to the lamp.  And that’s just to get everything to turn on.

Now imagine that instead of 4 lamps, there’s 400.  Instead of a couple 25′  extension cords, there’s thousands of feet of cable spidering all over the building.  And instead of the usual 60 watt, we’re dealing with a 575 watt bulb.  Oh, and in the meantime your room mate walks in and tells you that she likes the lamps, but could you hang one of them from the ceiling, point one at the piano (and only the piano), and put a third in the very center of the room (but there can’t be any cables sticking out because someone might trip on them.)  And can the 4th one be made to look like it’s on fire?

Of course, it’s never as simple as that.  Each light has to be plugged into a pre-determined outlet, and receives its own color of gel.  While the bulk of the lights are hung on pipes over the stage, designers always want as many lights in as many positions as possible, and often times these positions have to be built and secured before we can hang lights on them.  And if course, if we hang 100 lights only 90 of them will actually turn on the first time.

For an idea of the sheer mass of production, check out this video.  (And keep in mind that all that is accomplished in 8 hours.  And done again, in reverse, after the concert.)

So that’s how I spend my days.  Plugging shit in, making it turn on.  It’s work I love, but unfortunately the gigs tend to be short, and hard to come by, even without this crappy economy.  Which explains why Kyle and I are in a constant state of job hunting, and we’re averaging a move once every 3 and 9 months.  The idea of working for the same company for 20 years-shit, for 5 years-isn’t even entertained.  Really, the fact that Kyle and I are able to work for the same company this summer is nothing short of a miracle.

And if we’re both able to find jobs this fall in the same city…well shit, there just might be a chorus of angels doing a jig and throwing their hats in the air.

*I would might to make one thing clear.  There is one question that I despise more than the occupation job: it’s the, “So how’s the job hunt going?”  But I don’t think I need to explain why that question blows.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Princess of the Universe June 16, 2009, 7:30 am

    The closest I can come to relating to this is working on the lighting crew all through high school. I know what a “Leko” light is. Yay me.

    I think your job sounds super awesome, all hunting aside. 🙂

  • Charm City Kim June 16, 2009, 9:03 am

    I get the same blank stare when I say I’m a “business analyst”. Don’t worry.

    And I think it’s awesome that you love what you do!

  • adriana June 16, 2009, 9:25 am

    YAY! I found your blog! The link off my comments never worked and I always wondered who you were!

    I pride myself that I actually knew what it meant when you said “theatrical electrician.” 🙂

  • tiff June 16, 2009, 1:42 pm

    My dreaded question? “so, when are you 2 getting married?”

  • Trixie June 16, 2009, 8:30 pm

    I think your job is pretty boss. You should totally contact Britney and see if she needs you for her tour! How awesome would it be to try to light THAT thing (and by thing I mean Britney herself)?!?!?!? Plus all the fun drama you’d get to witness firsthand……

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