Back in the ‘70’s, if you worked with the stage crew at Barton Coliseum and the union thought you were worth expending any energy on, they had a spotlight certification class they would run you through.
Everything was carbon arc in those days and a lot more difficult to run than they are now with the xenon troopers or whatever they’ve come up with in the past decade while I’ve sat out. We learned how to strike them up without blowing the cores out of the rods, how to adjust on the fly if the auto feed wasn’t working properly (which it seldom was) and how to “trim” the lamps so that the carbons wouldn’t get so short they cracked the mirror.
We learned to focus, we learned the “fade” and the bump to black. We learned to change colors and to fade colors in. And when they thought we were ready, they had a guy race around the coliseum floor in a go-cart while we chased him. Nobody got too bent out of shape if you couldn’t hold your guy in a head shot while whipping and weaving around the expansive concrete floor.
I got my first spot gig when Ringling Brothers Circus came to town. They always used about 12 or so spots and it was hard to find enough operators to fill a week of performances. I was excited but also a little bit nervous. What if I forget how to trim the lamp during the show?
And of course, being the FNG, you get the worst lamp in the house – one of the travelers that the show brought with them. Not nearly as well maintained as the house spots, and they were set up in odd areas around the top rim of the building. Not much standing room. But, it was show business!
My lamp fired up bright and I shined a round spot on the top wall near the ceiling. I focused the beam in and twisted the knurled knob to take the brown out of the edges, I had plenty of spare rods, my leather gloves, a pair of pliers, a wooden clothespin to grip the red hot rods and was good to go. I shut the dowser and settled back for a last minute smoke.
There was plenty of chatter on the headsets as the lighting director talked with various other members of the road crew, discussing the mammalian distinctions of certain members of the audience and sundry strategies for getting them backstage after the show. Pretty soon, L.D. gives us our instructions and numbers us off. The lights go black and the band starts to play.
There were several of us newbies on spots that afternoon, and it became quickly apparent that one of them had a serious problem of not being able to find his target. The L.D. went from irritation to anger to outright fury. And by the end of the first half was screaming and cussing, demanding to know where in the hell spot four was???
I knew we’d get a pee break very shortly and there wasn’t much to keeping up with a lumbering camel with a big-headed clown on top about halfway through the line parading around the coliseum. So, I decided that intermission would be a sparkling time to make fun of the dumbass on spot four. I started counting off just stage left of the L.D. as he had indicated before the show. One, two, three…and as I reached four I realized it was me!.
It was easy to know where four was supposed to be, hell, I heard the L.D. screaming it over and over. I whipped my lamp over to the elephant with the glittery lady on top and adjusted the spot size.
“Thank you spot four,” came the relieved voice of the lighting director. I was too embarrassed to even go down for a piss at intermission and just turned my headsets off for ten minutes, so I wouldn’t have to listen to the comments. Stagehands can be quite cruel. I know. I was prepared to do it myself.