CMU School of Drama

Friday, April 21, 2017

When You’re a Stage Hand and It Snows 2-4 Inches Onstage Every Night

Playbill: John Snow has been working as a stage hand at Lincoln Center Theater for five years, during which he’s taken on a variety of roles backstage, above the stage, and even under the stage—he helped push the gigantic boat in the recent Broadway revival of The King and I. He’s now on staff at the Mitzi E. Newhouse theatre, where he took some time to chat to Playbill about his latest gig: Sarah Ruhl’s How to Transcend a Happy Marriage, a play about monogamy, middle age, and the breadth of our desires.

11 comments:

Rebecca Meckler said...

This is such a sweet interview. John Snow comes across very experienced and thoughtful. I like how he defines theater terms, such as followspot and stage deck, to make the article accessible to people without an understanding of technical theater. This makes sense as Snow says the hardest part of starting to work in theater is learning theater terms. I also enjoyed the antidote about someone wanting to touch the snow. It reminds me of when someone tried to use an outlet that was part of the set in Hand to God. I wish the article did elaborate more on the snow, as the title does imply it will talk about the snow. I think it would have been interesting to hear about the process of changing the way the snow effect worked. Overall I enjoyed the article; it’s a fun, easy read about a follow spot operator at Lincoln Center.

Megan Jones said...

It seems like being a stage hand is a very unpredictable job, as every new show you work on would have completely new technical needs. John Snow's jobs seem to be very unique to every production he does, as there's a big difference between pushing a huge boat and running a follow spot. I agree with Rebecca that I wish this article talked more about the actual snow he has to work with. This article is probably targeted towards people who want I more general look at the job of a stage hand, but I think they left a lot more out than they should have. I would be really interested in learning more about the running and cleanup process for that effect, and how long it takes to reset between shows. With only seven people running the entire show I imagine that this must be a relatively time consuming thing to do.

Cosette Craig said...

This man is very optimistic and jovial about his perpetual run crewing but that’s reasonable considering he probably makes six figures in local one. I think its visually very cool to make something fall from the sky during a show, but I don’t know if it’s worth the extra money and time spent on labor and execution. Now that I think about it, it’s probably a good way to recycle or at least give the illusion of some meaningful reuse of all those plastic bags wasted every day(*coughcough* Giant Eagle). This guy really seemed to luck out. He went from unemployed five years ago to getting to watch Marisa Tomei literally shine (with his help) every night and josh around with his buddies backstage in Lincoln Center. I’m glad that playbill puts some focus on the tech side of things nowadays. They are beginning to give the people backstage the credit they deserve.

Alex Talbot said...

While a pretty basic interview, tailored to an audience that knows less about stagecraft, I found it a nice interview. For anybody who doesn't know much about stagecraft or behind the scenes work, it is definitely a great and informative article, without going into excessive detail about the technical elements, and is very clear about what exactly happens behind the scenes at an average production. I wish I could have learned more about what exactly happens behind the scenes, but obviously this isn't exactly the article and publication for that amount of detail. I do agree with the above, that I wish considering the title that i could have learned more about what makes the snow happen, and what exactly this employee did to contribute to that. All that considered, I thought that the article was well written, had a mostly good, informative scope, and covered a lot of the basics very well.

David Kelley said...

I honestly love this interview because it was both relatively informative and just down to earth. Honestly coming from the background where I work my way up from being a stage crew guy, I honestly really love the interview because John Snow is so easy going on what aspects make up the show, and having work the most of my professional career back the that is the vibe. It doesn't matter show you are working but rather who you are working with on that show, cause even on the long runs those kids are the ones who keep you sane. However as Dane as they can keep you there is nothing that drove me nuts easier that hearings. That a show had a snow effect in it. I am honestly surprised that John talk about it so calmly because snow as a stage hand generally equals about another hour to hour and a half worth of clean up and the way he just brushed by it honestly surprised me me. But that being said I love any article giving love to the people back stage that make it all work.

Emily Lawrence said...

This was such a fun article to read, simply because it shows how versatile stagehands can be. He seemed to move from pushing scenery to doing electrics to helping making it snow onstage just by being there willing to help. I also like how he talks about the snow changing so much through the process of rehearsal. The snow originally came from eighteen boxes and eventually went down to eight, which is a drastically big decrease. I can only imagine how frustrating it was for the people who built or bought these boxes, because barely even half were used. It shows how much things are subject to change once rehearsal moves into the space and how people need to be able to change them as quickly as possible. I like the mindset of teamwork and cooperation that Snow portrayed in his interview and how enjoyable the job can be when working with the right people. It makes me excited to go out and try to find a place to work that makes me as happy as he is.

Sarah Boyle said...

I totally agree with him about the difficulty of learning all the terminology. For me cables have been particularly difficult. I never really did anything with lighting or sound before coming here. I knew what a stagepin was, and that was about it. Being tasked with getting different types of cables on crew calls was a steep learning curve, but at least now I don’t respond with a blank confused expression. I really liked the enjoyment that Snow seems to have with his day to day activities and just being part of a team. A blizzard on stage, being on follow spot above the stage, or even pushing a boat all sound interesting once, but novelty wears off and you do have to like not just the tasks, but the people as well. Honestly, it’s a little bit odd to think of someone being between jobs and starting to work as a stagehand, but it guess being a hard worker is more important than theatre specific experience.

nick waddington said...

I liked this article for a few reasons, mainly because of how interesting i think John Snow's job is, but also because of how real they kept it. i liked that the interview was easy paced and how john snow explained the facets of a production that have to come together in order to produce a successful show. in much the same way, i was interested to hear about what the deal is when the novelty of it all and the original fun you had with a show wears off, and how it is the people you work with that make the show successful, and keep it interesting for you. i have long wondered about this with repertory theaters that just run the same shows over and over, or tours which take a single show and play it across the country. All in all, i hope to find myself a job like john snow's, one that is kept interesting by the people i work with, and im happy to see the spotlight on someone backstage, and i hope to see more of that.

William N. Lowe said...

I can only imagine what it must have been like during early rehearsals when trying to get that snow machine to work the way they wanted it to. I think it’s really cool to hear a New York City theater story which has a small-theatre feel to it. Seven well trained, theatre technicians running a show is a really cool story, and the fact that they are so collaborative is just awesome. I was surprised that there wasn’t anything crazier that he could have come up with for the audience members, but I do think it is cool that they interviewed the follow spot operator of all of the technicians on the crew. They are usually under appreciated and kind of forgotten, so the fact that they interviewed the follow spot op is wonderful. I do also think that the quick story of how he got into theatre work is really cool and fitting.

Ali Whyte said...

The last line of this article really sticks with me. "The hardest part of making the transition was learning all the terminology." I think that would definitely be the hardest thing being dropped onto a run crew with no previous experience. That said, I really love this whole article in general. Usually interviews are with designers or someone with a weird or cool job for the show, but I really appreciate the fact that they interviewed a member of the crew who was acting as the follow spot, and asked him actual genuine questions about it. I wish they would have talked a little more about the snow, however, as it sounds really fascinating and incredibly difficult to both perform and then deal with. Working on The Rover and dealing with all of the confetti associated with it, I am ver curious as to how their clean-ups work after each show.

John Yoerger said...

Wow, what a cool article that is basically just a teaser to make us want to see the show. Oh there are boxes with flaps and the snow feels like ground up plastic bags. Talk about some fucking click bait. If you're going to post articles like this, they need to come with intimate details so us in the realm of technical theatre can understand and learn. Nobody really cares how you got your start in theatre. Though it does come to piss me off a bit to be reminded that I'm paying $69,000 a year to learn the terminology that you got the job with anyways. Not that our graduates are coming from here and going to stagehand positions...except some are...which is kind of weird for me. But hey, if that is what you want to do, live your dreams. Nonetheless, I ultimately found this article to have a title like this just to get us to click on it. Then we just talked about a whole lot of nothing that nobody cares about.