The InnKeeper At Work

My dream work is the film industry. I currently work as a camera operator / graphics operator / video & lighting technician / sometimes-rigger/ entertainment technician for the entertainment industry doing things like setting up for rock concerts, plays, and corporate events, shooting musicians and public speakers, operating a forklift / scissor lift / boom lift, and running slideshows, among other things. I have freelanced as a studio technician/camera operator for local tv studios and some local tv programs. Back in my college and intern days, I made several music videos, commercials, studio recordings, and short films.

My work is my life. I no longer separate what I do to earn money from who I am as a person. It is not my whole life, my whole person, there are certainly other parts to me than work, but it is such a large part of who I am that what I do is not separate from who I am. I am a stagehand, an entertainment technician. I love the entertainment industry. My passion lies in film and music videos, but I mostly work in live events.

I love being behind a camera, creating an image, a visual story. But the other aspects of entertainment are just as important and nearly as much fun. Only another stagehand can truly comprehend this passion. It is brutally hard work, long hours, oftentimes low pay, and definitely low respect. I get very little credit for my work; one of our credos is "if someone notices your work, you didn't do it right". We live to go unnoticed. We wear black not because it's "cool" or it makes us look sufficiently depressed. We wear black so no one will see us. We are the stage ninjas, able to blend into the shadows, slip in and out unnoticed, quickly and quietly, and you won't see us unless we want you to see us.

I work with my hands and my muscles and my brain. I work hard. I take pride in craftsmanship and a job well done. I do it for the knowledge that I did a good job, whether anyone notices or not. I do it for the t-shirt or the free food. We work in the heat and the cold with dangerous equipment often blatantly violating every OSHA regulation there is. I lift heavy truss and heavier lights. I wear 15 pounds of tools around my waist. I wear military cargo pants loaded down with more tools. I wear steel toe combat boots with enough familiarity and comfort to dance in them, boots that have saved my feet from uncountable encounters with large metal objects that seek to separate me from my toes.

My hands are calloused, my shoulders are sore, my legs and arms are covered in bruises, and my eyes are shadowed from lack of sleep. When I remember to eat, I try to eat healthy but more often than not I eat whatever catering I can steal when the stage manager isn't looking. I go for weeks without more than 4 hours sleep a night, then I go for weeks without work, wondering if I can make my rent next month or where my next meal will come from.

How can anyone love what we do? Some of us get the high paying jobs and maybe it's worth it to them. Most of us don't, or if we do they are few and far between. Personal relationships take a backseat to the priority of the gig. Plans are cancled and friends put on the back burner as time after time work calls at the last minute and we have to drop what we're doing to ensure that the show still goes on and we can pay our bills one more week. Social plans may suffer but I love the spontaneity that comes with the job. Oftentimes I don't even know the show I am working on until I start unloading the truck and see the name of the show spray-painted on the cases.

Anyone in my life, friends and lovers, must understand this of me. Not only must they accept that even though I love them dearly, they come in second to my job, but they must embrace that of me. This is not a job I put up with and a little convincing from someone who has my "best interests" at heart will get me to change my mind and to take something that is steadier or higher paying. Those people do not know my "best interests" because I wither and die in any other environment. I love those in my life, but without the job I am missing something important in my heart. Some people accept this part of me grudglingly but those never truly understand my passion because from the outside it doesn't seem worth the effort. If you don't understand this, then you don't understand me and you won't last very long in my life.

It is physically and emotionally draining, hard sweaty work and the people I work with are not fit for polite society. I don't even drink or do drugs so why do I do it? Because it is who I am. I have no choice. I tried to support myself on "regular" jobs. They weren't just unfulfilling, they tortured me. I was miserable. Having a steady paycheck did not make up for the emotional suffering. I thrive on an irregular schedule. I am ecstatic at working in a different location every day. I am elated at seeing new people every day just as I am at working with those I call friends. I need a day or two to recharge my batteries and life goes on hold so it seems like I pay a steep price in emotional energy, and I do, but it is worth every penny.

I revel in my body as I work it to its limits, pushing cases, lifting truss, hauling amp racks up a ramp, manipulating electronics and machines like spotlights, cameras, switchers, forklifts, feeling the sweat run down my back and my muscles tremble with exertion, trudging down the street to the parking lot dreaming of nothing more complicated than taking off my boots and laying down on anything softer than carpet-covered concrete. I work with tools, I work with my hands, I work with my mind. I solve geometry problems and problems of spatial dynamics. I understand mechanics and electronics so intuitively that it is less technique and more of an art form. I can "feel" the gears and electric impulses and I can make miracles with modern technology and antiquated machinery alike. I am dirty and tired and at peace with my life.

I may look weak and feminine with my long hair and small bone structure, but I am tougher than many men (if not as strong) and I like it that way. I am not interested in much of what society says a girl should be interested in. Sure, I dress up when the occasion calls for it (as do many men), but I prefer my grungy clothes and I like tools and motors and getting dirty and playing with machines. I put my body and my mental state through hell and I feel better emotionally and physically now that I've dedicated my life full time to the industry than during any other time in my life.

Ever since I helped set up the simple lighting tree for my junior high drama class performance, I have been drawn towards the theatre, specifically the dark recesses of the backstage and the hours of setup before the curtain goes up. Even working in an office with steady pay and a secure living, I was drawn to the industry, taking gigs in my free time. I push myself because my body and mind demands it.

I am the theatre. I AM a stagehand, a techie, a roadie, a grip, an electrician, a video technician, and operator, an engineer. There is a wide variety of personalities and other interests in those job descriptions, but it permeates and encapsulates all other areas of our beings. We are a breed unto ourselves. The show wouldn't go on without us. You wouldn't have your plays, your concerts, your movies, if it weren't for us. So before you look upon us in disdain for not having a "real job", or wrinkle your nose at our dirty black clothes and long, messy hair, or roll your eyes at our obnoxious behaviour and lewd conversation, remember that we exist so people like you can be entertained.

We are bred for this work. We do it because we love it, pain and suffering and all. Those who don't have the passion don't last long here. Your entertainment is purchased by the blood, sweat, and tears (and sometimes lives) of people like me. Next time you see a play or a concert, give a little credit to those performers who never grace the stage. Next time you see a movie, watch the credits all the way through and honor those hundreds of men and women who made your 2 hours of entertainment possible and the only job satisfaction and honor they get is their name in small print flitting across the screen for 2 seconds of a film that most viewers never bother to watch. It's the least you can do in return for all we do for you.

Joreth at Work

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