Category Archives: Work

social distance

. . .  and self isolation.

Phrases that I didn’t expect to be using to describe myself until very recently. Two weeks ago I was buying travel supplies at the drugstore, getting a haircut, and getting serious about what clothes to take on the tour.

Then, just before the show on Friday the 6th came word that the SF Performing Arts complex was going to be closed to the public starting the next day. The Ballet had a show scheduled at the Opera House. Cancelled. The Symphony was scheduled to perform at UC Davis. That went on but our performances for the next week were not going to happen.

The original announcement only – now I say ‘only’! – was for a closure of two weeks, until the 20th. Tuesday morning the announcement was made to the orchestra that we weren’t going to Europe because several venues there had closed due to the virus. New York’s Carnegie Hall was still open, though, so we continued rehearsals. The ban on public assemblies in San Francisco was extended first one more week, then two more still.

Thursday morning’s rehearsal became an orchestra meeting. Everyone put away their instruments. The official word came: New York was closing too. We weren’t going anywhere. The entire Symphony administration was being told to work from home. Orchestra committees had hurried meetings with management about what to do. It was decided that we would all go on vacation for 4 weeks, until April 11. That’s when we would have come back from Europe. Rehearsals and performances were in the pipeline.

Vacation is not the right word for what we are doing now: social distancing, and self isolating. At first, I thought that Sepi and I could use the time to get in our car and drive to LA, or Colorado, or Washington where we could visit friends and family. After some reflection we realized what self isolation really meant: stay home!

I was all set (in my mind) to go down to Mom’s and hang with her for a couple of days but that was nixed. Mom’s in the most vulnerable group! We don’t know if we’ve been exposed!

In Seattle, the orchestra there is performing for an empty hall and streaming the music to the public. In San Francisco we can’t even do that because the ban is for assemblies of 100 or more. Maybe we could do Mozart . . .

And the ban is now extended to April 30th. We have no more ‘vacation’ left. Will we still get paid? Big conventions, which are the bread and butter for many of my Local 16 brothers and sisters, have disappeared. Those people have nothing. A few hundred dollars a week from unemployment.

I will try to write about more uplifting things in the days to come but that is the environment.

2 months

I hate to write about how long it’s been since I’ve written, but that’s what coming out of my head right now. Life has been moving pretty fast the last few months. I got through the December madness: all the Holiday shows. I had a week off. Jeremy came to visit with Ashley and Rosalie. They stayed at my house. We did some nice things. We had Christmas at Mom’s with most of the California Woods.

When I got back to work, I promulgated a couple of new rules that has made my life a little easier. Not so much for the rules per se, but for the fact that I could feel ok about making rules. There are still some things in the works that I can’t talk about but developments there have been encouraging.

The last two weeks featured MTT conducting. One week included a new work by him. He can be amazing and annoying all in the same moment, it seems. He’s remarkable, there’s no doubt about that.

Starting today, we have three weeks of really simple orchestra setups which means I can look ahead without worrying too much about something immediate biting my ass.

The first thing to look ahead to is the Chinese New Year celebration. It seems to get bigger each year. There are lots of special events that need staffing and other planning.

After that is the tour. We’re leaving March 15th (or thereabouts) for just under a month in Europe. I’ve seen some itineraries but there are still many details to resolve. I did get approval to stay over for a few days and it turns out that Wilfried and Elisabeth will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary right after our last concert. I need to figure out how to get from Paris to some little town in the Schwarzwald that I’ve never heard of, then turn around and get to a major airport to fly home.

That’s enough for now.

changes

It feels like months since I’ve posted here. It turns out it’s only – only! – about 5 weeks. But it was 5 or 6 weeks since the one before that so in nearly three months only one post. Lame.

Yes, there has been a lot going on in my life. It’s mostly work related. My new job has been rather all consuming.

For reasons too complicated to go into today, I think I turned a corner this week. Running shows the last couple of days, I finally am feeling confident that I am not forgetting things. There are so many details and so many distractions.

The big push at the start of the season with MTT is now almost a month in the past. I had a week long vacation in which Sepi and I and Mom! drove up to Washington to visit Jeremy’s family. We also swung through Spokane for a quick visit with Dan and Nettie and Peter and Nanci. All went well. The shows after we got back were generally easy to stage. Last week the production team had a long meeting looking at the December shows and came up with some plans.

So, I’m breathing easier.

Meanwhile, the 4th anniversary of Zach’s death has been looming. For a long time, that number was more significant because it was the end of the statute of limitations for criminal charges. I held out hope for a long time, despite clear statements from the Baton Rouge DA’s office, that I could marshal enough evidence to revisit the actions of the drivers who killed Zach.

I say drivers because I believe that both drivers were negligent in that they were racing to be first out of the merge and did not watch the road as they should have. Zach was in the road and was hit by one of them.

The world moves on. Those of us who loved Zach have mostly come to terms with life without him. I haven’t had a big crying jag in a while but I think I may let go sometime this week. Especially in the last three months I’ve often wished I could consult with Zach over my work difficulties. He had the ability to step back emotionally that I envied.

Now I just muddle through.

end of the MTT run

Saturday was the last night of MTT’s fall time with the Symphony. He conducted the season opening gala, the Metallica concerts, a Mahler 6th, a new John Adams piece, and a bunch of other pieces that I can’ t think of right now. It’s been a blur of rehearsals and concerts for just over 4 weeks. Seemingly everything we did had massive percussion or huge orchestras – or both – so packing the musicians into the stage at Davies was a constant challenge.

There were a couple of hiccups but on the whole, the orchestra and MTT was forgiving of my foibles. There is a massive amount of detail to remember when putting the orchestra on stage. At one time I had it all under my fingers but working the house electric job for the past three years has overwritten some of it. My crew has been helpful in keeping me off the worst off the rocks.

One story. When performing programs of unusual music, MTT will often talk to the audience at the top of the show to give some personal insight into the music. Last week, we had three Stravinsky pieces on the program so MTT set the stage with some stories of his time as a teenager playing piano at Stravinsky’s house in LA. Of course, he uses a wireless microphone which I set on his stand ahead of time.

Except the last night, Saturday. I just forgot, plain and simple. Some things happened and I dealt with them and they pushed the microphone task out of my head.

Until about two seconds after I sent MTT and the two soloists out onto the stage to start the show. Then I remembered!

I tore off my headset and ran to the office where the microphone was stored, switched it on, and came back to the door to the stage and looked out. MTT was standing out there on the podium waiting for me! Gulp!

So, I went on out there with the microphone. MTT was smiling at me when I handed it to him. I apologized. He may have said something but I don’t remember. I do remember that he reached out to shake my hand before I turned and fled offstage. All I could think about was that I had to make sure that the sound system was properly turned on.

It was.

At the end of the evening, many people came backstage to talk to MTT. I waited a half hour or so for the crush to subside and went into his office. Mostly I wanted to thank him for putting up with me for the month but I also wanted to apologize again for forgetting the microphone. He smiled again when he saw me. He said, ‘Some people will do anything for a curtain call!’

He’ll be back in January.

“smoke ’em inside”

I’ve talked to Jeremy and Sarah, too, about my job travails. Sarah has been conventionally supportive. The last week of the Symphony season in July she was in the orchestra while I was running the last three shows. She gave me good, practical advice on some technical things but also a lovely text which I will not quote here. She stopped by my post at the stage manager’s desk often with a quick smile.

Jeremy I only talked to once or twice. His advice was more metaphorical. We had only a couple weeks before noted the death of Jim Bouton, author of the seminal baseball memoir, Ball Four. Jeremy reminded me of Bouton’s mantra as he struggled to revive his baseball pitching career in Seattle: “Smoke ’em inside.”

view from my bed

It’s been a hectic month. Almost six weeks, in fact, since I was offered the Symphony stage manager job. Incredibly, I officially started less than a week later. Partly because of that accelerated schedule, I had leftover commitments to JJ so I worked several nights and weekends for him after that.

At the Symphony, during the regular work week, I had personnel issues, new computers, new computer systems, new (to me) software. I had to plan for six orchestra moves in the first ten days of the season. Almost like being on tour!

I haven’t toured with the Symphony yet so that’s a little cheeky to say. At least I’ll be sleeping in my own bed each night.

Speaking of bed, I slept in this morning, seemingly for the first time in weeks. As I was waking up, I saw this view:

For months I had kept Hobbes in a box, along with many other personal things that there just wasn’t room for in the new house. One day a couple of months ago I happened to see him and thought that this little spot behind the lamp would be good for him. To be completely honest, I hadn’t noticed him or thought about him very much but today I did.

I have thought of Zach a lot during this past month of stress. He would have given me valuable insight into strategies for organizations and people. I’ve been thinking of the 4th anniversary of his death upcoming this fall. That seems important because it is supposedly the end of the statute of limitations on criminal charges surrounding his death. For a long time I wanted to beat on the Baton Rouge DA to reopen the case and charge Shawn Allen with vehicular manslaughter. Or something more than speeding. Or implicate the other driver, who I believe was complicit in the whole thing and got away with nothing. This post tells more about my feelings.

Anyway, I think I’ve let go of the whole idea. As I’ve said before, nothing will bring Zach back and the Baton Rouge authorities are not interested. My plate is full with this new job so I’ll just go on hoping Mr Allen still has nightmares and try to think of good things.

more about the new job

It’s really a drag that this is more on my mind than my visit with Jeremy’s family today. The Symphony hired me for the job of Stage Manager over an individual who was doing the job on an interim basis. He has been cooperative with me but another crew member seems to be quite resentful – he thinks the Symphony should have promoted from within – and has been less cooperative.

They are all off on their vacations now and meanwhile I am going to work every day, learning the computer systems, trying to plan for the Gala opening in a month and doing necessary maintenance. This is all important stuff, but now I am having to have meetings with management and HR about how to respond to this intransigence.

More importantly for me, I am losing sleep thinking about all this stupid stuff. This person doesn’t seem to understand or care that the Symphony is not going to change their minds and hire the other guy instead. The only thing he can hope for is that I will decide that I don’t need the headache and bail out. Indeed, I’ve talked to some other people who were asked to apply and did not because of this very reason. I was aware of the issues going in and I’m not going to bail but there is a cost and that makes me resentful. As a leader, I have to put that aside which I can do while at work. At night, the demons come, though.

Today and tomorrow, I am not working, but driving up to Grass Valley where Jeremy will be coming with his family to Tom’s house. Yay for a Rosalie day!

new job

Sepi posted this on Facebook. Now I’m getting around to posting here. I have a new job.

It’s a strange thing for a stagehand to say, because we typically have new jobs all the time. When I was working a lot out of the hiring hall, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have 25 W-2s at the end of the year. 25 different employers, some for jobs that only lasted one day.

In the last few years that number has gone down. I have recently been working primarily in one location, Davies Symphony Hall, but, depending on the circumstance, only three employers. Now it will be one only: the San Francisco Symphony.

The Symphony has chosen me to be their Stage Manager. My primary responsibility is to see that the stage is set up properly for the orchestra and to get them on and off stage for performances. In the transition from three to one, I worked 9 straight days ending Saturday. Starting today, I have 4 weeks of relative calm before the next season starts. The orchestra and the crew who have been working all season are off on vacation. As a new hire, I don’t have vacation yet . . .

Now I’m off to work!

interviews

I did an interview today. It was weird. Up until a couple of months ago, I thought I was on the glide path to retirement, putting in time at Davies Hall as the relief house electrician. Decent pay, not too much responsibility, what’s not to like?

Then the news came that the Stage Manager for the Symphony resigned unexpectedly.

And a strange thing happened to me. I found that I was interested in that job. It was more hours and much more responsibility but the pay was higher than I had been getting and it had 6 weeks of paid vacation. And it would be working on stage with the orchestra, which I had really missed the past three years.

So, I dusted off my resume and sent it in and today was my first interview.

It was with people I have worked with a lot over the past 7+ years so there wasn’t much new to me. I got to talk some about my career trajectory with an emphasis on my supervisory experience. They asked me to tell them something about myself that they didn’t already know and it turned out that they hadn’t heard the story of Noah. You can read it here. It brought some tears to my eyes which probably isn’t too common in job interviews.  Noah is 10 now. Wow.

Arno

Arno is retiring. He and I have shared the bulk of the relief work for the Davies Hall house Stage Electrician (JJ) for the last couple of years. He is not even 65 yet, although he will be next month.

I hate him.

Not really. I envy him, though. He’s planned it carefully and now he is executing his plan. He is an inspiration.

We are working together on the SF Gay Men’s Chorus show tonight and we will likely be working together one or two days next weekend but that will be it. I gave him a card and wrote that I hope the next time I see him after that will be at our home instead of back at the Hall. He’s a great guy and has been an asset to the operation.

When I started in the house electric job at Davies, I felt a lot of confidence. I had 40+ years experience in the business and had been a house man in other venues before. Davies turned out to be much more complicated than I had expected and the first few months I had trouble remembering all of the many details. JJ gave good directions but Arno was usually the one out there with me in the field trying to get the job done. He was unfailingly patient and understanding with me. He had been there for a couple years at that point.

For the last year or so, we’ve become the old salts that are showing the newer people where things are, etc. Only last Tuesday I was leading a crew to clean the canopy dishes and I had to gather all the equipment. I found myself wishing Arno was there too so I could check my plans with him.

It’s a feeling that I will have again, I’m sure.

Thanks for the mentoring, Arno. Enjoy your retirement!