Show biz uses common words in a weird way and uncommon, and perhaps
made-up words in even weirder ways. It’s not just that show-biz
has it’s own terminology, because most professions do, but
it’s that each little subculture of show-biz has it’s
own word for the same thing. The difference between a "load-out"
and a "strike" and a "clear" is all in who you’re
talking to, and where the truck is parked.
This collection of definitions presents, in no particular order,
the more amusing terms used throughout our obscure and marginal
industry. As I concoct these little bunches of words to describe
other words, I assume that you, gentle reader (or swarthy, fly-ridden
truck loader or whatever point you are along that scale) are already
familiar with the basics of theater terminology. This is, after
all, a trade journal. Yet this is not intended as any sort of reference
quality theatrical glossary. I will not be defining borders and
legs and amps, fresnels and stage-braces and velour and the like,
unless I have something amusing to add to the hundreds of definitions
already in print regarding those terms.
I am interested in the differing definitions of those terms amongst
ourselves. Various realms and regions use different words for the
same thing and this amuses me. I’m a technical writer, after
all, though I still push boxes because the publishing industry makes
show-biz seem stable by comparison.
So, before we dive in, if your little corner of show-biz uses a
new or obscure term that you’d like to share, send them to
me, and I’ll include them in the next relevant edition. A
word of caution, I get those same e-mail jokes that you get, so
send me something else.
I am not a techie, but I used to be. Then I grew up and became
a technician. If you do not notice the difference, trying referring
to an IA crew as "the techies" within their earshot. Words
and titles and labels define how people regard each other, and -
more to our immediate interest, how they get paid. So I’m
going to clear up this "techie" term (which does not appear
in my 50 lb. Oxford Unabridged, nor in Word’s spellcheck -
always a warning sign).
The other terms I list here are fairly common, but widely misused.
Hopefully, we can clarify what these people actually do (as opposed
to what they claim on their resume…). We’ll start at
the bottom of the food chain, and work up.
Techie noun [diminution of technician - see below]
A stagehand who works for the joy of his craft; an amateur. Most
techies are students. Most proudly refer to themselves as techies.
Most believe they are doing the same things as pro stagehands, and
most have no idea how wrong they are about that. They usually mean
well (another warning sign).
Technician noun [from the Greek technikos, an
artifice] A stagehand (see below) who actually spends most of his
day dealing with the detailed aspects of a machine or device (as
opposed to merely humping it up the service stairs and then going
back to the truck for something else). The guy who fixes the moving
light is a technician. The guy who hangs it on the yellow tape marks
on the downstage truss is a stagehand.
Stagehand noun You. Seriously, I don’t
care what it says on your card. Just like all marines are riflemen,
all theatrical technicians of any sort are stagehands. Stagehands
are the infantry of show business, and upon their shoulders falls
all the heavy lifting. There is no shame in this. The scenery must
move, and it will not move by itself (unless the budget is truly
ridiculous). You started as a stagehand, and if enough gear is in
the way of complex device you must delicately adjust, you will move
it, just like you used to do all day. (This doesn’t mean you’re
going to move it while a dozen newbie box-pushers watch you).
The true dividing line between stagehand and technician is the relevance
of the phrase "lift with your legs".
Talent noun [Latin talentium, a type of coin]
Performers. I have actually heard stagehands snivel about that term,
claiming it implied we have no talent. Well, we don’t. We
have skills, arguably useful skills worth a specific sum of money.
That’s why we have to pick up the lunch tab for the talent
all the time.
Poser noun [Latin poseus, completely useless]
Non working personnel who are backstage for some stupid reason and
in my way right now.
Roadie noun [Greek rodiki, one who does not sleep].
If stagehands are infantry, roadies are special forces. Back when
I crew-chiefed, I warned the newest thusly: "These guys sleep
very little and eat a lot of bad food. They’ve forgotten more
about this show than you will ever know - so don’t argue with
them. They’re going to yell at you. Don’t take that
personally. Your feelings don’t matter to them; only getting
the show up matters. Help them do that, and everything will be just
fine. … And if they’re still assholes, just remember
that they’ll be doing this again somewhere else early tomorrow
while you’re sleeping in…"
Rentie noun The guy from the local rental house
who tries to act like a roadie.
Steward noun [Anglo-Saxon styward, the keeper
of the pig sty. No, really, that’s where it comes from.] The
designated adult in charge of the crew. The thin wall that separates
management from labor and who is unappreciated by both parties.
Technical Director noun There are several versions
of this job: 1) The guy who actually directs all technical aspects
of the show. This is rare, but it does occur, mostly on corporates.
2) The House God - the building employee who has the keys to everything
and can answer questions about arbor capacities and mic positions.
Identified by their distinctive cry, "You can’t block
that doorway!" 3) The Glorified Shop Steward - often found
in community theater, this guy is really the head carpenter, but
is called the technical director because in commy theater scenery
chews up the majority of the budget. Other departments may theoretically
report to him, but usually work independent of (or in spite of)
the TD. 4) The Micromanaging Production Manager - "Tell you
what, why don’t you let me cable this electric, and you go
back to your office and get my time-sheet straight for once…"
That’s what I should have said. In the end, I re-cabled the
electric after he went to a meeting somewhere.
Show Lead noun [Audio Visual] The AV guy in charge
of getting the show/meeting/event in question done. Theoretically
reports to a Type 2 TD, but more frequently tolerates a Type 4 TD.
Production Manager noun The constant source of
ridiculous demands. Well, really, what else is a large production
but a parade of ridiculous demands? Name another segment of the
economy where 16 semi trailers of gear are assembled, run for two
or three hours and then disassembled, all to be duplicated the next
day in some other city. OK, maybe the military.
Event Coordinator noun I’m pretty sure
these guys do more than fetch towels and tables for the PM, but
damned if I know what that might be.
Stage Manager noun [theater] The person who calls
the cues. Sometimes, this person has been intimately involved with
the production from it’s first rehearsal and has a master
plan for every aspect of the show. Many times, they are not nearly
so prepared. Sometimes, they have never seen the show before either.
In straight theater the Stage Manager is there to enable the director
and is really more from the artistic side than the technical side.
In other realms, it’s whoever puts on a headset and seems
to be in charge.
Director noun [Latin dirigere, to direct] When
we don’t add a qualifier to this term, it means the person
who tells the talent what to do. This person will also frequently
share their opinions with the technical staff, creating situations
which lend themselves to sarcasm. Never let them touch the gear.
Never let them on headset.
Promoter noun [Latin promotus, to move forward]
A friend who would know described it like this: "You have to
be willing to take your best friend’s life savings, set it
on fire, and then wake up the next morning wanting to do that again."
Producer noun [Latin producere, to produce] The
one who takes all the credit for success and delegates blame for
failure amongst the staff. More importantly the one ultimately responsible
for getting this silly-ass thing on stage where people can see it.
Most importantly, the one who writes the checks (and who would replace
us all with techies in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away
There. Don’t you feel smarter? Remember, the more obscure
and berserk terms you folks submit, the more fun this column will
be for all of us. And since I don’t get paid for this particular
project, it’s all about fun.
Guess that makes me a techie after all. Well, just don’t say
it where I can hear you.
Your thoughts on the Message Board.