The First Lighting Gig

After running the spotlight for a number of shows, I moved down to stage level to help with lighting. I spent a number of shows as a lighting assistant. For any given show/event, there is a Lighting Operator (LxOp) – one who chooses the colours, where and what lights to use and program and run the lighting console, and the assistants (LxA). It could be one or more. The assistants get the colours, the lighting instruments and basically to the heavy work, at the direction of the LxOp.

The first show I got to operate, I wasn’t even scheduled for such a position. I was in as an LxA. There was no LxOp signed up, so the call went “downtown” for the IATSE union to fill the role. The guy who came in had been working the past 36 hours or so on a larger show – some touring band at the hockey arena. So once the basics had been determined, he let me do the rest, so he could have a nap.

He was nearby and I had his cell number if things went really awry. He also gave me a bit of advice that I still use; keep a look – lots of light, on a fader so if things go sideways or I lost where I was, that fader could always be brought up to save the show. You never want the talent left in the dark!

The show was a Canadian comedian, Don Harron, also known by his alter ego, Charlie Farquharson. Don had been on Hee Haw for years, one of my Dad’s favourite characters, so I was quite excited to not only meet the man, work on the show, but now be THE lighting guy for it!

The late Don Harron as Charlie Farquharson on Hee Haw.

Don was a very quiet man, and arrived without fanfare through the audience to the stage. Walked up on stage to where the crew were awaiting instructions, and simply said “Hello, I’m Don Harron”.

Anyway, we got the show set up, and ran rehearsals, then broke for dinner. Back then, we volunteers could work professional shows, and the Creative Resources crew made homemade dinners for the talent and crew.

The food was awesome, and 99% of the time, we ate with the performers. I miss those days.

I still smile to think that not only did I get to eat with Don Harron, but afterwards, watched as he lay down on the couch and had a nap. Just like that. To me this guy was a big star.

The show itself went off without issue. A hiccup during the show by the actors (it was Don and a woman who I don’t recall) that Don quickly rebounded with “that’s not the way it went in rehearsal”. The crowed laughed, and the crew because that was true, not just part of the show.

After the show Don signed autographs in the lobby and was selling a book. I purchased a book and got in line to have it autographed. Don was a little disappointed that I’d paid for the book (only $10); I guess he would have just given me the book. Anyway, I told him I was his lighting guy, looked at me and said thanks, and gave me a great book signing.

After that I was jazzed and knew this was the course for future shows. And thanks to the IATSE guy (who I’ll keep nameless, as he is still active in the union) for giving me a chance to do something I didn’t know I could do or like doing so much.

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Stage Crew: The Beginning

People ask how I got into volunteering with the stage crew. It was never something I’d considered, until on day a work colleague, who was a sound technician/volunteer, said it would be something I would be interested in, and they were recruiting.

I figured, why not. my then wife and I were not doing well, and we thought this might be a was of shared experience to get closer (spoiler – it didn’t). I initially thought I would be right into sound. I play the guitar, like music and technical stuff. I was surprised that I actually gravitated to the lighting side.

Now, it wasn’t just a matter of putting a name on a list and boom, I’m in. There was an application, an interview with the volunteer coordinator and a police check. Then there was training. The new volunteers, about twelve, had to train in basic stage lingo (upstage, downstage, stage left/right, etc). as well as overviews of lighting, sound, flys and of course, safety. I also had to purchase steel-toed work boots, black clothing, gloves and a flashlight. I was starting to think there was a lot to this, and having doubts that I made the right choice.

My First Show

After all the training it was a few weeks before an opportunity arose. The Stage Crew Chief would let the crew know what shows/events were coming, and we could put our name in for the show and position available. My first “gig” was running spotlight for local musical theatre group, Orpheus, and their production of Beauty and the Beast. Having been a few weeks since doing training, I forgot how to turn on the light, and had to hunt down someone to help. Ooof, what a start.

Super Trouper
Not my first show, but one of many behind the spotlight.

On With the Shows

It all went well in the end, and I had a blast. I ended up doing about four more shows of the run (of nine shows). I was so enthused, I signed up for their next production, “Guys and Dolls” and their 100th anniversary shows (rehearsals and full runs). I was hooked. And I’ve never looked back. I’ve pretty much all of the rest of Orpheus’ productions in some position, including Lighting Designer.

Stay tuned for more tales from the stage….

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All the worlds a volunteer stage

I’ve been volunteering at a local theatre for thirteen years. The theatre is owned and operated by the City of Ottawa, and for the most part, is a volunteer organization. There are paid staff that take care of things and ensure productions are safe and in control.

The theatre is run as a roadhouse. That is, anyone can rent the facility to put on a production or event. I’ve been involved in plays, musicals, presentations, dance rehearsals and so on.

I’m on the stage crew and do primarily lighting.

At one time, we could work on professional shows as well as amateur, however the IATSE union had something to say about that, and we can only do amateur productions. I’m not blaming the union, they need to earn money; but I do miss doing those shows. Some acts I did include the Trailer Park Boys, Colin James, Chantal Kreviazuk to name a few.

I also do lighting designs for the local production companies who come into the space. I have done lighting for Orpheus (Last Five Years, Rock of Ages) ASNY (Mary Poppins, Little Women, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid) and Suzart (Elf, Sister Act, Cabaret, Seussical, James and the Giant Peach).

I also help out in other theatre venues, so I get around and do many things. In this blog area, I hope to add stories of the shows I work on, reflect on past productions and designs and other similar things.

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Powerful sunshine and solar panels

We had our first real snowfall of 2021, and winter really. Its a testament to climate change that here in Ottawa we can get to mid-January before any significant snow and still not be very cold. When I moved here 30 years ago, it was snowing and on the ground in November and stayed until late March/early April; the temperatures were easily -20 celcius or colder throughout January. Here we are January 18, and its the first really cold day at -6 celcius, and the lowest it’ll go is -8.

I don’t mind as much, as the older I get, the less I like the cold.

So after a snowfall of officially 21cm, the sun came out for a spell. As it went down, I was surprised to see the solar lights come on. It was cloudy most of the day, and a good layer of snow covered the solar panels that charge the batteries. Good panels!

The charge only lasted about a half hour though, but it gave me a chance to snap a few light beams from the lamp projected onto the snow.

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Fall photos

What is it about autumn, trees and the need to take pictures of the leaves?

The event happens every year without fail, yet people continually take and post photos of the leaves. I do too. Or at least, I thought I did. Looking through the archives here, I had to go back five years to find some pictures. Although I do look at the trees and think, I gotta get a picture of that, then never do.

It must be just the colours. We go from brown and grey of winter to lush green for the summer. The fall burst of oranges, reds and yellows, especially against a crisp blue sky, is just so inviting and fun.

So, here are my obligatory fall photos…so far….

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Hip shots

As I usually preface, Ottawa is far from a hotbed of railroad activity, and when the chance comes to see a train, I go for it.

With the local line near my house, I can hear the local freight run up to make a delivery, knowing it will be back in about 20 minutes. This gives me enough time to find a location to watch it return.

Nearly all the time, it is the same consist of cars, only the actual number potentially varying. I don’t usually take a camera because, well, its always the same. This particular time, I decided to take one. Just because. I chose the Fuji X-100T and it accompanying telephoto extension.

The place I like to see the train gives a good view of it coming and going. For the best shots, I should bring the X-T1 or X-Pro2 so I can affix a telephoto lens for best angles. But time is of the essence to get in position (yes I could actually plan this a bit better too).

So when I’m in the spot, a chain-link fence limits my shooting. I set the exposure as best I can and then reach over the fence and shoot continually to hopefully get something decent. I ended up with this as the best one:

Still not as crisp as it could be; good enough for Instagram. Notice the fence in the bottom right corner. This is cropped in to remove as much of the fence as possible.

And, some shots just are not usable. Like this one, that better focused on the fence rather than the train:

Given that the consist was nothing special, and it was more of an exercise in just using the camera and seeing the train, not a big deal.

Not every shot is a keeper.

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The result

As mentioned in the previous post (yes, its been a while to follow up), I was waiting on some trains in Brockville.

While waiting, railfans who knew more than me, probably because they had scanners, showed up to wait on the trains. Yay! I was going to see *something*.

The first train rolled by, heading towards Montreal. I thought I would be all artsy, and try capturing the old luggage trolley in the shot. Kind of a old/new thing.

New power, old ways.

Not bad, I guess. I would have liked a few more locomotives in the lead. I figured that was it and relaxed to watch the train go by. Then the DPU (Distributed Power Unit) came along, and I quickly snapped it. The DPU is a way to help in moving the train to put less strain on the couplers and better apply the air needed for breaking, especially in winter. Its all remote controlled.

With that train gone, the wait was on again. There was a VIA train from Montreal scheduled but it was about 30 minutes behind schedule. I was told there would be a couple of freight trains in the morning, so I kept waiting. The VIA site was giving updates. I figured I’d waited this long, what’s a bit more. Then hope appeared on the horizon, as the signal changed.

A railfan’s ray of hope – a green light.

It eventually showed up, and being on the platform, I had a great view.

VIA trains now have locomotives at both ends. Saves time on turning the train. With it stopped, the end unit was in full view. As it departed, I got the end locomotive; an older but classic VIA locomotive.

End of train. Note the red placard in the coupler.

As it left, it was getting close to 12:30 and I figured maybe it was time to head home. I looked out over the signals, and sure enough, a green showed. Maybe one more. Soon after, the railfans came back (they had left after the last freight), so I knew something would show. Shortly after it did.

Again, only one locomotive in the lead. There was a DPU, but I elected not to shoot it.

After that, the railfans left and I figured it was time to head back to Ottawa.

Given the general lack of any interesting trains in my area, the three I did see were a nice change. Search through this blog and you will see a number of shots of the typical freight one can expect.

And railfanning is a bit like fishing. You go out to see what you can catch. Some days are better than others, but its the thrill of the waiting that is half the fun.

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I recently purchased a new-to-me (used) car. A Volkswagen 2014 Jetta TDI. My previous Jetta was in slow decline, and as I needed new winter and summer tires going forward, it was time to look for something new.

Of course, with all the current social distancing stuff going on, where is one to go? To watch trains of course!

I drove down to Brockville and hung out at the VIA station for the morning. I had tips that there would be a few trains in the morning. As usual, there is a lot of waiting for something to happen. The visible signal lights indicated something was coming, it was just the “when” part that needed filling in.

To pass the time I walked up and down the platform and looked around and snapped various pictures. Most were just throw-aways, or test of different features on the Fuji X-Pro2. These were a couple interesting ones though.

An apartment building across the street. Possibly a hotel back in the day for travellers taking the train.
Accidental art. Paint splatter on the ground in a shelter, framed by shadow.
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May flowers

As the warm weather arrives, that means it’s time to start planting. Some flowers and veg are scarce, due to the pandemic and people just plain hoarding things (formerly toilet paper, victory gardens are the thing now).

We did get some flowers to brighten up the back yard and draw the bees and birds. A splash of colour after a cool, wet and house-bound spring is a welcome view.

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New kids in town

Ahhh spring. And with it comes warm weather and little creatures from their burrows.

Here in Barrhaven, in the ‘burbs of Ottawa, there are many rabbits in the area. Over the winter there were three that frequented our backyard, to eat up any spilled bird seed from the feeder. At least one of them was my friendly bunny.

Last year, a little baby rabbit frequented our yard, and became so used to me, that he (or she) would hop over and ask for bird seed. Of course, I could not resist, and gave him some. He would sit a foot away and eat the seed while I sat there. If I moved, he bolted. So while not totally trusting, it was enough to allow me to be that close. He had a shock of red fur between his shoulders, so I knew who he was.

Fast forward to now, and in the neighbours yard, new bunnies have emerged. Whether they will be as friendly remains to be seen. But there are no dogs in our yard, so the bunnies like the sanctity.

When I saw the newlings, I grabbed my longest lens and got this shot of the little guy. We figure he is about four weeks old. We’ve seen two so far.

Small baby bunny in the grass.
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