The ringing phone cut through my deep sleep. It was exactly the kind of sleep you should have at three in the morning while nestled under the covers. I braced for the worst as I fumbled around on the nightstand for my phone, which seemed to be hiding from me.
“Hey, Todd. It’s Martin.”
Martin was a good friend and colleague. We both worked as electricians for Haphazard Productions. If he was calling, I needed to focus. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was a little after three. I found the light switch on the first try, and illuminating the room helped me to wake up more. “Hey. Yeah. What’s up?”
“Sorry to call you so late. An opportunity came up I thought you might want.”
I sat up. My eyes worked to adjust to the light. My brain, however, still didn’t want to wake up. “Okay,” I said, sounding groggy.
“One of the senior techs on ANTD had to go to New York for a family emergency. We need someone… this morning. I said you might be available since you’re on a hiatus.”
“Oh. Yes. I’m interested. When?” Now I was awake. This cool news was worth losing sleep over.
“Call is at five.”
“I’ll be there.” I got up and, while still getting information from Martin, quickly made the bed as was my routine. The next stop was the galley kitchen to make coffee. I’d only gone to bed two hours ago, so I was going to need a lot of coffee today.
I was all too happy to give up part of an unexpected vacation to work on America’s Next Top Dancer. I’d been off work for two days. The crew of Dealmakers found out on Monday that we’d be shut down for six weeks because the host broke his arm in a weekend rock climbing accident. We had enough shows in the can that we could stop production, let him heal up, and then resume shooting. The viewers would never see him in a cast on the show.
America’s Next Top Dancer was shot on the same studio lot as Dealmakers. When ANTD started three years ago, I wanted to work on it, but I didn’t have enough seniority to request the transfer. Now I’ve got the time under my belt, but there’ve been no openings. Even if it was only a few days, I was psyched to be a part of it. I’m a huge fan of the show, so much so that I vote every week. The current season, only four weeks into the competition, had some terrific dancers. Nathaniel Mayer, a hot guy and an amazing dancer, was captivating. He got my votes every week. Now I’d see him dance in person. I was practically bouncing around the kitchen in excitement.
I’d been tempted a time or two to take dance lessons because of the show. That seemed silly, though. Truthfully, I’ve got no rhythm. I can hang on to a beat for about two seconds before it’s gone again. I’m a big guy, too, and I’m pretty sure my body doesn’t move like a dancer. Yeah, I’ve seen the big football players dance on the celebrity dancing show, but they already know how to move because of the sport they play. Other than working out, I haven’t been sporty since I graduated high school ten years ago.
Jordan Seller, ANTD’s lead technician, met me when I showed up at the production office at five on the dot. The office was a typical cramped space, with more desks in the room than there should be. Even at this hour, every desk was filled and everyone seemed perky. It must’ve been the techno music playing in the background that kept the mood upbeat.
“Thanks for coming in to help,” Jordan said. “Sorry we had Martin wake you up in the middle of the night, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to prep for this afternoon’s results show.”
“Not a problem. I’m happy to be here.”
“Great. Here’s your access pass. Are you available for the next week? We don’t know the needs for next week’s show yet, but I’m sure we can use you.”
“Sure. Dealmakers is off for at least five or six weeks.”
“Perfect. Head over to stage 23. Check in with Clive Patterson. Anyone who’s over there can point him out. Thanks again, Todd.” We shook hands, and Jordan turned his attention to his computer.
Walking into stage 23 was cool. Even though I worked on this lot, I’d never been inside since the shooting schedule for America’s Next Top Dancer conflicted with Dealmakers. The crew was already hard at work. From where I stood, just inside the entrance, I could see more than a dozen people throughout the soundstage. The lighting team was in the rafters refocusing lights, while someone stood on the stage to mark the spots the lights needed to hit. At the back of the set, riggers prepared backdrops and worked with the technicians programming the big video screen along the back wall.
The cavernous building was dominated by the main stage. In front of the stage was a pit area where audience members could stand close to the action. Behind that were sections of bleacher seating for the rest of the audience. The judge’s desk, on the left side of the stage, was currently disassembled. Everything was lit up with the show’s typical color palette of blues highlighted with some red, green, and orange. I assumed there was a good deal of space behind the stage, too, considering the size of the props I’d seen them use on this show.
I needed to stop ogling everything and get to work. “Excuse me,” I said to the next person who walked in front of me. The woman, who was carrying three binders and moving at a rapid pace, stopped and looked annoyed. “I’m looking for Clive Patterson. I’m the electric sub.”
I guessed I was important to her because she immediately went from annoyed to helpful. “Oh, hey, great. He’s going to be thrilled to see you,” she said while her eyes darted around the studio. “There he is.”
She pointed to an average looking guy, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt, who seemed to be fighting with electrical cords coming out of the front of the stage.
“Thanks very much.” She was gone before I finished speaking.
I walked quickly to Clive and introduced myself. “Can I help you out with that?”
“For the love of God, yes! See those two grips?” he said as he gestured with his head, not letting go of the wires he held. “Pull that panel out, get under the stage and see what these are hung up on.”
I removed the section of stage and climbed in. It was an uncomfortable place for me. I had to keep my six foot two frame hunched over and dodge all the conduits and supports that filled the space. I followed the cables to where they were hung up and quickly untangled them so Clive could pull them out.
“Fantastic,” he said as I pushed the cables out to him. As soon as I was out from under the stage, he came over to me, cables still in hand.
“It’s Todd, right?”
“Thanks for coming in. I need to get you right into it. When we lit up the desk this morning, three-fourths of it failed along with all the video monitors. I had somebody look at it first thing, but had to reassign her to help with the Lady Gaga performance. They’re in at noon for blocking and it’s gonna be tight getting that done. Can you dive in with the desk?”
“Sure can. Where’s your electric closet and supply area?”
“Closet is back by the crew door you came in. Supplies are mostly in cabinets up top to keep them out of the way. As soon as I can spare someone, I’ll have them give you a quick tour. Did you bring your radio?”
“Great. We’re on channel 22. If you need help, call out to either Martin or me.”
“Sounds good. I’ll get working on the desk right now.” Clive clearly didn’t have time for small talk, so I went up the access stairs to the desk and got to work.
I loved all the activity on this show. Nothing much happens on Dealmakers. We usually reconfigure the set a bit at the start of the season, but after that it’s weeks of taping and routine maintenance. Here it was a whirlwind of activity.
I started on the desk, which took about an hour to fix. Someone had spilled soda, and the sticky mess caused the electronics to short out. After that I helped set up for Lady Gaga. That required a platform to be installed over the regular stage, and it had to be electrified for lights and effects. Clive had a great crew. They made it easy for me to fall into step with them. We accomplished the major setup on time. While Lady Gaga, her band, and dancers did a sound check and camera blocking, we grabbed lunch. After that, it was time for final checks to be ready for the audience to enter at three thirty.
At five the live broadcast to the East Coast began. I watched from the rafters, where I had to be to do my part when the Lady Gaga stage was put in place during a commercial break.
It was cool watching the show from above. I knew I’d watch it again on TiVo later to see the dances from the right perspective, but the aerial view was pretty awesome. To be just thirty feet away from Nathaniel while he performed in a group number was the highlight of the day.
The show went off the air at six and once the audience was gone, we spent another hour shutting down.
“You did a great job today,” Clive said as he shook my hand. “Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome. Glad I could help.”
“Tomorrow is our day off, and then back on Friday to start setup for next Tuesday. I know you usually run Monday through Friday, but if we could get you for the weekend, that would great.”
“No problem. Five a.m. on Friday?”
“We don’t shoot that day, so make it eight. I’ll make sure Melinda puts you on the call list emails so you get all the updates.”
“Great. I’ll see you Friday.”