Saturday, April 9, 2011


I don’t know how many of you have tried Bikram yoga.  I haven’t.  Bikram, as I understand it, is a yoga practice where you go into a room where the temperature is set at 105 degrees and you do difficult yoga poses for an hour.  I’m not exactly sure why it needs to be 105 but I’m pretty sure I would be a limp noodle after that.  I don’t really need to spend any more time in that sort of heat.  The only thing that would make Bikram more like my work experience for six out of the twelve months of the year would be if it lasted many more hours and you had to wear a leather apron, a respirator and a hood.  Oh and you would need to stand in front of a 2000 degree forge and the room would actually need to be more like 125 degrees.  As you can imagine Bikram has very little appeal to me.  So you might be surprised to find out that this past week I reacquainted myself with what I like to call Billkram.  There is no yoga involved.  I generally have a love/hate relationship with working in live theater.  There is something compelling about the collaboration and the drive to curtain, but mostly it‘s painful.  My buddy Bill is a “tech something” at a theater in LA.  He’s in charge of getting the shows up.  And I will say he is amazingly good at it.  I haven’t actually ever met anybody that I think is better.  If you have a theatrical vision, Bill is the guy to make it happen, and every once in a while he hires me to help on a project.   The projects I’m brought in for are always challenging and thus we arrive at Billkram.

Billkram can best be described as a fitness program for the completely insane.  In this case it involved climbing two flights of stairs followed by an open frame staircase followed by a 55’ of uncaged ladder to the grid in a theater built in 1918 to do some rigging.    The platform at the base of the ladder was made of an open weave steel frame.  That way if you lost your grip on the worn smooth rungs you would be julienned before you hit the stage floor another thirty feet below that. The grid itself was made up of 2” I-beams with 6” gaps.  One of which was loose.  My foot easily fits in a 6" gap.  There was one moment while I was up there that I couldn’t decide if it was better to be there or on the stage when the big quake hit.  There was almost a hundred years worth of junk just lying around.  Old fly pulleys and turnbuckles and bolts.  If it shook hard enough a lot of stuff would fall.  Of course, so might I.  

Anyway, you don’t really need heat to work up a sweat when you are experiencing terror, but fortunately it’s really hot eight and a half stories up.  And in case you are wondering even if only one other person can see you, crawling is undignified.  So once the trembling subsides a bit, you just need to walk over and around the fly system.  Periodically you might trip and, of course, the crew on stage is flying things in and out so that the cables keep moving.  Fortunately the "head light" that was lent to me failed to last more than a couple of minutes so I spent most of my time in the dark.  Except when one of the other two people up there looked at me.  Then I was blinded by their "head lights", which seemed to work just fine.  In some ways it's probably better that I couldn't see anything but the gaps.  That way if a bat or some rodent scurried by I wouldn't know it.  This, in fact, only happened while I was in the alley. 

The goal of this particular Billkram session was to climb to the heated grid and hoist up a few thousand pounds of black drapes and a large wall that was scenery.  I might be exaggerating the weight, but I have no idea. For the wall we got to use manual chain hoists.  This involved kneeling on the I-beams and pulling on a chain until entirely drenched with my own sweat and then pulling much more.  I got a blister.  As a side note, the people onstage wanted to know what we were dropping.  I told them to get an umbrella.  Not that we could hear each other at that distance.  Anyway, that might have been the easy part.  We didn’t use hoists for the drapes.  Forty feet of black velvet pulled thirty feet into the air.  Better get two umbrellas.  After about seven hours it was time to climb down.  The Billkram session was almost over.  And, of course, by then you don’t care anymore if you drop the eight and a half stories.  It would be a relief.  

Obviously, though, I made it down and back up the next day for more.  But once again I was reminded of why I always return to my cave to make things.  Even the summers in front of the forge are easier than Billkram.

Now back to work.

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