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  • Natalie Wisdom

Lavoid McKibbin – Head Carpenter, Frozen National Tour.

[Interview Date: October 18, 2020]

Additional: Book of Mormon Tour, Wicked Tour, The Producers, and more.

Where were you on March 12, 2020? And what was the week leading up to it like?

We were in Portland, OR with the tour of Frozen, doing a work call.

Did you anticipate Broadway and other theatre productions to be closed for this long?

Once the announcement was made that we were closing the show down for “some time,” it seemed likely we would be closed for 6 months to a year.

As a Crew Member, what were the biggest challenges for you when you saw things were shutting down?

How to stretch what resources I have until the situation becomes “stable.” If that means working in a different industry or simply reducing the money I spend.

Were there any specific challenges relating to but not limited to things like load-out, crew morale, etc.?

We have not yet loaded out of Portland, so yes, there are changes that will happen for that process that are still being figured out. As for morale, we are keeping in contact, calls, text, FB with each other. Some of the crew have pivoted into other jobs and interests to make ends meet, though nearly everyone I talk to in the business is committed to returning to shows when this time passes.

What precautions have you discussed or heard being discussed in regards to innovative ways to come back to safe rehearsals and performances? How do you think this will make your job different when you return?

What I have heard talked about for the technical side have been primarily based in mask, glove, distancing, and sanitizing areas. I think that is a short-term situation that will be affected more by the development of a vaccine, and more effective treatments of the virus.

What have you, personally, been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

Exercise and physical activity outside of work has always provided a good way for me to step out of the daily grind of what is going on in my head. I also am listening to podcasts about leadership and reading books on improving how to work with people.

What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?

Uncertainty is particularly challenging. Not having the ability to plan very far out is rough on someone that spent most of their professional life planning nearly everything about their day. Also, not seeing the people whose company I have grown to enjoy. Zoom is ok, but it is limited.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

People have started to figure out what is important in their lives. Family, health, friends, and also what isn’t important to how we live day-to-day.

What is your biggest worry right now?

Will the audience be willing to come to the theatre and experience live entertainment, and will the world be able to trust each other to move forward in solving problems as they are revealed?

What do you miss the most about theatre/your job/the arts?

Mostly the people, but also solving the puzzle that is touring a show. The question of how to make a show happen in a completely different building in each new city, with different spaces is really satisfying. Regarding the arts, I am missing live music, particularly Jazz and Blues. Very social experiences from a performing and listening aspect. Not completely impossible to do some of that in our current situation, but interaction is certainly limited.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

I have two, actually. They both involve something going “wrong."

The tour of Wicked was in New Orleans. In the middle of the second act, all the power went out. With that theater, all the line sets are motorized so we couldn’t get anything offstage. We had emergency lighting and enough room to push the rehearsal upright piano to the stage. Our Stage Manager made an announcement that was a synopsis of the rest of the act, and our two leads sang the song, “For Good” with the help of 20 stagehands and flashlights. The audience was very receptive and good-natured. They also got to see a performance that no one else will ever see. It was really special.

The second one was the Miss Saigon tour, designed by John Napier, that had the original full-size helicopter and blinds that looked like rice paper. We had one blind that had failed 2 or 3 times in one city, and I was working automation on a truss 36 feet above the show deck on stage left. When the winch that operated the blind would dump its wire rope off the drum, I would grab my tool bag and walk across the helicopter truss to the other side of the stage. And with the help of our stage right carpenter, Brooke, put it back together before the next scene change. It was probably the third or fourth time we had to re-feed the cable when I headed over, and as I arrived at the blind, Brooke came up the ladder from her side and said, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”

What is the first thing you’re going to do when theatre is back?

Re-learn the show.

What advice do you have for young Broadway/Stagehand hopefuls during this time?

Find a way to apply the skills that a stage career would use to whatever occupation is available. Do something that is also a polar opposite to what you think your stage skillset is. Learning is where you find it, and you will find it if you look. Even if you are not expecting to find it in those places.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: I have no actual favorite, but Miss Saigon is up there.

Favorite Broadway Play: I have two. Our Town and Barefoot in the Park.

Favorite Movie Musical: Tough call. Either High Society with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra or Blues Brothers.

Favorite Theatre Ritual: Ghost lights

Favorite Theatre Superstition: Don’t whistle in the theater.

Favorite Gadget: So many, but given its impact, the cordless drill. (cordless anything, really.)

Best Personal Superhero Crew Skill: I don’t think I have one. Though I admire the cast and crews I have worked with for seeing something happen that could potentially stop the show, recognizing it, finding ways to keep it moving forward, getting it back on track without the audience really knowing anything happened.

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