Greetings from somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, Atlantic Ocean. Not where I pictured my career ten years ago, but these things happen. In 1999, I was working summers at a nightclub in the gayest part of Fire Island, that bastion of sodomy, The Pines. It was a great old disco owned by a septagenarian who basically made the Pines the center of gay cultural life in New York about 45 years ago. I loved the job - the music played by the Djs was the best anywhere, the staff were very quirky but great people, and I had the technical run of the joint. It was a basically 80's style theatrical system with lots of parcans, lekos, pinspots, several scanners, and stuff that spins and tumbles and flashes overhead. I ran it with 11 consoles.
One night a guy I didn't know turned up in the DJ booth and asked if I had ever done a light show on a cruise ship. I confessed that I had never set foot on a cruise ship in my adult life, but how hard could it be? I was already doing the technical production on virtually every beach- and house-party on the island, some of which were very elaborate. He wrote his LA number on a napkin and went back to the dance floor.
The first cruise the following January was the first really large format gay charter cruise in history, aboard the Norwegian Cruise Lines 'Sky'. Over 2000 passengers and a lighting rig of (I believe) 24 Vari*lites from Orlando. I transformed the pool deck into a night club, handling the lighting, sound, power tie-ins, logistics, programming, and operation. It was a great learning experience, trying to figure out how Delta power worked, rigging lights to deck railings, grounding at sea, and running a promoted cleaning crew that was accustomed to just turning on lights in the disco and turning them off at the end of the night. The parties were spectacular, and the dancing and shows went on on deck until dawn. And I was hooked.
Now, at the time I started working for the charter company, I was working for several lighting companies in New York as an LD for one-off shows. Shows like the Hezekiah Walker and Friends gospel concert at Radio City Music Hall, various musical acts from Christian rock to Eminem to Pavarotti at Madison Square Garden, and multi-band shows in arenas and at Jones Beach, and I really loved it. My passion was live music, and it fed my soul. The charter company started me out on three cruises a year, two in the Caribbean, one in the Mediterranean, and I got to see places I never dreamed of for a week, and then come back to work.
Over the years, the cruises increased, and I found myself away from home more and more. We got up to eight cruises a year, some as long as 14 days at sea. I have seen so many places that I am a regular on some ships, and even in some bars and restaurants in far-flung places like Mykonos, Cabo San Lucas, and Barcelona. I now am away from home more than I am in my Manhattan home. It has been an amazing experience that I would not trade for anything in the world. I have met some of my best friends at sea, and have learned more about marine electricity and rigging than the executive staff of many of the ships I have boarded.
But there was a trade-off. I missed my concerts and live music. For a time, I would even program lighting for special guests in the ship's theaters for free just to get the opportunity to do it. When I came back to New York in between cruises for months at a time, I was no longer a high proirity on the lists of companies that used to use me. They were tired of calling me and my not being available. I even was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to LD a huge concert tour for six months (for amazingly good money) but had to turn it down in part because my contract with the charters conflicted with the tour schedule. I had chosen my career. I became the world's foremost expert in transforming a cruise ship pool deck into a dance party, but became irrelevant in the world of concert lighting. I was now working in other cities, even on land, more than I worked in New York.
And so now I wonder if it is too late. I am somewhat older now, and my working styles have changed dramatically over the years (more about that in a later blog). My priorities have changed. I am in a long term relationship, and I work closely with my partner on projects. I manage much more elaborate events , with LED rigs, and video projection, and special effects, even underwater lighting. I made a decision that, after 38 cruises, this is my last year at sea, unless I can find a way to strike a balance. Now I have to see if I can pick up my old career where I left it off all those years ago.
I recently did a gig with BB King in New York for one of those production companies, BML, and it was one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences of my year. I got so involved in my work that by the second show, BB King was yelling out to me from the stage and I was responding with flashes of light. I was again conscious of what we do as an integral part of live performance, an interplay between a performer, a space, and thousands of participants all of one mind, temporarily transported in a group experience.
That's what brought me into the lighting world and inspired me 17 years ago to leave my career as a family therapist, and where I want to go again.