In the news the next day I read a man had been murdered while we were breeding poetry, in one of the buildings behind the church, hacked to pieces and carried in bags to the corner trash can. A trail of blood in the snow marked the way to Ninth Avenue.
When the frost cleared, I returned to Hell’s Kitchen.
It was a risk, a life in the arts, but I had to forge my own life.
Jeff Jones, the administrator of the church and Theater at St. Clement’s, welcomed me to his
office. He was tall, the office small. He enormously filled the room, like a scene in
Alice in Wonderland.
“I came to a poetry reading h
ere. I know Richard Spiegel from another reading series he ran
in Midtown several years ago. I’ve been thinking about working in a theater, behind the scenes.
Is there anything part-
time?” Seeing his reaction, I amended, “or volunteer?” “There’s lots to do,” Jeff said. “There’s nothing paid at this time.” He added, “But it’s a place to start, and you might find something you can do.”
I was living in a Single Room Hotel and on the dole. I needed a job. This would be on-the- job training. Jeff asked if I would like to help Richard with the poetry program, but I said, no,
I want to do something different, to work with a group of peo
ple and get away from writing.”
Writing, I meant to say, was not enough.
Do you know anything about
“I like lighting,” I said. “I would like to learn how to do that.”
“Would you be interested in helping build the set? I perked up. “That sounds like fun.”
Jeff said to talk to Steve Cramer, the Technical Director.
He asked again, “Are you sure you don’t want to do something with poetry?”
No, I nodded,
I want to try this.
Every theater is like a cave, a shadow-box. Down a flight of stairs beyond the offices in the
front hallway, the “downstairs space” was a glorified basement, except that it was lined with
large windows on the outside red brick wall that let in the light, opening on a brick wall, a
neighbor’s backyard garden and view of rooflines. Beside the windows, tall plywood boards
painted black leaned against the wall. These could be placed in the windows, blocking off any light. All the other walls were painted light-absorbing matte black.
A tall, lean man, Steve Cramer, the Technical Director, or “TD,” was a young Abe Lincoln
look-alike, from Illinois or Indiana, and in time I learned that he was just as judicious and fair. Steve and I positioned wooden platforms to form a stage and seating area.
“How do you lift these all by yourself?”
Moving one end, he placed it on the top edge of another. “Don’t lift
when you can
leverage.” Some platforms had rows of red seats bolted onto them. “Old Roxy seats,” he said. “We salvaged them when they tore down the theater.”
We secured scrims in place to create a black backdrop and obscure the machine shop backstage. He
showed me how to repair holes and tears in the set’s walls with fabric and glue.
We tested the doors and windows.