July 9th, 2013



There is something worse than death.

I do not like heights. I do not like ladders. I hold a picture in my head, she’s smiling, big hair, blonde streaks. Start climbing.

Dessi Espana.

Twenty steel rungs up, the microclimate changes. Air-conditioning meets humidity, loses face and retreats. Ten more rungs under my hands, step left into darkness, grope for the switch.

Lillian Leitzl.

The ladder is staggered on the wall, so that falling is not a straight shot. Twenty more rungs from the first landing, no light on the second landing. Reach into darkness and find the rail. Step right. Twenty more feet, this ladder should have one more rung, but my groping hand says it doesn’t. Every rig is different. Every theatre’s grid, every hotel ballroom’s ceiling, every gym’s rafters, every time I talk to the tech director, give it the eyeball. Pull my best length-guess in straps, put my right arm through the coil and climb.

Angel Vera.

Grids are always filthy. No reason to clean where the audience never sees. Grids are always ovens. No ventilation in the highest part of the building, a June’s worth of Florida or Vegas or Montenegro heat collecting lazily among catwalks and cables. I navigate in a crouch. Sprinkler heads reach down to snag hair and slice skin. Rough-edged iron struts take out fingernails. At each rigging point, I pad the serifs of the I-beams with heavy fabric, protect the straps from abrasion. The strap I’ve carried up is sixty feet. Lower one end to the stage floor, pull up more fabric, more straps to hang, two per beam.

Emma Insley.

Equipment will hang from the other end of the straps, from a ladder or a lift tall enough to reach the “point”. Height will be adjusted by adding climbing slings or carabiners at the bottom end. My job is setting points. My job is spacing them so no-one gets kicked in the face in a big straddle. My job is eyeballing straps and slings and biners when they come out of the suitcase or the Rubbermaid bin—those knots still solid? My job is throwing away 46 not-broken carabiners every other January, replacing them with 46 brand-new carabiners, never having a broken carabiner.

There is something worse than death.

Did he look across the fold-out table in the trailer, put his hand on hers before they went out to the ring?—She was laughing in the wire globe, an Earth of her own design—It wasn’t a hard trick—It wasn’t a tough gig—She was just doing her job—He was just doing his job.

Sarah Guyard-Guillot.

Every day of every gig, I climb the ladder to the grid. Or pilot the lift in the ballroom. Or set the A-frame beneath the rafters. I duck under vent pipes and step over cables. Soak in sweat and blink out dirt. Step over gaps to the stage floor five stories below. Tug each strap and check each pad. Touch each carabiner and say a name.

Dessi Espana. Lillian Leitzl. Angel Vera. Emma Insley. Sarah Guyard-Guillot.

There is something worse than death.

Dessi’s husband. Emma’s boyfriend. Sarah’s co-worker. Lillian’s roustabout. Angel rigged himself. Angel was lucky.

There is something worse than death.

Being the rigger left behind.

Home Game for LJ Idol - yes, two weeks of circus in a row, but it's on my mind this week, given the recent news. I did not know Sarah Guyard-Guillot, but many of my friends did. May she rest in peace, and may my audience remember that one death in 25 years is still an excellent safety record for a company engaged in physically demanding work at height.