I remember one time I came off stage after the last scene of a touring show to find the backstage area already stripped down and ready to go in the van. “We thought we’d get a headstart while you guys did the last act.” I have an early childhood memory of watching the company of an outdoor show loading the van in a pool of floodlighting and thinking it romantic. Since then I’ve hauled steeldeck, huge flats and timber. I’ve packed up lights and endless cables and I’ve broken down trusses without earplugs leading to two years of tinnitus. I’ve obsessed over van packs. I’ve fitted impossible quantities of furniture into Luton vans and hauled it back and forth over the Pennines. I’ve helped load an old Post Office van with ridiculous knick knacks every night. I’ve gone around London in a transit collecting delicate sets to transport up to Edinburgh for people I’ve never met before and shows I’ve never seen. The van … it sometimes feels like a company member in a touring show.
Someone puts diesel in the petrol engine, or takes a chunk out of the side or gets stuck on a tree or hits a badger or gets five tickets on one drive and everyone knows and talks about it. I was in a show where they missed the ferry to Ireland. They had to cancel a performance. Financial disaster. I’ve done others where I had to preside over the van pack, imposing a strict and fine order to the contents, to do with weight and delicacy and movement when driving. You start to care about the van on tour. It’s the whole show apart from the bodies.
One of the first big vans I drove was up to Edinburgh. I winged it getting out of the parking space in the Sixt van lot, and took a chunk out of the pristine transit to the left of me. Thankfully I’d paid the extra insurance but still an expensive mistake. Idiot. You learn by doing though.
I remember in the Tower of London, saying “Watch out for that low bollard at the back of you. You won’t be able to see it from the cab.” “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING,” replied the other driving ASM at the wheel, before immediately reversing hard into the unseen bollard and really making a nasty dent in the thing. As it hit I felt awful, almost as if I’d seen a friend take a nasty cut. My eyes were drawn to the scar for the rest of the tour…
I’ve come to care about this big old Maxity. We split the interior space for Pantechnicon and I forgot it was as big as it is in there. But today was “get-out” day. Usually that involves loading the van. But it was all in the van already. So it was about tearing down all the stuff we built in the cold about a month ago, and then unloading it. Pulling out staples and unsticking carpets. Packing random knick-knacks into bags. Working out what was borrowed from who and where it all needs to go and why. I need it empty for tomorrow. I’ve got a whole day of hauling ahead of me. The best part of a week to build, and just a few hours tearing it down. I haven’t got the figures yet but I’m thinking we didn’t lose much. Maybe a small recovery, even. It depends how many people actually paid for a ticket… We will see. Not that we did it for the money. We did it for the festival season. But we need to get those pitches out there.