Note: From 1999 until 2006 I was a theatrical stagehand in Nashville and Seattle. I also went on a few brief tours with Cavalia, the Cirque Du Soleil spin-off that is currently performing in Marymoor Park.
Key Arena, Seattle – 2006
When fans of Neil Diamond find out I’ve been a stagehand, they always ask me the same question: “Is Neil Diamond really the jerk that everybody says he is?”
“No, he isn’t,” I reply, “he’s idiosyncratic.”
“How so?” they continue.
“Look,” I say, “I think what you’re really asking me about is Neil Diamond’s unusual shyness.”
Yes, it’s true that Diamond, as his crew refers to him, has a reputation of requiring that no one backstage makes direct eye contact with him, or even really look at him. Some seasoned hands even tell me that Diamond used to require a no-look agreement be signed in writing with every stage hand before he could start work.
But, I understand that – to a degree.
Most performers are in a zone when they leave the stage. They generally have to be escorted, usually by the stage manager, down the back steps and through the maze of cables, amps, video monitors and catering carts that compose the backstage area, depositing them safely in their dressing rooms or back on their tour bus.
Typically, when performers are exiting they do not look at anyone nor make any kind of social contact. Backstage, it is well understood never to talk with any performer at this time, and especially never to ask for an autograph, pitch a song or anything like that. That is strictly verboten.
So, Diamond takes his privacy one step further, maybe two.
At the Diamond show I worked at the Key Arena, we built him a covered tunnel from the stage to the dressing area, presumably so that he could have total privacy and safety. In fact, this extra work got me placed on the call list for the show since the union needed more stagehands than normal, and they had to dip down to my spot on the seniority list. So, Diamond’s quirky behavior actually created a job for me.
In the tunnel, which was a long series of Costco car-port canopies, I specialized in stringing “rope lights,” thick strands of flexible plastic lights that affixed to the plastic tubes holding up the black fabric draped on the sides and overhead.
The tunnel was quite long, stretching down about fifteen-feet of stair casing, then fifty-feet or so through the backstage area, and then down a thirty-foot section of corridor until it reached his dressing room.
All told, I was one of four “tunnel guys” that put this rig up during the load-in, and then we took it down after the show.
Personally, I don’t think having such an advanced state of privacy is that weird. In fact, I think it’s smart and maybe essential in order to keep a high profile career going for 30 years. The emotional energy required to be in the public eye and face their demands, expectations, and potentially energy-draining encounters requires one to be wise in how exposed one gets. I understand that.
But, not everyone agrees.
One guy working the Diamond show said the “no look” rule was a major irritation. He called it, “working while you’re walking on egg shells.”
Yeah, that’s not any fun, but, touring is tough and I appreciate what Neil Diamond goes through.
Nevertheless, such sensitivity should never be allowed to warp oneself to the point where a performer does not trust their stagehands to be respectful.
We’re pros, too, Neil.
© 2006, 2012 Bruce A. Smith