When You’re a Stage Hand and It Snows 2-4 Inches Onstage Every Night

Outside the Theatre   When You’re a Stage Hand and It Snows 2-4 Inches Onstage Every Night John Snow chats making blizzards happen in the theatre, and what it’s like keeping the spotlight on Marisa Tomei for two hours a day.
John Snow
John Snow Marc J. Franklin

Who: John Snow
Where: Outside Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

John Snow
John Snow Marc J. Franklin

John Snow has been working as a stage hand at Lincoln Center Theater for five years, during which he’s taken on a variety of roles backstage, above the stage, and even under the stage—he helped push the gigantic boat in the recent Broadway revival of The King and I. He’s now on staff at the Mitzi E. Newhouse theatre, where he took some time to chat to Playbill about his latest gig: Sarah Ruhl’s How to Transcend a Happy Marriage, a play about monogamy, middle age, and the breadth of our desires.

What’s your role on How to Transcend a Happy Marriage?
I run the First Follow Spot, which is the big bright light that follows the actors around. On this show I’m just following Marisa Tomei. She’s great—very easy to follow. Traditionally the follow spot is part of the electronics team but because we’re a small team at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater we do a bit of everything. The light is manual, so I sit at the back center of the theatre, 20 feet in the air above the audience. I have a commanding view of the whole show. Arguably the best seat in the house if you ask me!

Have you witnessed the audience doing anything funny or crazy from up there?
During previews we had a gentleman come down onto the stage during intermission to try and touch the snow. He tripped on a step and stumbled, and people were trying to help him up—but he still wanted to touch that snow. Curiosity got the better of him.

It snows quite a bit during the show. Did you work on making that happen as a stage hand?
Yes, it crossed over a few different departments. Anybody who was in the room contributed. So with this show, we’ve installed boxes above the stage with little flaps that dribble out the snow. During previews we were just trying to figure out how to do it—the snow wouldn’t fall how or where we wanted it to. There have been many different snowstorms. We started out with 18 boxes, went down do 16, and now we have eight.

What’s it made of?
I’ve never gotten an official answer, but it feels like ground-up plastic bags.

At what point did you begin working on How to Transcend a Happy Marriage ?
Two weeks before the load in, I started in the electric shop building wires and prepping. We don’t see the script or anything, we just know the name of the show and get a brief explanation. Then we catch bits and pieces of the show during rehearsals. It’s really interesting to watch it evolve, especially from where I’m sitting up in the rail.

How many stage hands are working on this show?
There are seven of us. There’s our head carpenter, a light engineer, a sound engineer, and three guys on deck [on or backstage] handing off props, moving furniture, etc. I love my team. Even when the job is tough—we’re sweating and working hard—we’re laughing and having fun. Like any job, it’s who you work with. It’s a charmed life.

How did you get into working as a stage hand?
Five years ago I was in between jobs and a good friend of mine got me into the team. It turned out I was a natural! The universe just put me here. I had no theatre experience beforehand. The hardest part of making the transition was learning all the terminology.

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage is playing through May 7. You can purchase tickets here.

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