My summer vacation as a Vaudeville roadie

June 27, 2006|by LYDIA HADFIELD

Summer has arrived! With the season return fond memories of beach-going and poolside lounging. For me, the picture of summer wouldn't be complete without recollections of climbing into the back of the family minivan and heading off to a gig.

My dad is a physical comedian. He performs three shows: Spats the Lost Vaudevillian, General Foolishness, and The Funny Guy. For more than 10 years, my two brothers and I have been his occasional roadies. My mom sometimes comes along to weekend shows, but during summer weekdays, it's usually just me and the boys.

A roadie is a person who travels with a performer, schleps their gear, and helps set up and tear down the show. The position requires an array of specialized skills including (but not limited to) being able to interpret a map without drizzling it with pizza sauce, acclimating your respiratory system to the perfume of apples and cabbages (juggling props which have sat in the unair-conditioned car in 96-degree weather), and wrangling a 6-foot-tall unicycle into and out of a Toyota Privia. From motel floors to queen-sized beds, complimentary fruitbaskets to the second pizza meal of the day, high school gyms to swanky theatres, being a roadie requires stamina, mild insanity, and a good sense of humor. My brothers and I have nearly mastered the art.


I was a roadie for the first time with my older brother P.K. when I was 5. We sported T-shirts my dad made with "Road crew" spelled out on the back in blue felt letters. We proudly carried the lightest props and joined the audience in laughter during the shows.

The acts have changed and evolved since then; my younger brother, Dylan, joined the road crew, and P.K. performed with my dad for years before retiring at the ripe old age of 14. We've outgrown the T-shirts and though we've long since memorized the jokes and shtick, we still laugh. The sense that every trip is another adventure has remained.

There were times when my brothers and I bickered, the audience was unresponsive, or important props were left at home. Even so, the mishaps are often the funniest stories in retrospect.

I'll never forget the time my dad and I went to a rhythm festival in Baltimore before driving to a gig. We left the festival with two new drums and arrived at the venue early. The doors were locked and no one appeared to be inside the school. So, we sat on the curb and drummed to pass the time. About 30 minutes later, feeling mildly nervous that no administrators had showed, my dad checked the contract. He froze in horror.

"Lydia! What's today's date?"

We had been looking at the wrong contract! My dad was supposed to be performing at a different school (with a similar name) in 15 minutes! Miraculously, we made it to the correct school in time without breaking too many traffic laws.

The times my dad, brothers and I laughed until we cried far outweighed the bad experiences. Whether making fun of horrible hotel TV or searching for something vegetarian to eat at 11:30 p.m. in North Carolina, we tend to have a good time together.

Being a roadie has given me some great shared stories with my family. It's given me wonderful opportunities for people-watching. I've been able to meet a variety of performers and see their work. It's instilled in me an abiding love of showbiz and inspired me to work on a show with my younger brother.

Above all, roadying has taught me to have a sense of humor about what goes on onstage, backstage and in life. I've learned that even if I bomb, I should try to get a good laugh out of it in the end.

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