Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Flyman Colin Wade

By Elspeth Sweatman

Among all the ropes and wires hanging backstage at the Geary Theater are two cords with rubber stoppers on the end. Their purpose: keep flyman and rock climbing enthusiast Colin Wade in shape. On a maintenance day between productions, we sat down with Wade to get a glimpse into the life of a flyman, the person in charge of raising and lowering (known as "flying") the various elements of the set design (curtains, walls, swings, etc).

Flyman Colin Wade. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
What’s your favorite thing about being the flyman?
I love being a part of the arts and the whole tech process. It’s nice to have the responsibility of running a crew, calling my own shots, and figuring out the best way to do things. It’s great to watch everything come together and to make it all happen. Flying something in and out is its own kind of art.

One of the things that you fly in and out on a regular basis is the front curtain.
That weighs 800 pounds. And no matter how many times we do it, it’s always a challenge. When you have an audience, there’s a lot of hot air in the house versus the cold air backstage. That can make the curtain blow up.

What has been one of the more complicated shows for you?
A Thousand Splendid Suns (2017) was a little complicated. When you have to time cues with sound—especially really long sound cues—it can be complicated. But it’s also fun because you get to be a little artistic with that kind of thing.

Set model, by scenic designer Andrew Boyce, for
A.C.T.'s 2016 production of The Hard Problem
In terms of complicated load-in [installing a set into a theater space], The Hard Problem (2016) was complicated. The ceiling for that show weighed about 3,000 pounds. We had to hand it in three pieces, two pipes per section. Getting it all balanced and put together was a challenge. We also had to have a bunch of rigging inside the ceiling in order to have walls that would fly out and travel. Getting it all dialed in was the most intense set that I’ve had to deal with.

What is one of the easiest shows for you?
A Christmas Carol is easy because we’ve been doing the same production for so many years. We have so many notes about how we have to breast a pipe [move a pipe] upstage three inches so we don’t hit something else. With every other show, we don’t know that until we do hit something.

What's something that the average theater-goer never gets to see?
See that chair hanging down? Once we have all the lights hung for a show, we need a way to focus the lights. So I bring the chair to the right height and snub [tie] it off so that if it gets added weight it won't go anywhere. Then someone takes a lift up to the chair, clips his or her harness to it, and rolls the chair down the I-Beam, focusing the lights as he or she goes.

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