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Monday, September 7, 2015

Smoke is a Joke!

Hi there,

Now if you read my blog but don't know me personally, I worry you think I may be Diva-like with tech crew at gigs. I admit I do vent in this blog about sound issues at times...but I do really believe that the person twiddling the knobs behind a sound desk can absolutely make or break a gig for a singer. I do an average of 4 gigs a week and I promise it really is a very small minority of engineers I butt heads with (soundos reading this that actually like me, feel free to step in any time :)). Anyway, you'll be pleased to know I'm sharing the love today and bitching instead about lighting.

I had a daytime cabaret spot at a lovely club in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I went to open my mouth for the opening lines of my opening song, I choked, literally. The hazer (modern smoke machine) had just disgorged its vapour uncomfortably near my face. I regained my composure and kept singing but as soon as I had a space between lines of the song I looked towards the sound and lighting booth and said, 'No hazer for me please, it makes me cough' and smiled apologetically. The haze continued, so at the end of the song I had to say it again - I hated having to make a big point of it so publicly but there was no way I could continue through the next 45 minutes with that malodorous miasma puffing in my face and down my throat. Interestingly, the audience were nodding their heads and saying things like, 'yeah get rid of it, we hate it too!'. 

I do get the hazer thing. It makes the lighting come to life. Some lighting effects simply don't have the impact without the smoke. But, come on, at what cost? Usually during soundcheck I make a point of asking - as politely as possible - that no hazers are used when I'm singing on stage. I always apologise to the lighting person in advance and concede I am making their job harder, but that the hazer makes me cough and means I can't do my job properly.

Most of the time the lighting person will say 'OK', even so with a bit of a snarl. But a conversation not long ago with one lighting person at a kids' show I produce, went something like this:

Lighting Dude: Why have you written 'no hazers please' on your lighting guide?
Me: Yeah sorry, we singers find they dry out our throats and make us cough.
Lighting Dude: But they make the lights look good.
Me: I know, I'm really sorry, but you know that smoke is really not a good thing to breathe in anyway and I have had health issues...
Lighting Dude: It's made from a chemical that is in chewing gum.
Me: Yeah, I would never eat chewing gum let alone breathe it in...
Lighting Dude: Do you drive? How about the stuff that comes out of the exhaust, that's really evil too.
Me: Yes, I really avoid opening my mouth right next to exhausts and breathing that smoke in...
Lighting Dude: We use the same hazers as the Opera House use. And they make the lights look good.
Me: (Diva alert!!) Well at least on my deathbed I can say that the lights in my shows looked great huh?

Yes that last comment of  mine was a bit extreme but the dude did shut up and he didn't use the hazer. As producer this was my choice anyway, not his. I also had a particular problem in this case because it was a kids' show and I didn't want to pump children's eyes and lungs full of something potentially harmful. Funnily enough, I produced a show at the Opera House recently (and they did indeed have the same type of hazers) and when I gave the Production Manager the lighting guide he read it and said, 'No hazers? OK.' No arguments, not even a snarl and still a great looking show.

I have done a bit of research on the chemicals used in hazers and it is actually difficult to get a definitive answer on their safety but there is plenty of research to show that actors and singers find them very drying on their throats, which negatively affects their performances. I spoke to a few doctors who agree that they are 'bad for you' with one Oncologist telling me that anytime you turn an organic material into smoke, it is potentially carcinogenic. 

We have only recently managed to clear our venues of second hand cigarette smoke - I for one don't want to replace it with another foul fume. 

Anyway, I may be creating a stink with this post, but all I want to do is clear the air!

(The Accidental Diva)