Andrea 'AJ' Patterson

by Nook Schoenfeld
in 1000 Words With...
Andrea 'AJ' Patterson
Andrea 'AJ' Patterson

On Life as a Moving Light Tech for the WWE

Andrea Patterson (AJ) grew up in Northern Illinois, with an interest in theater. In her teens, she involved herself with the Kirk Players, a troupe from Mundelein that has now been involved in community theater for over 50 years. She acted as well as worked in every department involved in a production. She actually worked one paid gig before heading off to college for scenic design and production.

While at college, she supported herself by working in a hardware store. However, she was always aware of the presence of a little lighting company (at the time) that was in her little town. She hammered this Upstaging company with applications for quite a while before they finally gave her some work. AJ continued her academic work while learning lighting at the shop.

Until that day when the college jacked up their tuition costs and a decision had to be made. As she explains it, “The way I figured, I could always go back to school to learn something. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work full time with this company.”

Eight years later, the technician had earned her stripes with many notches on her belt and a world well-traveled. She got a different kind of offer. “Would you like to get involved with wrestling,” they said. “It will be different,” they said. “You may grow to like it,” she was told. She gave it a go. Eight years later, she’s still employed as the moving light tech and self-proclaimed “Den Mother.”

‡‡         A Steady (and Grueling) Gig

“There’s two sides to working this show,” AJ says. “Many stay because the plus side is — you get to go home for a few days every week. A semi normal life. The other side is, it’s a grind. This is a never-ending show. It’s a slower pace than rock ‘n’ roll touring, but there is no end in sight.”

Indeed. The WWE do two shows every week, on Monday and Tuesday. Every other week they do a pay per view on Sunday that is broadcast as well. That’s three long days in a row for these crews. “We often call Wednesdays ‘Zombie Day.’ Because after little sleep for a couple nights we hit the airport and are all zoned out. I usually get home to Chicago and nap. Then I have a few days off before we roll again.”

AJ starts her workday off by building the main rig in the center of the building with the crew. “It takes a while to get up and get tech’d. It’s got [Martin MAC] Vipers, Mac 101s and strobes on it. We have a lot of [Vari-Lite] VL500’s that need special love and care.”

Once that is erected, she heads back to the moving light tech area for the afternoon. There are many fixtures and multiple kinds. She is tasked with keeping up the spares and maintenance on all the fixtures.

“I spend the first part of the afternoon fixing the 500’s. I actually have nightmares about them. I can field strip the entire fixture and reassemble it in four hours.” She fixes any fixtures in need of repair. “We have a stockpile of spares that we need to keep working. Maintenance is a big part of how we operate out here. You gotta remember, this gear never goes home! We systematically need to grab blocks of lights and blow them out, clean up the insides. Because of the sheer amount of lights out here, everyone techs gear. I can advise them on how to solve most problems with any fixture. They all run on the same principle, don’t they?”

‡‡         No Pile Drivers, Please…

It takes a special kind of person to fit in out there. “Everyone out here has some quirks, lots of strong personalities. We constantly rib on our coworkers, because when you’re bored, that’s what you do. Have you ever been out on tour for months and watched someone do something that really annoyed you? Try dealing with that person doing that same annoying job for eight years. But in the end, we all fit together.”

The turnover rate can be high, but at the same time there are some lifers out there. “We tend to get a new crew chief every three years or so. It’s a high stress position. The techs come and go as it’s a grueling job. We work 18 - 20 hour days with zero time for naps in the afternoon. If we catch you sleeping, it’s most likely your image will appear on the Jumbotron later if you’re cute enough.”

I asked why she referred to herself as a Den Mother. “There’s not a lot of women on the road, especially in a tech position. So a lot of times I will act as someone’s mother or sister. In that vein you guide them, let them earn their own merit. I’m excited to pass on my knowledge to other people so they can learn the easy way…, because I’ll be the first to tell you I never liked learning the easy way.”

‡‡         Surprises Aplenty

I asked AJ how it was for her coming into this world. “It’s definitely culture shock. I would have these days where I walked around thinking, ‘Why is this so messed up?’ There’s goats over there. Why are there goats in my load in?’ Now it all seems so normal and nothing shocks me. I had to learn a whole new language that they speak out here. I would actually go to Wikipedia to look up terms. Then there’s the stories I hear from some of the old timers from when employees were treated like carneys. Strange things do happen, working out here. Now we can sit back and laugh about them. We finally got rid of these giant walls of VersaTubes a few years ago. Both walls were set ablaze by some previous pyro company mishap. We had techs riding up and down on chain hoists putting the fire out before Cincinnati’s finest showed up on the scene.”

In closing I ask AJ how she gets along with the wrestlers themselves. “They’re all really nice guys. When we see them working, rehearsing, we stay out of their way. When they walk in and see us gigging, they keep out of our way. Then we all meet up in catering. We’re all professionals out here and we love what we do, as do the wrestlers.”

Any last minute advice to a tech coming in? “Don’t ever lock your knees. You’re just gonna get bowled over. As soon as you think you have your job down, they’re going to change it.”

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