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Theatermaker: Production Electrician Jimmy Fedigan

PLSN Staff • September 2021Stage Directions • September 9, 2021

Jimmy Fedigan

Having built a 40-year career as a highly regarded production electrician for Broadway shows and their subsequent national tours, Jimmy Fedigan remains one of the most in demand production electricians on Broadway. Though his first Broadway show was Sugar Babies in 1981, when at age 15 he subbed in running a followspot, it was for Falsettos in 1992 that Fedigan was first credited as a production electrician. With a long, long list of credits over his career Fedigan always stays focused on the job, or more accurately, the jobs at hand. Now as theaters reopen and Broadway once again “lights the lights,” he is currently hard at work juggling multiple productions, both new and long-running, as they look to call “curtain up.” In between getting five companies of Hamilton, including productions on Broadway and tours, ready to open, handling the load-in of Springsteen on Broadway and the load in of a filming of Jersey Boys in Cleveland, Fedigan is working on the re-opening of Waitress and Mrs. Doubtfire as well as getting the tour of Pretty Woman: The Musical prepped and on the road. In addition, he is serving as the technical supervisor for Chicago as they reopen on Broadway, stepping into the role of the legendary Artie Siccardi, who passed away in December. All of the mentioned productions have September opening dates, of which Fedigan understatedly notes, “Yes, there’s a lot of balls in the air right now.” Anyone who knows Fedigan’s work knows if anyone can make it all happen, it will be him. What many may not know is that following his father, Chris Fedigan, a legendary theater electrician and stagehand, known as one of the best followspot operators on Broadway, into the business wasn’t Jimmy Fedigan’s original career plan.

SD: How did you end up in the business?

Jimmy Fedigan: The reality was, I wasn’t going to get into theater. I was an athlete, playing football in high school and college. I actually had a public relations job lined up with IBM starting the day after I graduated college. However, the week before I graduated, my father, who was at Starlight Express running a followspot, had a heart attack and that would lay him up for six months. With seven of my eight brothers and sisters still living at home at that point, he said, ‘I need you to take over the light for the next six months and give your mother the check.’ I said ‘No problem’ and declined the offer from IBM. I went on to Starlight Express and just completely fell in love with the business and the people. It felt like being back on a field where the whole team has your back.

SD: What do you feel is an important skill or trait for being a production electrician?

I think you have to be very reactive to the designer, yet you need to be politically adept. You have to make sure the designer feels like they’re being taken care of while at the same time, making sure the general manager and producer knows you’re watching every dollar. You have to really walk the line a little bit, and you sometimes need to be harsh as you learn how to walk that line. I think you have to really know the entire job. I remember taking consoles home and brushing up constantly because if I gave somebody a project to do, I wanted to really know how long it would take them to do the job. When working on a budget and creating the schedule for number of man hours needed, you need to know which jobs are going to take how long and how many people it will take to get that job done.

I think what helped me the most was working on television projects. In TV, you have to be fast and be able to bang it in as quick as you can. I was lucky enough to work for Richie Beck, Sr., a very close friend of my father. Richie, who worked with [LDs] Bill Klages and then Bobby Dickinson on all the big television award shows—The Tonys, Grammys, etc.—hired me to work on those shows. He was like another father to me. I learned so much because TV is a time crunch—you’re live on camera at two o’clock, no matter what, and they don’t stray from the budget. You have to get the work done and get it done as quickly as possible. That was really built into me by Richie, and I took that into my theater work.

On Falsettos, I got a note from Frances Aronson, the designer, saying, ‘I want to change the color on the balcony rail,’ and she gave me a list of a couple of things. I grabbed the list and I went right over to my table and started cutting color, and then went up to the rail. At the next break, I was throwing everything in and when she turns the lights on, she says, ‘Oh, you did it already. That note was for tomorrow. This is great.’ I think that that mindset was from Richie and working on the television stuff. When you got a note, get it done, and get it done as best and fast as you can.

SD: What was a memorable experience that you took away a lesson from as a production electrician?

I would say it was as a young production electrician, it might’ve been my second show. I had a young assistant, Joe Beck, and Natasha Katz was the designer; it was one early in her career. We were doing it in Fort Myers and it toured. It was a big, big show. We were in deep; there were a lot of lights. But the set design was all over the map; whether they were keeping it or not keeping it. So, we were just constantly readapting the show. I think the pressure of that, and being young, figuring it out and getting all that done was huge. Joe and I still talk about that show. While working on it, we were waking up dreaming about it every night, but it taught us an awful lot. We learned how to get through it all. Another real lesson I learned came on one of the stops on that tour at the National Theater in Washington DC. It was a hemp house and Hank Reynolds was the house carpenter at the time—a real legend. I had met Hank a few times before; he knew my dad who had been in there with different shows. So on this one, I’m watching the pipes going up, and nothing looks right; nothing’s on trim and it’s not level, and now I’m stressing out. Joe and I are running around like maniacs trying to get the show in to this tight theater. Then Hank comes over and tells us to follow him, saying, ‘I want to show y’all something.’ He walks down to the loading dock, out into the parking lot, opens the trunk of his car and pulls a golf club out of his golf bag. He starts telling us about a tip he got the other day about the sand trap. We started laughing and said, ‘Hank, we got 20 guys in there, we need to get the show up.’ And he said, ‘Boys, the show is going to get up. You guys got to relax a little bit. I just want to show you this tip.’ And he finishes telling us the tip. Going back in, he asked us if we really thought that the electrics and flymen were going to leave it all crooked like that. We shouldn’t worry about it. By the time we walked back in, we were different people. Hank realized that we were stressed, took us to the side, and got us to see we needed to relax.

Back inside, I looked up in the air, and my battens were dead straight and on trim. I realized that these guys know what they’re doing, and this is going to be great. You learn from that. I’ve done that to guys nowadays. I learned that lesson from Hank. If I’m in the building and I see the guys stressed out and all that, I may grab them and take them aside. Maybe it’s a little funny anecdote or something to kind of break the ice and say ‘relax.’ I think you learn a lot of that kind of thing from other people and you pass it down.

SD: Who were some of your mentors along the way of your career?

First and foremost, I would say my Dad and my Uncle Jack who owned L&E Lighting and was the busines agent of my local when I was 18, and my Uncle Mike Fedigan who is still working! Their work ethic was second to none and they led by example and still do. Others were Richie Beck, Sr. and Donny Beck. All these men I love with all my heart.

Jimmy Maloney was a young production electrician when I started working on Broadway and I watched work during a load-in. When we got into the show, Jimmy took me aside and had a long talk with me about my future and if I wanted to get into the business. To this day, I still look up to him. Another mentor would definitely be the technical supervisor, Artie Siccardi. On one show, they had let one of the guys go and the stage manager, Craig Jacobs, asked who was going to be the production guy. Artie took a chance on me, saying, ‘Let the kid do it. He’ll be good and I’ll be there with him.’ I took the job and sure enough I made my mistakes, but Artie was there. He told me bluntly when I was wrong and when I should shut up. He brought me along, and made me understand that I would make the mistakes that everyone makes but learn from them, and watch how other people do things.

The business used to be driven by the producer’s office; the production electricians were always hired by the producers. Because you were working for them, and protecting their money; that’s how it was. Back then I was working for [Producers] Barry and Fran Weissler and did basically every show they were doing. From there I was approached by other producers and just started doing more and more shows. Eventually, the designers started to have more say; ‘well, we want this person’, so I established a rapport with the lighting designers over the years. I was lucky enough to get involved with some of the best, like Ken Billington, Ken Posner, Natasha Katz, and Howell Binkley, who became like an older brother to me. I have to say that Darren DeVerna was a huge mentor to me. This past year has been an extremely hard one for me, and our theater family, we lost Artie, Howell, and Darren.

The greatest thing is that I have been surrounded by truly amazing crews. All the guys that I would hire and bring in were just so extremely talented and it makes you look good. That all goes back to Jimmy Maloney telling me—’make sure you hire good people’.

SD: What do you enjoy most about your career?

The people. When my father passed away, my sister gave a beautiful eulogy for our family. Then I got up afterwards and did a eulogy for his other family, the people he worked with in theater. Because he really did have two families, he had his family-family and his theater family. The church was full, there were people out the door, outside in the parking lot. That’s what it is for me, it’s the people and the camaraderie. When you’re under stress and you’re going through it, and you have people that are just so smart, but also care about what they do, that is what makes this what I love. Also, it’s great that every day is not the same; it’s different all the time. I don’t know that I would have been a man for a cubicle. I think I needed to be with all these people working on a show and sitting at the notes session at the end of the night. Everybody there working together, then going out for a drink or two. I’ve become super, super close with so many crews, designers, and managers. To me, it’s an extended family for sure.

SD: What do you hope that your peers say about you on your retirement? If that ever happens.

(Laughing) I’m not one of those guys that’s going to go out in the building. I help coach high school football on the side. I started about 12 years ago and absolutely fell in love with it and I love working with these young kids. So, I will be one of those guys that gets out of theater; I may do a little something here and there with local and high school theater and keep my foot in the door a little bit, but I plan to be coaching football. Of course, 10 years from now you will probably remind me I said this as I am prepping a show. To answer your question though, I hope my peers would say ‘He was a standup guy; (a quote I borrow from Jersey Boys) He stood up for us when we needed; and he was fair’. We have fun and I would like to think that I pushed forward the whole idea about this being a family to them, and that they’re feeling the same thing about all their people that they’re working with everyday on all their shows. I hope the people I work with know I enjoy working with them and that they are why I love doing this.

 

 

 

 

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