Power Struggles – Work and Physicality


Recently, I was on a crew of three working a small event at a community college. As the audio engineer on the call, one of my tasks was to set up a small lobby PA before the event and take it down once the theatre portion was underway (the first half an hour or so was one person talking into a wireless mic, so I had ample time to go out and retrieve the PA). The rig consisted of one rolling rack of gear and a large Mackie-powered speaker on a stand. Cake, right?

Not necessarily. Women, whether we like it or not, tend to be the smaller fries on a crew in terms of muscle. It’s undeniable, simple biology. And sometimes what seems like a simple setup can be the biggest bear of your day, especially when pride and self-consciousness come roaring into the mix.

When I started as a stagehand five years ago, I was acutely aware of both my lack of experience and my lack of…well, you know. THAT. Most of the crew were guys, and I was eager to show them I wasn’t a slouch when it came to hard work, that I could hang with the dudes when it came to pushing, pulling, lifting, and loading. The problem was, only half of that was really true. I’ve always been a hard worker and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, but a great deal of the physical part of the job was just beyond me. I wasn’t used to it, I hadn’t trained for it, and my body just plain wasn’t ready to do it. Tenacity got me a long way, but it also got me hurt on occasion. And the more I pressed to do things, the more I got shut down. It took me some time to realize that most of the guys I worked with weren’t making a statement about my femininity, they just didn’t want me to get hurt – both for my own sake and the sake of my employers and the shows.

Looking back, I see my mistake. By trying to bite off more than I could chew, labor-wise, I was putting myself, my coworkers, and my venue at risk. I wasn’t helping them by trying to do stuff that was too hard for me, I was making myself a liability and slowing down the processes I was forcing myself into. And naturally, this made my coworkers LESS inclined to involve me in certain jobs. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I encourage you to do two things:

LET GO of your pride and PICK UP some weights!

The first thing a god stagehand/crewmember needs to realize is that the show isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s not your time to make a statement, it’s your time to do the work that needs to be done. And most people you’re working with don’t give a hoot about gender roles, they just want to get things done in the most efficient way possible, which means having the big muscle dudes doing the heavy lifting and everyone else getting in where they fit in. A good rule of thumb is that if something is difficult for you to the point that it creates more of a burden for the other people working with you, you need to find another task. I think women are afraid that they’ll lose respect in this work environment by not being “tough”. But my experience has been that people respect others who work in the best interest of the team. If that means you’re more help to your crew coiling cables than stacking cases on a particular show, do it. And if you need help, ask for it. No one’s going to look down on you for protecting yourself, your crew members, and your gear from harm. And if they do? Who cares! Their opinion, when put up against the consequences of failure in a heavy-lifting situation, carries very little weight itself. 🙂

NOW, with that in mind, it is equally important that you take it upon yourself to train for the reasonable expectations of your job. In the realm of audio, this means you’ll be dealing regularly with loads of 20-50 lbs (or more) and some of it will be relatively delicate gear. If you are not weight training, you need to start. Working with weights, especially free weights, can be intimidating and a little embarrassing for the newcomer. But give yourself time to get used to it and make sure you have the knowledge you need to work correctly with the weights. There are tons of references, with visual aids, available online. And if you belong to a gym, chances are you can ask a trainer and they will give you a quick lesson on anything you need to know.

The hardest part may be deciding on a routine. It took me a long time to settle into a workout habit that included everything I needed in the amounts I needed them. And that will probably be a little different for everyone. But what I will stress to you is that you are looking for functional strength, which is not the same as having pretty muscles. You need to make sure you’re working all of your muscle groups (include your back! Lats, delts, lower back) and training them for power and stamina. Some of the lowest-tech exercises are actually the best for this. If you have a place to work on pull-ups and push-ups, make them a regular part of your routine. And look for exercises that mimic the physical movements you do at work. Do you need to lift things above your head? Pull cables? Think about the motions and the muscles that you need the most out of. Start small, work your way up, and give your body the time it needs to recover between workouts. My workout needs have changed over the past year as my body has changed and progressed. I actually now have better results working out harder but less often and more randomly. I have a loose routine that includes both formal (gym workout) and informal (home or park workout) weight exercises 3-4 times a week and cardio/toning once or twice a week. And you’ll need to feed your body! I am constantly surprised by the number of people who want their body to look like a temple but treat it like a dive bar after midnight. If you want to be healthy and strong, you need the basics – you need a balanced diet that includes proteins, good fats, ample calories, and real food. You also need water and sleep! You may put on a few pounds in the beginning as you learn what your body needs to accommodate the new demands on it. I ate like a freakin’ horse. Which, I won’t lie, I LOVED. But if you’re worried about hulking out, don’t. You’re not planning on competing in any World’s Strongest Engineer competitions – you just need to be able to lift some speakers. You will be able to get the strength you need without putting on a great deal of bulk, and you may find, as I did, that weight training is a far better fat-blaster than running!

As for the community college event, a year ago, I would have needed help with my lobby speaker. But I am now able to confidently and safely get it on and off the stand myself. And no one else on my crew thinks that’s too big of a deal, which is exactly how I like it. 🙂

Here are a couple of links to sites that explain basic exercises and weightlifting forms. Happy engineering – AND lifting!

20 Dumbbell Exercises Complete with Animated Diagrams

The Training Station







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