November 23, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – People from all over the world crowd into Radio City Music Hall each year to witness the shows that are staged at this venerable institution.
But who are the workers who make all this happen? LaborPress sat down with an indispensable man behind the scenes – Head Property Master Kenny McDonough, to learn about what goes into the staging of the spectacular events.
“I assemble custom crews for each specific production,” says McDonough. “The number of people working in each crew varies by number as well as specific attributes and skills. For our Christmas Show, for example, I might have sixteen people, for a concert I could go with four. We used sixty-five for the NFL Honor Show, and fifty for the Tony Awards. For our enormous trees, we need to use workers who aren’t afraid of heights, and to assemble the huge bus we use with the Rockettes, we’ll have guys that are mechanically inclined. So we need to get the right guy for the right job.”
McDonough has a long history of working on shows. “I started doing this thirty-five years ago in the South Bronx,” he says. “I started building for Broadway shows, as a Carpenter. I’ve been a Head Carpenter in two different Broadway houses – the Longacre and the Booth Theatres. I’m in the Local 1, the premier stagehand union of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E.), AFL-CIO. All the people in the crews I assemble are in Local 1 also – this includes Soundmen, Electricians, Carpenters, and others.”
McDonough has been with Radio City Music Hall for twenty-six years, and says that some productions have been particularly challenging. “For the MTV Awards, there is so much stuff in a little space – to get so many bands on and off, non-stop, is a challenge – there could be twenty different bands. And for America’s Got Talent, which is live, we have to do all the work during a commercial break. Also, with particular props, such as in our Christmas show, we use a bus onstage that weighs 15,000 pounds. It comes in separate parts and has to be assembled. It’s run by a computer, but we have a bus driver that sits in it who works a pedal that communicates with the computer. There are screens behind the bus onstage that show street scenes to simulate it being driven in a location, such as Fifth Avenue. That all has to be coordinated correctly.”
Although many associate the venue with glamour, the reality of the job is many days and long hours. “We have long days. Many start at 8 a.m. and go ‘til 10 p.m. When we are doing Christmas shows there are seven day weeks. There are four shows a day Monday through Thursday, five shows Friday, and six shows on Saturday, where we are in at 7:30 a.m. and out by 11:30 p.m. There are five shows on Sunday.” Even holidays are crammed. “We do three shows on Christmas Eve, four shows on Christmas Day, and four shows on Thanksgiving.”
McDonough, however, has no complaints. “My family is used to it. My wife and I have been together since I was seventeen. And this place is great to work for, from management up top to the stage crew. We get the job done and they let us do what we need to do it. Mr. Clinton Neils, the General Manager, and Darlene Belle, the Head of Production, treat us very fairly. A good work ethic and attitude are what you really need in this job.”