• Christopher McHale

I hit Jesus in the head 900+ times.

It’s dark. No light. A big cavernous space. My job is to aim into that void and pinpoint Jesus. And I can’t miss.

In my early twenties, I took a jet to Australia. I followed a friend, another American, surfing his way around the world playing guitar. I played guitar too.

My friend met me at the airport, and a guitar store was our first stop. We needed strings. Guitar stores are good places to meet people. That day we met a girl who told us she was going for a job at the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. I needed a job, so she hooked me up too.

My first job on the show was crawling under the set with a vacuum cleaner. This was what they called a pre-set position. I was in place before they opened the house, then I waited for my cue.

My cue was point the nozzle of the vacuum in the air and fill the set with smoke. I waited under the set for the show to begin eight days a week.

That wasn’t my only job. I put red liquid lipstick in spears for Roman soldiers to pierce Jesus on the cross. And I handed out palm fronds to the Hosanna chorus. Lots of little things. I loved it.

Show discipline is a whole thing in theater. A show like Superstar had thousands of moving parts. It all had to work night after night; if it didn’t, there could be disasters.

We had a huge rotating set piece called the Dodecahedron. It opened and folded and had many different positions. One night it malfunctioned and trapped Jesus inside. It took a miracle to get him out. Another night it simply refused to operate. We did the whole show without it. One tragic night it collapsed entirely and seriously injured an apostle.

Every night the show was a sell-out. We played in big houses, 3,000+ seats. We had legions of devoted fans—buses of nuns, young folks, old folks. The iconic guitar riff at the beginning of every show was goose bump time. To this day, I’m in touch with dozens of cast members. It was a unique experience backstage and front.

After a couple of years in Melbourne, we relocated to Sydney. The show was returning to its original run. I’d never been to Sydney before. The Opera House was beginning construction. Several of us moved in together, and we started the long task of putting the show in a new theater.

Theater work is construction work. It’s sheetrock and sledgehammers and tons of three ought cable. It’s scaffolding, a crescent wrench, and long hours.

At the end of setting up the show, I was offered a new job—running the proscenium spot on the Prompt side of the stage.

When it came to the running crew, spotlight operators were a breed apart. We had our own headset network, so every show featured a running commentary. I remember Superstar having at least 5 of us, maybe more. The Proscenium light was a newbie light. The big boys were out front, some of them 500 feet away. But I had one intimidating cue, and it was right at the top of the show.

D5 — Pin spot on Christ on ‘Hit It Cue.’

Sure, in the dark, get a tight spot on a guy’s head from a hundred feet away.

The audience there waiting for Jesus, the big entrance. Heaven never missed with a halo. I couldn't either.

Doing a long run, a musical becomes a meditation. Every performance is unique. Some go off the rails, and some are pure magic. You sink deep into the theater art.

There’s a synchronicity that catches everyone involved in a performance. The musicians go next level, the singers follow, the cues flow. There’s a pace to the performance when everything works. There’s nothing more satisfying .

Every wave of applause has a different character. You chase the best ones. It’s addictive.

Superstar wasn't my first pro show. And I worked in performance for years, concerts, ballet, opera, musicals. I worked my way from tech to designer to performer. But I never had more fun than those three years in Australia, picking out Jesus in the dark, night after night after night.


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