Eugene Hack (Pops)
6 or 7 years ago I had to build a set with spans like a house. I consulted an architect, who signed off on the LVL’s and joists I had to use. I built the thing, which sat on the theater’s hydraulic deck but also was a 13′ tall platform with a total radius of 28 feet, and 6 spec posts to support it. There was a scene in which all of the dancers, 15 or so had an intense dance scene on top of this thing. There was a lot of torque on it. Because I had expected this, I had built a sprung web around each of the posts to mimic the top of the deck, that would serve as a foot for the entire thing, that could then be bolted through the floor of the hydraulic deck along with the posts. Even thought the 8″ steel posts gripping the LVL’s were massively strong, I attached 45’s made of steel to the flooring sitting on top of those. The purpose of this massive unit was to rise out of the floor and be the Phantom’s Lair. (We were obviously staging Phantom.)
It seemed solid, but my nerves were killing me about the whole thing. My boss at the time, Chuck Gessert suggested I call Hasse Construction. Bill Hasse sent his safety inspector over. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the two people I met that day were far from the tablet carrying individual I thought I would find in the theatre.
Gene Hack brought his wife Jo along with him to look at the set. We have people wander into the theatre all the time, and they were so nice and so interested in what we were doing I actually did not realise this was the person sent over to approve the construction of the set.
When I finally realised that these two equipped with great senses of humor and kindness were there to do help from Hasse it was kind of funny. Gene asked about the process I had gone through to build the set, from approval of spans, to hangers and connections, and the base and posts. I explained the tongue and groove ply on the top of the deck and any difficulties we had encountered along the way, as well as a staircase opening that I had reinforced because it had a removable plug that had to come out every single day and to this day I still think engineered beams are speculative when cut if not reinforced and mounted properly.
He looked at me and said “What do you need me here for then?!” And he laughed really hard. I was still serious about needing his approval. He looked at me and he said: “You did a great job kid! You did a great job! This is the first time you’ve ever built anything like this?”
On that day, (no matter how many mistakes I make or continue to make) I realised I had done all of this work. Not just head work, but serious manual labor, and a lot of it with older people,. and kids, and a guy that wound up in jail at the end of the summer. I’ve always believed that if you communicate clearly, you can get anything done, as long as the rules are followed and everyone is safe.
He made me realise that I was real and made me feel worthwhile. I don’t know why it is I am separated from the work that I do, but the only thing that ever mattered was completing it correctly. I have no feelings about most of it beyond that, and the absolute love I have for those who participate in it wholeheartedly. I love theatre. Gene loved theatre, and as David rarely attends openings because of long work weeks, Gene and Jo usually accompany me to opening night when they can and if I am not too burned out.
I will miss him so much, and I am sorry I did not know him better, but I know he touched many, many people. After building buildings all fo his life, being a guy who could gold leaf a sign and put a staircase where no staircase should live, take shit from people while commending them to take care of their own..he was like a dad. I was proud to know him and stunned he took an interest in our work. Everyone knew him– from many different subcultures. He built sets for Crown Point Hight School that rivaled theatres in Chicago..pretty much for free, and keeping the kids in line. He really did awesome work. The night I got to sit in the front row with them at the high school I had to keep from crying, the work was so good. He taught so many people, so many different things. I am happy that he has had an influence on such a wide range of people.
I don’t have a lot of photos on this computer from this remote part of Alabama but when I get home I will insert into this post pictures from that first show I met him on, some from his own work that I saw, and a few of him and Jo.
Mostly: I respected and loved him because he was real. He was a real builder, had built many buildings, run many jobs, crews of people, always did such excellent work, as Jo said–people would ask for him by name. I repeated who he was and his opinion mattered to me. I am extremely critical of those whose opinions I value.There is a vast difference in the way things are done and the way things ought to be done sometimes, and I will always try to live up to his expectations. And he probably knew more about theatre and art than I did. He could draw and paint as well as lay a brick wall.
Yesterday he went into surgery for 90 percent blockage in all three major arteries His heart was strong.The surgery went well, but the grafts did not hold, and his family lost him. As I woke up this morning, I thought of his wife waking up this morning, and my heart is sick. Jo- I love you and I am praying for you.
I will also keep the bolts in the scaffolding, Gene. And I will stop spending so much time at work and focus a little bit more on the people who are special to me.