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Friday, June 2, 2017

Jimmy D’Adamo Lights Up BAM

Jimmy D'Adamo in his natural habitat, stage left. Photo: David Hsieh
By David Hsieh

Jimmy D’Adamo, the head electrician at BAM, once ran the spotlight for his high school plays. “I was hooked,” he said. A short post-college stint at American Express confirmed that “I was not a suit-and-tie person.” So when one of his classmates from Brooklyn College (major: technical theater) asked him to make a change, he immediately went down to the union office (Local 4, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees [I.A.T.S.E.], AFL-CIO), filled out a card, and started working at BAM in 1977. And now, after 40 years, he is saying goodbye.

It is no exaggeration to say that Jimmy has seen “countless” shows at BAM. It is equally accurate to say he has “seen” them through a different light. His workstation, at stage left behind the proscenium of the Howard Gilman Opera House, gives him a unique angle on every show. Not to mention that he has, more often than not, seen those shows when they were only drawings on paper. He has done it all. He ran the spotlight of the Gershwin musical Tip-Toes with Georgia Engel as the lead when it was in the Playhouse (now the BAM Rose Cinemas) in 1979. He went on the road with the famously short-lived BAM Theater Company. He was the one who discovered in 1985 that the water which the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch dancers were to dance in was toxic (and he was in the photo in The New York Times story). He was one of the first to accompany then Executive Producer Harvey Lichtenstein and director Peter Brook to a boarded-up, bird dropping-filled defunct theater house at 651 Fulton, envisioning the future Harvey Theater. In addition, he is responsible for every outlet, electrical switch, and light of the Peter Jay Sharp Building, which houses BAM’s Opera House, cinemas, Lepercq Space, and offices. He is literally the person who makes BAM shine.

Jimmy, an invaluable part of the BAM institutional memory, shares some of them with us.

Q: You are a Brooklynite through and through?

A: Yes. I was born in Bensonhurst. After I got married in 1977 I moved to Bay Ridge. I’ve been there ever since.

Jimmy with a carnation from Tanztheater Pina Bausch's Nelken in 1988. Photo: Thomas Paulucci
Q: How did you start working at BAM?

A: After I got my union cards I got a call from BAM in 1977 and started working. For the first few years I was an extra stagehand. In 1985 I became full-time. I worked in every department of the backstage until I found my niche in electricity.

In addition to lighting and electricity, I am also responsible for the special effects on stage, whether it’s water, fog, or strobe lights. For instance, when Pina Bausch wanted water to flow from stage right to left, I was the one who made it happen.

Q: What do you like about your job?

A: I enjoying setting up shows. I get the blueprints and from there I have to make it a reality.

Q: But sometimes it is very difficult.

Yes. We've brought shows in from all over the world. We just have to make it work. Some shows that came in were brand new and some were still in the development stage. So a lot of times we talked about shows but didn’t know how it would play out.

I was here prior to the computer and email era. So a lot of it was done by phone, back and forth between the production departments. Quite often I contacted companies' technicians and spoke to them to figure out how they did it, and how we could make it happen here. Sometimes people speak different languages and are in different time zones. So they’re sleeping and you’re ready to go or they’re doing a show and can’t talk to you. It is hit or miss. But we have great technicians here at BAM and ultimately it has all worked out. That’s what we do. We stagehands don’t cause problems, we solve problems.

Jimmy on a ladder at the Majestic Theater in 1987. Photo: Thomas Paulucci
Q: Fortunately things have changed since then.

A: Back then you had to wait for them to really come through the door to see what you had to do. Now they send you photos, specs, everything they can to make it all happen. We know the right questions to ask now. Also the world is becoming universal. A lot of manufacturers make things to sell all over the world. They adopted their products to make that happen. It is easier. But with all new technology the business is also changing to specialists. It’s getting to the point that one person cannot know all of the stuff.

Q: The Opera House is a 100-year-old building. How have we kept the stage up to current standards?

A: I was fortunate to live through the change from analog to digital. When I came most of the boards were analog, working on a zero to 10 volt system. Now it’s all zeros and ones. We put in a new lift for the orchestra pit. The counterweight system was changed. The lights have had three complete upgrades. When I started we had 100 dimmers and that was like “Wow!” Now we have 500 in-house and we often have to rent more. But with the push of a button you can control thousands of parameters. I have to learn how to integrate all the systems.

Q: What’s in the future for you?

I became a grandfather in October. I would like to enjoy that more. My wife passed away in 2000. Now I have a girlfriend of 10 years. We intend on living together and traveling, which we both love. I intend on being active. 

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

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