The entertainment industry is meant to have glamour in spades: travel to exotic locations, glitzy award ceremonies, fabulous frocks and a rock 'n' roll lifestyle where all you have to do is turn up and smile.
But there are those working in the industry who sometimes need an actual spade to do their jobs. With Auckland Theatre Company opening a play called Filthy Business next week, we asked three of those hidden well behind the scenes about some of the dirtiest jobs in show biz.
George Seton, managing director, and Louise Bettridge, event manager - Clean Event:
Think of a festival — anything from the Big Gay Out to Christmas in the Park — and, chances are, Clean Event has tidied up long after the crowds have packed up and gone home. Or not packed up but just left.
"I think some kids these days have too much money," says event manager Louise Bettridge, nicknamed the Woman in Orange. "We've been to musical festivals where they've packed their bags but left behind tents, sleeping bags, all sorts of perfectly good items…"
Those go to cub, scout and community groups, in keeping with Clean Event's philosophy to markedly reduce the amount of event waste sent to landfill. Both Bettridge and company managing director George Seton say they despaired at watching truck after truck hauling waste to landfills and wanted to do things differently.
Their desire to recycle and/or divert rubbish from landfill motivates them, putting them on the frontline of an increasingly high-profile battle. Since starting in 2012, Seton has seen the environmentally-friendly waste management company grow exponentially as more of us heed messages about recycling or reducing our consumption, especially of single-use plastic.
Clean Event's innovations include installing industrial washers and dryers at its Onehunga base so reusable cutlery and crockery can be used at events. Then there are the bins, about 500 in total, separated by what can be thrown into them: rubbish for landfill, organic waste for composting, glass and recyclables.
Mural and graffiti artist Jonny4Higher created artwork for the bins, stating clearly what can be deposited in them and using vibrant pictures to tell a story of where rubbish ends up if it's not disposed of properly and responsibly. Seton says since the bins appeared, event-goers have become much better at throwing rubbish into the right receptacle.
Bettridge says they'll often stand a staffer next to bins for compostable waste to clear up confusion about what can go into them; it's more than we might think, she says.
Still, some unpleasant things end up in the bins: used condoms, bottles used as urinals, nappies and human waste, maggot-infested food and vomit. In peak festival season, from October-March, the company takes on up to 200 staff who can take anywhere from a few hours to a week to make a site pristine again as up to 30 tonnes of garbage is removed. Unsurprisingly, New Year events are the messiest.
Staff are attracted by the chance to see concerts and be part of the smooth-running of events; others take pride is making a site neat again and, like Seton and Bettridge, doing their bit to make our world a little less trashy.
Jason Brott, owner Prestige Loos
His first thought was, "shit [no pun intended] — someone's dumped a body down this toilet…" It was a body, but of a sheep rather than a human. Still, the carcass rates as the most unusual thing Brott, founder and owner of Prestige Loos, has found down a portable toilet at a music festival.
"They'd lifted the top of the whole unit off and stuffed it down there," Brott explains, shaking his head.
Spend just half an hour with Brott and you'll come away knowing more about toilets — and what we do in them — than you ever thought possible. For 16 years, his business has been in the business of dealing with our business — the kind we don't ordinarily like to discuss but, as he likes to say, Prestige Loos is Number 1 at dealing with Number 2 and he's proud of it.
The firm looks after toilets at festival, events and private functions, on film and television sets and, more recently, construction sites. There are around 2500 toilets at the company's Avondale site but these aren't your bog standard mobile toilets. There's a huge range, including a prestige series range (roomy interior, recirculating flush feature, solar powered internal lights), units that include showers and elite series (a 10-bay vacuum unit).
Waste is pumped, through vacuum systems, into a fleet of trucks that transport it to the firm's Avondale headquarters where it is pumped into a giant tank, broken down — both physically and biologically — and then sent into the sewerage system.
Brott got the idea for his business when he worked in security on TV shows like Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. He says the toilet facilities were so bad, he would hold on all day rather than use them. A friend was importing other equipment for film and TV sets from Australia; Brott asked whether there were any toilets available.
He was looking for style and function and says he based his whole business ethos on what women would want because "you have to sit down". He says the biggest mistake made by function organisers — whether it's a weekend music festival or wedding — is to under-spec the number of toilets needed.
Women don't want to spend hours queuing; no one wants toilets to block. And when people throw clothes — so many underpants — bottles and cans, food scraps, p-pipes, nappies and sanitary pads down them and, yes, sheep bones, they can do that.
Brott calls his staff "loo-tenants" — and says they're always on hand to clean toilets and deal with the unexpected. He makes sure the company pays well, has incentive and training schemes, and is family-friendly in order to provide incentives for staff to join and stay.
"People will actually come up to us and thank us for the work we're doing."
When he started, people used to snicker when he told them what he did; now, given that he's part of a billion-dollar industry — not making a billion himself but doing very nicely, thanks — Brott has the last laugh. Especially when you consider that dealing with human effluent is becoming more of an issue for the entire world.
He's constantly looking at ways to reduce the company's carbon footprint — new trucks, new flush systems, solar lights and ways to transport toilets — and tries to keep the yard spotless: "Just because we work with shit, doesn't mean we have to look like it."
Eliza Josephson-Rutter, freelance stage manager
Josephson-Rutter's first job in theatre was as a "seal wrangler" on a production called
, a job which didn't even have the (possible but unlikely) "cute factor" of working with a real seal. Instead, she helped the actor playing the seal slither in and out of an extremely heavy and smelly rubber suit. She had to carry around the suit, which might have been fine but it involved a lot of crawling underneath a purpose-built stage.
Watching then stage manager Gabrielle Vincent, now a bigwig at the Basement Theatre, inspired Josephson-Rutter. She liked the idea of pulling the various strands of a production together and being canny enough to pre-empt any backstage dramas.
Five years on, she's worked mainly for Auckland Theatre Company as a stage manager and clearly thrives on the backstage buzz, saying the most important qualities for the job are adaptability, superb communication and organisational skills and creative thinking.
"You're responsible for everything on stage and that includes the actors — the warm props — and when the director and the designers have finished their work, the show is in your hands to look after," she says. It's like your baby for however long it runs.
"People think it's not creative but with all you have to do I think it's one of the most creative roles around," she says. "Your job is to keep the drama on the stage so no one knows what might be happening backstage. With significant mishaps — an injury or a costume malfunction — you have the ability to slow the scene changes or go to blackout for a bit longer in order to fix things.
In 2015, Josephson-Rutter had to ensure 1000 soft toy pandas, part of the set for The Doll's House, were neatly arranged in a sunken pit. By the end, she never wanted to see another soft toy panda again and gave one to her dog as a chew toy.
A year later, she was making fake vomit — baby food works really well, she says — for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and then nightly bleaching the set's white floor to remove all traces of said vomit.
"There was a puppy and a rat in that show, too," she recalls. "They say never work with animals but they behaved quite well. Except that we were using alternate rats — so the same one never had to appear two nights in a row — and one rat bit the actor. That rat never came back…"
Amadeus was probably the biggest challenge. The set used some 10,000 sheets of white paper to symbolise music manuscripts and the paper needed to be scrunched back into shape after every performance.
"As the stage manager, you'll often get to the theatre up to four hours before a show starts and then stay for a couple of hours after. It can take that long to do all the laundry after a performance."
What: Auckland Theatre Company — Filthy Business
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, August 14 — 29