(Written by Jeannie Wiley Wolf, Staff Writer for The Courier)
If the life of a roadie sounds like one big, non-stop party, think again.
While these road crew members do get to rub elbows with the stars and travel the world, the work is physically demanding and the hours long. But two former Findlay men who now work as roadies say they wouldn’t trade it.
Duke Wilson is an advance carpenter/flyman on “Motown the Musical,” while Mike Iriti is country music star Luke Bryan’s assistant tour manager.
“It’s not typical and that’s me,” said Wilson. “I’ve never been typical.”
The 52-year-old Bowling Green man said he didn’t become interested in theater until he attended Findlay College.
“I didn’t have a plan when I was in high school,” he said. “I was a wrestler in high school, and that actually got me into college.”
Wilson said all that changed when he gave a speech in a class taught by Barry Alexander, then-director of theater and associate professor of speech and theater at the college.
“Barry, after the speech, asked me if I ever thought about being on stage,” Wilson said. “‘Not really. I’ve never been on it.’ And he offered me a scholarship by the time class was over.”
Wilson later changed his major to include theater. He appeared in stage productions throughout his college career, but said he knew “there was no future there for me. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t dance. I was very limited to what I could do.”
A life on tour
It was during a stint working summer stock at the Huron Playhouse that he got involved in technical theater and building sets.
“By the last musical, they realized I couldn’t sing, and they said, ‘instead of being in the musical, why don’t you be in the shop?’ I said, ‘I’m all for that.’”
Wilson spent his final two years in college getting more involved in the technical side of theater. He graduated from Findlay College in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in theater and communications.
He spent the next year working as a stage manager intern at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a regional professional theater. After a year, he decided against stage management.
“It was a lot of work, and you’ve got to deal with actors,” he said.
The following year, Wilson worked as an assistant electrician at the playhouse. In 1990, he also was a set dresser for the movie “Little Man Tate,” starring Jodie Foster.
The movie was filmed in Cincinnati.
He joined the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union and now works out of local 24, Toledo Stagehands.
“The jobs I’ve been doing the last 25 years, you have to be a union member and you have to have a card out of some local, and my local is Toledo,” he said.
Wilson married and moved back to Findlay. The couple had two children but later divorced.
In 1995, while working on a touring production of “Beauty and the Beast,” Wilson met his future wife, Tracy Generalovich, one of the performers. After two years, he moved on to a tour of “Lion King.”
For both shows, he worked as a carpenter and helped put sets together.
“Someone designs them, the shop builds them, then carpenters put them together and modify them and fix them if they break,” he explained.
The couple lived in New York City for six years and were married in 2007. They have two children and moved to Tontogany four years ago.
Wilson’s mother, Jo Wilson, still lives in Findlay and recently retired as activity director at Fox Run Manor. His father, Mike Wilson, a wrestling coach at area high schools as well as the University of Findlay for 35 years, died in 2008.
Wilson has also worked on “Movin’ Out,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Young Frankenstein,” all on Broadway, as well as tours of “Dirty Dancing, “The Addams Family,” “Billy Elliott” and “Wicked.”
It’s been an interesting career, he said. “It’s been about 20 years I’ve been on tour.”
It all started with a four-week tour with “Fiddler on the Roof,” he said.
Wilson works as a rigger/flyman on “Motown.” The fly system involves lines, blocks and counterweights that enable a stage crew to hoist curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and sometimes even actors.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Wilson. “There’s been accidents.”
He’s also worked lights and as an electrician and carpenter.
For the past year-and-a-half, he’s been working with “Motown,” which tells the story of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. He does the advance setup for a show, which takes two days, then returns home until the next stop on the tour.
Wilson isn’t sure what his next job will be when the current tour ends. He said the uncertainty bothers him “a little bit” and he’s hoping to find something permanent in the area.
“I never imagined this was how my life would be,” he said. “But I don’t know what else I’d do if I wasn’t doing this.”
‘This fits me’
Iriti, a 2000 Findlay High School graduate, now makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee.
“This fits me,” he said of life on the road during a telephone interview. “This suits my abilities and my personality.”
Iriti played football at Findlay High School and then Miami of Ohio, where he majored in sports management. An injury his junior year prompted him to leave school.
“I wasn’t enjoying it,” he said. “I didn’t feel like it was the place I needed to be.”
With his family’s support, including father Tony Iriti of Findlay and mother Pat Garlock of Arlington, Iriti moved to Los Angeles. When he returned several years later, he helped his older brother get Nino’s Bar started and bartended there for a few years.
The bar hosts bands and live music.
“We kind of regenerated live music in Findlay,” said Iriti.
It was while working at the bar that Iriti met and became friends with rock musician Fred Shafer and his band.
“We would go to Columbus and Dayton to see him perform,” he said.
Shafer asked Iriti to join him on the road, and Iriti worked as Shafer’s manager for three years. They toured the country, including a gig with Armed Forces Entertainment to perform at military bases in China, Japan and South Korea.
A chance conversation with Iriti’s cousin, Mark Sizemore, later opened the door to work with Bryan. Sizemore had been in Nashville working on music videos and ended up as Bryan’s tour manager.
Now 34, Iriti has been working with Bryan for nearly 3½ years.
“That’s the way I’ve always lived my life,” Iriti said. “I never close off any idea. I’d rather try something and decide I don’t like it than not try it at all.”
Bryan tours with 68 crew members. Iriti said most of the concert appearances are short tours that leave on Wednesday and are back in Nashville by Sunday. Groups in other musical genres often tour for a month at a time, said Iriti.
“In the country market, they like to be home at least a couple days a week,” he said.
Iriti said hours are long on the road. He usually works from 7:30 a.m. to 3 a.m., sleeping just four hours a night.
“It’s fun. It’s tiring,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work busting our butts to get the show on the stage, but once you get out there you forget the pain and being tired. It all comes together.”
Last year, Bryan also performed 11 shows in nine days in Europe.
Iriti said his main job is to look after Bryan’s six band members and make sure they have everything they need. He also arranges tickets for special guests.
He said his job involves handling a lot of details, something he’s good at.
“We pride ourselves on being able to think on our feet,” he said.
Bryan is friends with a lot of people, Iriti added.
“I want to do a good job. I want to put on a good face for Luke,” he said.
At a recent concert, Iriti said he got the chance to talk with John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
“I told him it was nice to meet you, but I’m a fan of the Steelers. And he put me in a headlock,” Iriti laughed.
Life on the road can be hard, he admitted.
“I don’t have a family, a wife and children. I work with people who have a wife and children and see how they deal with it. Being away from someone that long, it’s tough,” he said.
Iriti said his ultimate goal is to become a manager and work regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. days. But for now he’s happy working with Bryan, who’s “at the top of his game,” he said.
“Luke and his wife are great people,” said Iriti. “It would have to be something real special to make me leave.”
“Besides, I’m a late-night person so this suits me,” he said.
Jeannie Wiley Wolf: (419) 427-8419, firstname.lastname@example.org