On the Bay

Rhode Island Roadie

Barrington's Pat Ryan talks life on the road with rock's biggest legends

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AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Prince, *NSYNC, Michael Jackson, the infamous Guns N’ Roses riot concert in 1991; Pat Ryan always had the best seat in the house. For the past 37 years the Rhode Island native has been a professional production rigger for some of the biggest shows in the entertainment industry. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Electronics, Pat has spent the last 12 years based out of Boston with JCAL PRO, the exclusive rigging company for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the John B. Hynes Veteran’s Memorial Convention Center. For six years Pat was the Business Agent in Providence for The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 23, working to fill labor calls with local production talent for shows. Pat and his wife Jen recently moved to Portsmouth from Jen’s hometown of Barrington where they raised their three children, twins James and Kathryn, and Ellie.

After I graduated, a friend asked if I wanted to go out on the road. You bet I did. I wanted to see the world. You have to enjoy the work. It is vigorous and physical. A rigger is lifting gear, motors, lighting, trusses and sound equipment, anything that flies above the stage. Back then a show would go out on the road for a year or two, sometimes to Europe. You might travel every day; setting up, operating equipment, tearing it down. You finish at 1 or 2 in the morning, throw a piece of pizza in your mouth, hop on the bus and hit the road again. You learn how to sleep on a bus. I’ve had a lot of back surgeries, neck surgery. My body is destroyed. I go to massage and physical therapy. When the Convention and Expo industry became more intricate with the rigging, roadies like me branched off into it. You’re not on the road so it allows for more of a home life.

With Mötley Crüe we had to rig 50,000 to 70,000 pounds of lighting equipment. We rigged the drummer 150 feet out over the audience in a clear acrylic drum kit. We have flown motorcycles, pianos, you name it. The most intricate job was *NSync’s No Strings Attached Tour. We flew the entire band out over the audience. During a tech rehearsal the performer, Joey Fatone, and two people working beneath the stage got badly injured. When I’m waiting for a cue to come up I still feel the hair on the back of my neck rising up. So much has gone into it, people are counting on you. It’s an adrenaline rush.

Back then it was sex, drugs, rock and roll. A lot of guys I knew from those years are dead. They made a lot of money but spent a lot. The touring industry takes you away from your life so if you’re not careful you don’t really build anything back home. I was always planning things, making things happen at home so when I got off the road I had my life here.

When our daughters were young they enjoyed the children’s theatre program in Barrington and got involved in high school. I doubted anyone would follow in my footsteps. Katie majored in Lighting Design at Fordham University and Ellie is a Costume Designer major there. I thought they would want something stable, a nine-to-five job. It’s a bittersweet business. I was a freelancer so I was always hustling to find work. I guess they saw how much I love my job and the industry.