The day of The Matrix Awards, I woke up at 5am, and was at the Waldorf by 6:30. Just before Joan arrived around 9am, we were told that EVERYONE needed to immediately clear out of the room so Joan could have the room entirely to herself. Everyone. Immediately. For an hour. Meanwhile, a team of about 50 people were working frantically to ready the room for the event - florists and decorators making finishing touches, staff polishing and setting out silverware. Jesus, I thought, Here we go. But then Joan pushed her way onstage, saying loudly to her handlers, “It’s fine, let them stay!” She walked up to the podium and immediately started cracking jokes. For the next thirty or so minutes, she told stories and joked easily with members of the staff. Where was the high maintenance woman I was expecting? Not only was she hysterically funny - she was nice.
She was funny later too, during the awards show. In the end, everything went well that day - I did a good job. And Joan never said a word about her lights, which is really the highest compliment you can receive.
The first time I worked at the Waldorf=Astoria was in April 2013. I was hired as Lighting Director for The Matrix Awards - a job I had gotten randomly off Craigslist. I saw the listing one afternoon, so I sent my resumé to a man named John and hoped for the best. When he hired me, I was excited - the two day gig promised to pay nearly two months of my rent. I was also extremely nervous about making a good impression - I’m a perfectionist, and I wanted more than anything to do a good job. The first production meeting I attended was immediately intimidating - Joan Rivers was hosting the awards show, and she had been making demands that the team wasn’t sure they could meet. The conflict all centered around a hologram - Joan wanted a hologram of herself to be projected onstage, so she could do comedy bits back and forth with her hologram self. But holograms are finicky and expensive. The lighting and camera angle have to be just right. And because there’s no such thing as a “cheap hologram,” above all, you need to have the right budget. Because we definitely didn't have the budget for a last minute hologram, the whole idea was eventually scrapped. Joan wasn’t happy, so I braced myself for a dramatic day. Almost a decade of working in New York City means that I have certainly worked with all sorts of difficult personalities. Not all of these people are celebrities of course, but it is a stereotype for a reason. I've worked with people who don’t want to be talked to or looked at, people who will scream at you for saying the wrong thing. It’s a strange and delicate game, but I’ve played it before and I (sort of) know the rules. So I readied myself for whatever the day would bring.
Now, almost a year and a half later, I have worked at the Waldorf more than a dozen times. I like it there; the events are always interesting, and the crew I work with is amazing. Just two night ago, I had the pleasure of running lights for artist Willis Pyle’s 100th birthday celebration, which was a treat (I definitely teared up at his nephew's toast - it was absolutely beautiful). But I always think of Joan every time I walk in through the ornate lobby at the Park Avenue entrance, and remember those thirty minutes when she stood onstage before the cameras turned on. I will never forget her beautiful, kind, and infectious presence. She will be greatly missed in this world.
My name is Eileen, and I'm a yoga teacher and jewelry designer based in NYC. I love to think and write about yoga, wellness, and philosophy, along with practical ways to incorporate these things into daily life. I love hearing new perspectives and learning from other people - please comment, ask questions, and add your voice to this blog!