It’s 10 a.m. on Tuesday as Chele Ware ’83 boards the Long Island train that will take her into the city. Ware’s destination is ABC Studios in Manhattan where she works in the props department of The Chew, a daytime fusion cooking and talk show.
Working behind the scenes, Ware is the person who ensures the show’s most important component is on hand — the food. She’ll start her workday consulting with the production, broadcast and design teams to compile the list of ingredients and then comb Manhattan and the outer boroughs to quickly acquire the items and return to the studio before the show starts.
Super Bowl party fare is today’s show theme, and celebrity chef Mario Batali is scheduled to co-host. He’ll be preparing pretzel-crusted shrimp with pickled-pepper relish. Like all good chefs, celebrity or otherwise, Batali wants to make the sauce from scratch, so the ingredient list calls for fresh banana and Fresno peppers.
Banana peppers are a common grocery store item. However, the Fresno pepper, similar to a jalapeño, isn’t as common.
Ware manages to locate a store in Manhattan that has Fresno peppers, but unfortunately, the list calls for a full pound, and the store doesn’t have that many.
She later finds a 24-hour grocery that has the peppers in stock. She orders a pound and requests delivery.
SFA to L.A. to N.Y.
Ware came to SFA to major in photojournalism, but she later changed her degree to theatre. Her fondest memories of the university involve working alongside her fellow theatre majors and professors on productions like Jesus Christ Superstar. She specifically recalls this production because of the closing night’s ending.
“During the final scene, the actor portraying Jesus was scripted to ascend into the rafters as the lights dimmed,” Ware said. “However, on the last night, the lights wouldn’t dim. We unplugged the board, turned everything off, and the lights continued to stay on. This poor guy was stuck up in the air for like 10 minutes until the lights finally went out.”
Ware said the students attributed this phenomenon to Chester, the ghost who is said to reside in Turner Auditorium.
After Ware graduated from SFA, she spent four years working in Texas at local and community theatres. In 1987, she moved to Los Angeles to look for work, but she didn’t stay long.
“It didn’t happen,” Ware said. “Jobs are very tightly held out there. People who have jobs aren’t giving them up, and they’re not looking to help you out. It’s much harder to get into the business in L.A.”
Ware moved back to Texas and later decided to take a trip to New York to investigate the job situation on the East Coast. During that one-week visit, she was offered three separate jobs. She returned to Texas, packed her bags and moved to New York, where she’s lived ever since.
One of her first jobs was as a lighting intern at the 92nd Street Y, a nonprofit cultural and community center located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There, she worked with Elizabeth Swados, who became famous during the late 1970s for writing, composing and directing the musical Runaways.
“The center had a theatre in the basement, and the first show I did was with Liz Swados and titled Esther. That was kind of a big deal,” she said.
During her early years in New York, Ware did mostly freelance work as a stagehand. Her first long-term position was with Big Apple Lights, a theatrical lighting company in Manhattan.
Her Big Break
In 1996, Ware joined the local stagehand union. The union, in addition to providing technicians for theatre, also served major television stations in New York City. It was through this association that Ware landed a stagehand position on the daytime soap opera All My Children.
Ware said the average soap opera crew records five or six episodes a week. The crew arrives each day about 7 a.m. to prepare for the day’s shoot, which usually begins around 9 a.m.
Each evening, the crew breaks down the sets that won’t be used the next day and builds new ones. On average, the crew works 12-hour days.
“The long hours create a sense of camaraderie among the crew, ” Ware said. “Working in television and theatre are similar. You become a family. You have to work together in very close proximity.”
Ware worked on All My Children until production moved to California in 2001. After earning a Master of Arts in forensic psychology, she took a one-year hiatus from television for a position with the New York City court system.
Leaving the business wasn’t easy, though, and Ware was drawn back to theatre and television. She served as the property master on the set of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon until 2016 and currently works on The Chew and Saturday Night Live.
While Ware generally procures food for The Chew, SNL provides a different weekly challenge — finding props to bring life to the sketches the SNL writers dream up. If the sketches will use previously purchased props, Ware is responsible, in part, for retrieving the props from the NBC warehouse in Brooklyn.
The writers’ requests run the gamut from arcane to mundane. For instance, Ware recently visited every Bed Bath & Beyond in Manhattan to locate 12 towels needed for a sauna scene.
Ware also works on SNL’s digital short crew, which is responsible for creating SNL segments like advertisement spoofs or other sketches aired during the live broadcast. A recent shoot found Ware and the crew at the Manhattan cruise terminal before sunrise to set up a shoot to spoof a public service announcement.
Though the bright lights of New York City are a long way from the purple lights of SFA and Nacogdoches, Ware said she still fondly remembers her time as a Lumberjack and being part of an intimate theatre group in which big dreams were encouraged and no stage was beyond reach.
“Show up early, work hard and get to know the people you’re working with, even if it’s only for a day or two,” Ware said. “That’s one thing I learned while at SFA, and it has stuck with me throughout my career.”