"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Monday, September 7, 2015

Stiteses In The Swamp Pt 1: J5, the Unsung Hero

I haven't written a word on here about Shrek the Musical. This is strange because because it was such a huge part of the Stites Family Summer 2015, but it's also precisely BECAUSE it was such a huge part of the Stites Family Summer 2015. I've not had time to write much.

My own experience was overwhelming, in terms of what I learned and what I did. But more importantly, and so firstly, I have to blather on about how proud I am of Lisa and John. These two followed me into this whole theatre thing like Tonto follows the Lone Ranger. Two finer companions couldn't be wished for. Let's talk about John first.

John has embraced the role of Sound Tech. The wonderful Katie Deese took him under her wing and taught him the basics on Wizard of Oz three years ago (and stepped up this year to help John with sound checks and teaching him even more about the finer points of sound engineering) and he handled Into The Woods pretty much on his own last summer, so he was a shoe-in for sound guy for Shrek. Turns out we ask a lot from the guy. Hannah Funderburke, John's newest mentor and friend in theatre tech (and source of his J5 moniker), was pretty horrified that we expected John to handle over 20 actors being mic'ed. She said pros would refuse to do that, it was just too difficult. John took it in stride, he had that many in Into the Woods last year after all. This time he had 24 actors (give or take, the equipment was constantly breaking down) with microphones, three choral mics hung from the flies and a reverb effect to deal with. In addition, he played the fart machine during one song, something that sounds funny but required him to basically play a percussion instrument along with the pit orchestra but do so from the tech booth. It was a great gag as long as it was perfect. The actors made body motions along with the sound effects so the timing had to be spot on to work. If it did, it was hilarious, if not, it would have shown. It WAS perfect. Every night. Oh, and I, in my wisdom, saddled the kid with sound effects and a video projector on top of everything else.

John realized what I didn't realize, or didn't want to think about. He had too much to do himself. Now, he was not the only one to be stretched too thin on this show. Our tech director had a heart problem and missed tech week and the first weekend of performances, throwing Hannah and I into the roles of co-acting-tech directors, and both myself and Jen were trying to fill simultaneous production and stage roles. John, I must say, handled it best, far better than Jen and I anyhow. He saw he was in the weeds and asked if he could ask for help from the director, the wonderful Cal Chiang, who was already in the booth watching the show each night. John recruited Cal to run sound and video effects, but had to cue him. But hey, it at least allowed him to keep his hands on the sound board, right? Cal, by the way, claimed John was "bullying" him (and saying so with a HUGE smile on his face). John said Cal kept "leaving his post" and needed to be called back. John is 15 and taking it upon himself to tell the director to keep to his work. Many adults in community theatre wouldn't do that.

John put a tremendous amount of time into this show, showing up two hours before call each day to try to make the sound work with whatever equipment was functioning that night. The mics were old and the replacements cheap. We had some very intense movement on the part of some actors and that was tough on the wires. Every time a mic was replaced, that meant a new place for that mic's actor on the soundboard. So with 24 actors' mics to keep track of, John could never count on all of them being on the same buttons two nights in a row. They never were, not once. And yet, John had the correct mics on and off when they needed to be and kept everything in balance throughout trios, duets, solos and big ensemble numbers. I have no idea how he didn't lose his mind, but not did he not, he was having fun.

John is looking at a career in sound design/engineering. The experience he's gotten has been wonderful, but what I think will serve him best is his attitude. The guy is rock solid. You can't teach that. And I couldn't be more proud of him :-)

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