I Blame Theater

High-school theater solidified my production-tech habits.

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The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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I like being told that I’m doing a good job. I’m not saying that I’m good at getting compliments – I do try to say, “Thank You,” but there are also times where I just shrug, “Aw, Shucks,” and scratch the back of my head. I still enjoy them, though.

I recently had the occasion of being praised by Rylee of Advent Horizon. He was very appreciative of my staying behind the console and actually listening to the show for the entire duration of the event. This is, apparently, not an attribute shared amongst all audio-humans. It seems that there are a good number of sound craftspersons who dial up a band and then completely check-out. Even at the physical level. They just “bail,” and that’s it.

I find that almost shocking.

I also find it bewildering that more small-venue production people don’t help with loading in and out. It’s just bizarre to me. If you’re sitting there, ready to rock with nothing else to chase after, and gear is moving, why aren’t you facilitating the moving of that equipment? If the gear gets in, the show goes on, right? The show has to go on!


The comment made me think about where the differing attitudes toward production might have come from. In my case, I think the “blame” can be set squarely on the shoulders of high-school theater.

Serious Enough

I got into theater (drama class, actually) by way of a scheduling accident. What I mean is that all freshman at my high-school had an elective class, which you had to carry so as to complete your schedule. You couldn’t choose to have free time, but you could indicate a preference as to what those final few credit hours would be. I wanted art, but my request apparently wasn’t recorded properly, so I was hurriedly stuffed into Tom Delgado’s drama class.

A couple of months later, Mr. D let us know that there would be opportunities for us to become “techies.” Being fascinated by lights and sound, I jumped at the chance. There was no turning back. Hopelessly addicted, I spent the rest of my high-school career either being backstage or wishing I was. It’s good that I had a huge dislike of being in trouble, because I otherwise would have skipped every class possible in order to spend more time either on stage or in the booth.

When asked about how long I’ve been in audio, I include my high-school experience. Although some folks might regard student theater as “amateur,” I didn’t find it to be so. It’s probably one of the reasons that I stayed so engaged: Tom’s program took us seriously, so we took IT seriously…and it was all serious enough to be real, honest-to-goodness experience in production. Sure, we didn’t have every possible tool and toy (although we did have a lot of gear and a nice facility), and yes, we weren’t perfectly disciplined in every area (we yakked over the com system like talking was going out of style), but we got stuff DONE, DANGIT! Stuff that was plenty big and complex, requiring deliberate, multi-step preparation as well as grace under pressure.

There are a bunch of people floating around the world today who learned how to handle the idea of executing a big project to plan, as well as how to just shrug their shoulders and “deal” when the plan inevitably goes out the window, because they were Tom D’s techies way back when.


I mentioned that Mr. Delgado’s program took us seriously. He also took us seriously at a personal level. “D” encouraged and expected professionalism. Folks that took pride in their work and were fascinated by the whole production, right down to the screws used in the sets, were given the choice assignments. If you were just RABID about the whole thing, you’d get the nod.

And rabid we were.

If it was Saturday, and we were going to have a workday starting at 1 PM, we’d show up at 11 AM just to be in the vicinity of the building.

If it was time to move a bunch of heavy stuff around and clean up, we were on it.

If the order of the day was carpentry, we were on deck with drills, speed squares, and pencils, eagerly translating the design-drawing into physical reality. The miter saw was stupidly fun to use, as I recall.

If there was painting to be done (and there always was), we’d suit up in some overalls and get moving.

Time to hang lights? Just give us a minute to find the wrenches. And a ruler. What’s the scale of the drawing, again?

Time to redo the counterweights for the fly system? We can get up to the grid, unlocked ladder or not.

And if it was time to get some hands-on with an audio or lighting console, we were definitely interested. (So interested that I think it got unhealthy. I personally had a death grip on the lighting computer. I think I actually managed to hobble the program for techs down the line, because I was always jumping in to run the thing. Sorry, guys. I couldn’t help myself.)

The point is that everything was part of the show, and you were expected to do everything as much as was actually practical. If you wanted a shot at driving a console in the booth, you also had to be willing to get dirty and do some lifting. In a very real sense, the path to FOH control was the path of moving gear. If you wanted to get to FOH, you had to do your bit at the not-FOH stuff. If you wanted to “stay in the booth,” you had to keep being available for other tasks.

In the same vein, failing to be present during an actual show was…unthinkable. The whole environment of the live production was such that nobody had to be explicitly told that they had a job to do, and they had to be in the appropriate spot to do it. Being on-station and being ready to act were just the way things were. There wasn’t a sane alternative. If you weren’t engaged, the show wouldn’t work. The idea that you’d dial up a mix and then NOT “watch the store” for the entirety of the night would have gotten you some very strange looks from our crew.

So, when I’m lucky enough to do things differently from other live-show techs, it’s because I went into high-school theater not knowing any better…and I came out not knowing any better even more.