“Crest makes good toothpaste.”
That was the first thing I heard over the mics when I walked into the theatre on Saturday. Dean was nice enough to let me crash the sound check for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and I had no idea what to expect. My only experience with setting up a band was in high school, when we jammed cables into outlets and prayed we didn’t set the stage on fire.
However at CCA, things are a little more professional than that. Before the band even got on stage to make sure they sounded right, our sound guys did some run through’s, making sure all the mics were working and the monitors (speakers on stage) were hooked up right. This is a video from the main sound desk that shows the guys making sure the drum kit sounds right. Our sound guys needed to make sure that it was loud enough so that the audience could hear the right sounds, but not too loud that it sounded like a bunch of random banging, and the levels on the audio metering scales told them if they were right on the money, or needed to adjust.
Another thing I learned was that for many of the performances here, and especially those with music, there are actually two soundboards. There’s the main one in the theatre that Dean works, and then there’s one in the wings that Steve manages. Dean’s job is to make sure that the audience hears the music right, and Steve does the same, but for each of the musicians on stage. This clip shows just that. Some of the techs were walking around stage making sure everyone was hearing what they needed to hear to perform, and Steve was adjusting on the go.
See how some of the faders (sliding controls) seem to move on their own? They don’t. I found out that Steve can program different channels to have different frequencies (more bass, treble, etc) and then set that channel with those specifications. If he needs more channels, he can move on to a different one and do the same thing. The movement happens when he switches between channels and the soundboard adjusts to the frequencies he set.
Just think of it this way. I love watching Real Housewives of NYC (no shame), but my Bravo channel has really bad sound quality, so I always have to turn up my TV’s volume. When I set my DVR to record the newest episode, I adjust the sound so my TV’s volume automatically goes higher to record that particular show, but will go lower for the next show I record on a different channel.
The actual soundcheck with the band on stage took 20 minutes at most, because everything went so well during the set up. I was glad because I got to meet more of the sound and lighting crew, and they’re a blast to hang out with.
If there are any questions that you had that I didn’t answer, please let me know! Dean said he doesn’t mind me asking questions, so I’m going to put that to the test. In the mean time, here are some photos I snagged during the soundcheck. I went through two cameras before I got any pictures that would work in some way, shape or form, so if they’re a tad grainy that’s why.
(This blog post can also be found under its alternate title “Tech Tuesday: Caitie Still Really Hates Heights.”)
There are three things in life that creep me out: Hearing something move in the dark, the mouse from Chuck E. Cheese, and heights (I have photo proof of the last two. Ask me about it sometime). But since Katie gave me the suggestion to feature the catwalks here at CCA in my Tech Tuesday posts, I had to give it a shot.
Had I been able to think clearly, I would have gotten photos of the guts of the building before we enter the catwalks that lead into the main theatre, but thinking clearly just wasn’t happening.
Those are some shots of the catwalk overlooking the stage. The catwalks are mainly used to help position and adjust lights and sound for the performances. They also help techs do maintenance or move around the theatre if they need to do so quickly and quietly. Since we have three theatres at CCA, the catwalks have to be positioned above all three while still remaining hidden. If you remember the Tech Tuesday: Lighting post, I took a shot of a bank of lights from the stage. Behind those lights is the catwalk for the main stage, and the yellow circle is about where I was standing if you were standing on the stage looking up.
Very high up, but very cool.
Cross your fingers for next week’s Tech Tuesday. If all goes as planned and the stars align I’ll have something really cool to show you guys.
I knew this would happen. You’ve met the main tech crew, you saw some of the features in the theatre that are essential to performances and I covered all of the basics.
Now the fun can start.
In addition to Bill, Jimmie and Dean, we have techs who work a show by show basis (including Kevin, who gave me the idea for Caitie’s Chandler Crawl) who are all kinds of awesome, and behind the curtain still that most people don’t get a chance to see, like sound checks. Look for that one in the beginning of May.
In the mean time, are there any questions you’ve had about some of the technical stuff that goes on here at CCA? Let me know, and you may find the topic you raised in a future Tech Tuesday blog post!
But you can call him Dean.
Dean has been the sound guru at Chandler Center for the Arts for the last 15 years, but he started out in a much different place.
“I went to school to be a studio engineer, moved to Phoenix to find work and kind of fell into live sound,” he said, adding that it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with it. He got his start by mixing bands at a local blues bar or $20 and the occasional sandwich (which is also how I got my start in journalism/PR/social media, by the way) and eventually landed here.
“Working in a studio, you put in long hours, and with live, it’s always something different. And my favorite part of working here (CCA) is there are all kinds of events, unlike other venues,” he said.
‘”I like the variety, there’s desk work, running the stage, maintenance and repair, so my days are broken up and keeps the job from getting too arduous.”
The hardest part of his job, though, was getting started.
“Sometimes when you first start, you feel like you’re getting snubbed, but if you stay dedicated, you’ll find something,” he said. His advice to sound techs trying to break into the world?
“Perservere and stay dedicated. Go to tiny places that don’t really have a sound guy, or help out a friend’s band by mixing sound,” he said, because a gig that can only pay for your gas and maybe your dinner could be what opens the door for your next job.
If you would like to see him in action, he’s going to be doing sound demos April 27 and 28, so come down and say hi!
When you first walk into the main theatre, you’re walking right under the control booth, and these bad boys.
Those lights are what make up the spotlights. It’s helpful during plays or band performances when we want to highlight a bunch of people and not just one person.
I tried to get shots of the banks of lights in the theatre, but the house lights can be a bit tricky, and I couldn’t find Bill to help me. There are banks of lights on the far left and right of the stage, as well as in rows throughout the theatre.
See the dark row? That’s all lights that Bill can use to manipulate how the stage looks. From different colors that match the mood of the music, to highlighting different parts of the stage, to creating depth and shadows that make the stage look larger than it is, there’s a reason “lights” comes first in “lights, camera, action”.
(P.S. Mission for next week: Hunt down Dean. Don’t take no for an answer. Bribe with cookies if needed)
(P.P.S. Empty theatres still creep me out)
If a performance looks great, but no one in the audience can hear anything, it can very quickly lead to a riot. Which is why we need Dean (who you’ll meet later) and a soundboard.
Call it what you will, audio mixer, mixing console or mixing desk. This vital and giant piece of equpiment makes sure that any sound coming out of the speakers in CCA sounds like it supposed to. It also helps our sound techs know which microphones will pick up what sounds, and when they should come on or go silent. When you have multiple microphones, you have to make sure that no one will dominate the others, so you can hear the singer just as easily as the rest of the band. When a mic is not doing it’s job properly, the who performance is off. Sometime during April Dean may let me sit in on a sound check so you can see him and the board in action.
Seriously though, this thing is a beast. I would have gotten in the photo to show how big it is compared to a person, but being in a giant empty and semi-dark theatre is down right creepy. I snapped my two pictures and booked it out of there.
Yes I’m a giant scaredy cat. No shame.
Jimmie is Chandler Center for the Arts’ Senior Production Coordinator, who does (in his words) everything.
“I do everything needed to get ready for every show and event, well, as much as humanly possible,” he added with a laugh.
Jimmie has been here since 1989 when the center opened, and loves when he gets to work with younger technicians.
“My favorite thing is when I work with students and younger technicians, and they get it. They understand what they’re doing and they develop a passion for it,” he said.
Jimmie works with other CCA technicians (including Bill) even on days with no performance. Because they get in plenty of practice time, everything works together on performance days or night, and the show can go off without a hitch.
“When things run like they’re supposed to, it keeps everyone happy. And that really isn’t that big of a challenge,” he said.
But just because his title has the word “Senior” in it, doesn’t give Jimmie any special treatment when it comes to his work.
“Really, the show must go on, so we can’t stop for one person. We’ll stop if the building is on fire, but not if we’re missing people.”
On performance night at CCA, many different parts have to come together as a whole in order for a show to be successful. A large piece of what makes a successful show is our production team. To show our appreciation, we will dedicate a blog to them on Tuesdays and highlight their job in someway.
So meet Bill, a Production Coordinator and Lighting Director who was brave enough to be my Tech Tuesday guinea pig.
Bill has been keeping the lights on here at CCA for nearly 11 years with the belief that lighting is everything.
“My job is to make sure that every lighting need is met for a show, whether it’s me designing the lights, or someone coming in and setting up,” he said.
Bill must make sure that all the lights are working properly, the colors match and highlight areas of the stage, spotlights work, and that lights are able to change throughout the performance, if needed. Proper lighting can affect the mood of the audience and make or break a show.
If you sit down with Bill for a few minutes, it’s very obvious that he loves his job, and realistically, a few minutes is all you’ll be able to get, simply because there is always something going on.
“I don’t have to always sit behind a desk, because there is always another event right around the corner,” said Bill, adding that no two days are ever the same.
Bill knows that lighting is everything, and makes sure that everyone, from the audience to the performers, is happy with the end result.
“My favorite is when the artist comes in without a lighting person, and they comment on the lighting and thank me from the stage. They realize that I went that extra step to make their show great.”
So next time you’re enjoying a performance at CCA (Like Frank Sinatra Jr.), take a look at the lighting and how it changes to reflect the mood of the show. And if you happen to see Bill after a show, take a moment to let him know that he did a great job.