Friday, June 20, 2014

Of Course I Miss It, Part 1

Yes, of course I miss designing sound and working in the theater.  I did it for about 12 years and then it felt like it was time to leave.  I still believe that, but that doesn't mean I don't miss it.  I was in broadcasting for more than 35 years...writing, announcing, producing, crew work...and I don't miss it a bit.

I miss reading a script for the first time, pencil and paper beside me, taking notes on what the playwright suggests for sound cues and writing down my ideas.  I miss meeting with the director to go over the cues, to hear what s/he wants, and to propose my ideas.  I miss meeting with the whole creative team for paper tech, the meeting in which we talked through what we're doing.

I miss re-reading the script to imagine the sound.  Sound is not just dropping in a thunder clap because the script says so; sound matches and enhances what's going on.  There's a difference between thunder in a comedy and thunder in a mystery.  What would the accompanying rain sound like?  I miss deciding if a doorbell should be rung offstage by the actor or a sound effect programmed by me.  And again, what kind of doorbell fits the situation?  What should the train whistle in the distance sound like?  When the actor opens the apartment window, should there be city sounds?  And if so, what's the neighborhood sound like?

I miss the time spent in the audio production room working on realizing the sound with the sound engineer.  I've worked with three engineers and two of them I miss greatly.  The third did his job, but the other two took production to a higher level.  What I miss most from those sessions is the collaboration, and I also miss watching those artists in action.  I would tell them what I wanted and they played and worked on and finessed the sounds and tended to come up with something more than I imagined.  I would start it, then sit back and listen and marvel as they created perfection.

The engineer I worked with over the last years was the most amazing.  Fortunately, I had enough sense to let him interpret what I wanted.  I'd read some lines before the cue, tell him what the director thought it should be, tell him what I thought it should sound like.  There were times when I thought we were spending too much time on a cue, only to hear a sonic work of art.  He knew how to be perfect but not upstage the actors.  Plus, we were complete opposites in what we liked to do.  He hated doing live shows.  He was a recording engineer and loved the comfort of having a 7th take.  I loved going live, having only one time to get it right.

I miss tech week.  Everyone says they wish they could avoid it, but it's a week of watching things come together.  I liked having one night that was sound night, in which I could stop the proceedings to go over a cue again.  I liked being able to tell the disagreeable actors that they had six or eight weeks to rehearse and that I have one night.. It is sometimes difficult for actors to remember there's more to a show than her or him.  I can't say that I particularly liked having the director tell me that, despite him/her having heard the cue before, s/he didn't think it worked now that s/he heard it with actors.  Neither the engineer nor I liked having to re-do effects, but the director is in charge.  And it gave me another couple hours working with him.

I miss opening night, waiting in the green room with other members of the crew and the actors.  I always left at 15 minutes call so I could watch most of the audience come in and also (and I don't know any better way to say this) become one with the board.  Also, to keep the curious away from the board and computer.  I didn't need to be with the cast; I liked those minutes to review the script, think about things, quietly make sure the actors' mics were on (there was always a vocal warm-up at 10 minutes, so I could see if any mics were not working), and just generally prepare.  I miss that first time that everyone does everything without stopping, that first time in front of an audience, the first time everything has to happen.

I miss working on shows I knew before.  For example, I always wanted to be in Ain't Misbehavin', the Fats Waller review, but I suspected no one would ever do a white version of it.  As the sound designer, I worked every performance and loved it.  I'd heard of The Laramie Project but never saw it.  To work it was incredibly moving every performance, plus we did it during October, the month Matthew Shepherd was killed, and there were references to specific dates, which made it even more real.  My first two shows as board operator were The Music Man, in which I had maybe 3 cues, followed two weeks later by Angels in America:  Part Two:  Perestroika, which had 87 cues and all of them on audio cassettes.  And I was terrified and lived through it and it was the first of many shows I was sorry to see end.

I miss working the run of the show, finding the rhythm of it without getting into a rut, and even though we'd done 20 performances, being prepared for anything to happen.  I miss pretending that this world of pretend was where I belonged.  I miss the relationships that took place during a run, being ignored by certain actors (usually young who didn't understand the collaborative effort that goes into a performance) and not caring, being acknowledged by and having conversations with veteran actors and crew, swapping stories, sharing news and gossip.  I miss having complicated cues and pulling them off without a hitch.

I miss closing night, especially shows I liked doing.  I'd find myself thinking "this is the last time I'll do that."  While cleaning up, taking down the mics and speakers, and pulling the cable helped me cope with the end and putting the run to rest, it never worked completely and I'd be post-show depressed for a couple of days.  But then there'd be the next show to work on.

I miss the smell of the different theaters.  I miss breathing the same air as the actors and the audience and the crew.  I miss thinking sequences through or inventing bridges from one scene to the next.  I like that I went from reel tape to tape cartridge to cassette tape to floppy disc to CD to computer.  I like that the engineer loved programming the computer and kept my more limited knowledge in mind so I'd hit the cues clearly.  I miss feeling the play, feeling the mood of the moment, nearly the same every performance but not quite.  I miss the pressure of a busy, live performance.

"The theater is a temple," says Prologus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, "and we are here to worship the gods of Comedy and Tragedy."  That ran through my mind nearly every time I entered through the stage door.  I did my part in that worship and was proud to do so.  Yes, I miss it, but when it's time to exit, one exits.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Two Men: The Cautionary Tale

I've been writing some of my memories of growing up in a small town in the 1950s.  I think I've posted others (Rocky Springs comes to mind), so here's another:

Gap had two men who served as cautionary tales.  One was Stewart Fisher; the other was Jonas (no last name known).  Stewart was slow, although, happily, the public had had their fill of picking on him and pretty much tolerated him.  He was a large man who scared me a little.  During WWII, people were asked to record numbers on all railroad cars.  (I’m assuming I’m remembering this correctly.)  Stewart couldn’t serve and instead wrote down every freight car number he could.  He continued taking down numbers in tablets my father gave him.  Father hired him to do odd jobs around the mill.  Although he gave me the creeps, I was assured he was harmless and the Christian thing to do was to be nice to him.

Whereas Stewart was thought of as slow and harmless, Old Jonas was the example of everything dire that could happen to you if you masturbated.  A moment of pleasure equaled a lifetime of whatever it was Jonas was.  Jonas was our homeless person.  I often wondered if Jonas was Gap’s forgotten man, as they were called in the 1920s and ’30s.  Jonas wasn’t elderly, but I could easily see how he was barred from everything.  He was the town drunk, the village idiot, the man nobody wanted.  As far as I could tell, he was beyond Christian Love and Charity.  Mother hastened me out of the way when she saw him on the street.  Some people let him sleep in their old stables or carriage houses when the weather got really cold.  I knew he also lived beside the spring mechanism inside the Town Clock tower.

Stewart was retarded.  Jonas clearly had a history, a history for a young boy not to know.  Jonas was the result of too much masturbation.  Jonas was the result of too much alcohol.  Jonas was the result of what happens when you catch a sexual disease.  Jonas was what it was like to live under the churches’ highly-placed radars.

The first time I thought I had a handle on Jonas was when I read Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  I recognized the choir director instantly.  Having smugly figured out the choir director, a notion came to me that maybe being a gay man in Gap would be the same thing.  By the time I’d read Our Town, I was in junior high, if not senior high, and hadn’t seen him in ages.  No one wanted to talk about him.  And, of course, the only books I could find in the Lancaster County Library were so clearly anti-gay that even I could tell I was being lied to.  No Jonas, no discussion, no questions, no answers, no nothing.  There were times I wondered if I stayed in Gap if I’d become the next Jonas.