I never wanted to be a technician. I never wanted to be a stage hand. My first introductions to theatre were with my mother when I was very young and our season tickets to Theatre Calgary in the late 70’s. I went through junior high, high school, and university with aspirations of a life as a serious actor, being all serious in very serious roles of seriousness. I took every drama class that I could in those days, all the way through University. I was keen, I was hungry, I was serious.
Then, one of my professors, in my sophomore year, took me aside and told me “you may want to consider other options, I don’t think acting in the theatre is right for you. You have a certain proficiency, but you’re just not very good at it. You like computers right? Maybe you should think of a computer job?”
Not satisfied with giving up on theatre as a whole, I started to learn theatrical sound design, which was barely taught at all in those days. They ended up having to invent courses for me to take in order to pursue theatrical audio.
I did have a minor in computer science, and grew up with a computer at home (a little rarer in the 70s) so I was comfortable around them. So when I interviewed for an internship at Alberta Theatre Projects, I noticed that they were installing a new Mac IIci, complete with new digital editing software, and I pointed it out, saying “Oh! I see you have Pro Edit and Pro Deck”…
“Do you know how to use this stuff?”
“Ya, I’ve read a bunch about it and got to work with it a little in university”
It was that simple. Young people like me were in high demand because we understood how to use the new technology that was being forced upon theatres…
One of the more aged sound techs at ATP would say “this new gear is garbage, there’s no analogue signal, it’s all bits and bytes, it’s never going to sound as good as an LP”… and I remember how I felt sorry for him and his resistance to change.
Since then, I have seen a myriad of technological upgrades in this industry. Some I watched come in to the world in their infancy, then become a mainstream technology, and later become obsolete (I’m looking at you minidisk), and for the most part, I’ve received new technology with open arms, especially when it makes the art of the theatre better…
… but it gets tiring. Every time there is a new upgrade, there is a new learning curve, and at this stage of my life, my curve is becoming more of a straight line.
Recently, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre upgraded all of their lighting control consoles, and because of that, Venue Two gets to use a brand new lighting console from that upgrade.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a necessary upgrade. The old consoles were getting very long in the tooth, and support and parts for them was starting to become rare, so our head electrician was over the moon with the new consoles…
But I’m not a lighting guy by trade. I’m an audio guy. The only time I touch lights and electrics gear is during the Fringe, and it seems I might be getting a little old to learn new tricks.
We did some training on it in the fall last year:
“JBJ, you’ll love this new board. It’s so easy, and it does so much!”
“Great. Where’s the manual, I’ll give it a read.”
“There is no manual. Just a set of videos on DVD or on YouTube. You don’t need a manual, it’s just that easy to use, you can even load the videos to your phone!”.
“Ok, I’ll go to YouTube on my phone……… I can’t get a signal on my phone, because we are in the belly of MTC which is underground”
“No problem, no problem, lets do a learning exercise then; what do you want the console to do?”
“Umm… ok, how about turning that light over there on.”
Ok, Ok. Well first you need to select the screen layout that you want to use. Select the display menu using your mouse.”
“A mouse? This board has a mouse?”
“Yes, it also has a full array of input device that can be used including a tablet remote”
“So select the display menu”
“I need to go find a mouse first. There wasn’t one in the box”
“That’s ok, that’s ok. We can just arrow over”
“Arrow over, use these arrows to cycle through the menus”
“Oh. That’s how we used to do things before we had a mouse on computers in the 70s”
“I was born in 1988”
“Ok, Ok. So select the display menu….. yup…. yup….. no…. the next one…. the one over there…… one more over…… here let me.”
“Oh…. the other set of arrows. Ok.
“Now, where do you want to see your cue list”
“On the video monitor”
“I know, but WHERE on the monitor”
“On the video part of the monitor?”
“No… I mean….. ok, I’ll just pick a layout”
“That might be best”
“There. So, this screen shows the channels including moving lights, and this one is the cue list”.
“What was it we were trying to do?”
“Turn that light on”
“Right! Ok, first you select the address that the instrument is using and assign it to a channel. Then we can tell the board what type of instrument it is, and all of the parameters for the lamp appear here and can be adjusted using the encoders”
“We have to make a code now?”
“Then what is an encoder?”
“It’s a multi parameter input device on a wheel that is also a button”
“Oh…….. Ok then”
“Now we select the channel that has the address for the instrument and using a different encoder, we assign it a value”
“This seems needlessly complicated”
“No, no, it’s really easy once you learn it, I mean, come on, look at how many different ways you can assign a level to a channel that is assigned to an address? How did you used to do it?”
“I’d press a button and the light would go on.”
“Is there a button on this thing that can turn that light on?”
“Well, it depends on whether the channel that contains the address is assigned to a data input device”
“So, no then?”
“Ya, not really, no, there isn’t a ‘button’ that can do that”
This thing is never going to sound as good as an LP….