Unsung Heroes - Tom, Sound Engineer
Tom Anderson: Sound Engineer
What initially got you interested in running sound?
I started running some sound equipment in high school for graduations when I was a sophomore. When I went to college, I stumbled into a job that was sound, lights, power, etc. That job is how I learned it all, really. I started pushing boxes, and they trained their staff from the ground up. We were trained to do all sizes of jobs - from a podium and microphone in the corner at the coffee house, to rock shows for 10,000, to multiple stage venues with remote viewing and live broadcasting.
How did you come to be involved at CLT?
My wife was in 9-5 and at the last minute the sound tech for the show was unavailable. I think the question was asked, "Does anyone know a sound guy?" My wife's response was, "Yeah, I'm married to one . . ."
Tell me a bit about your duties at the theater. What does sound tech entail?
My duties are to maintain the equipment and support all productions and sound requirements of the theater. What that actually means is - I make sure that all the equipment is functioning properly for each show, repair any damaged equipment, and make sure that there is tech staff and support required for that particular production. I design and run many of our shows, but there are also many shows that I do not. In those cases, I either help find the proper personnel or check in with the director and sound tech for that show and make sure that they are all set.
Sound tech starts with setting up the board with the proper number of channels needed for mics, sound effect inputs, and orchestra. Then the orchestra pit must be wired, monitors set up, and levels set. After that, the wireless mics must be set up and checked to make sure there is no interference or cross-talk between each microphone. Once that is done, the system can be rung-out or EQ'd to make sure there will be no feedback. After all of that, the mics can then be placed on the actors. This process usually takes 1-1.5 hours the first time around because we have to identify where the transmitter will be placed/hidden in the actor’s costume and what will work best for them based on their movements/dancing/acrobatics that they will need to perform during the show. Once the entire cast is mic'd up, we do one final sound check all together to make sure there is no feedback. It usually only takes 30-45 minutes to mic up a cast and do sound check.
During the show, it is the sound board operator's job to make sure that all the actors/actresses are audible during the show. Typically a cue sheet is used to help the operator. Sometimes there is an assistant to help cue the board operator for particularly complex shows. The operator must also have a good ear to be able to mix all the actors/actresses, orchestra, and sound effects properly and get a good balance between them all. This is typically one of the hardest parts as a good tech is usually adjusting minor things all the time to make the show sound exactly how they want it to.
How much time goes into making a sound effects sheet?
Effect sheets can take time, especially due to the creative nature of our shows. Typically the list of effects needed at the beginning of the show is quite different at the end because the shows tend to evolve. In general sound effects are one of those things that depend on how much experience, creativity, technical knowledge, and time you have available, can be very quick or can take a long time.
Do you have any previous productions that you ran sound for that were personal favorites?
I have done many excellent productions here at CLT, but I think my favorites were Addams Family the musical and Chicago.
When you're not at the theater, where could I find you?
Likely in my garage, working on one of my trucks or welding something together.
If you HAD to be an actor for a day, what show would you perform in?
Probably Guys and Dolls. I was Lt. Brannigan back in 2004 (not at CLT) and that show is one of my favorites.
What are some of the challenges involved in your duties at CLT?
Making sure we have enough skilled people on the tech side is one of the major challenges we wrestle with all the time. We are always looking for more people to help out on the tech side and are more than happy to teach those wanting to learn.
Are there any projects coming up at CLT that you're especially excited about?
Well, I am still excited about a project we already did! Last summer we were able to get a new digital mixing board, and so far it has been performing exceptionally! It has made a huge impact in the sound of our shows and greatly increased the control and flexibility we have with our sound.
We have been discussing possibly rearranging the booth to improve how it functions during the shows. This would also allow for a video station in the booth when recording is done or when we need space for laptops and video equipment if we need to use projection during the show.
Why do you think it is important to have theater in our communities?
Theater opens a person up to many different opportunities. There are so many aspects to it - acting, singing, dancing, tech, props, stage crew, set construction . . . During the majority of our shows, the cast and crew are involved in many different ways. All of these are opportunities to learn and apply new skills. Because of this, I feel that my job is not just to run the sound, but also to share my experience and knowledge with anyone who is interested. I know there are many others who feel similarly at the theater.