Friday, September 07, 2007

Some Negative Feedback

The Arts Council's annual Start With Art luncheon was yesterday. It's a fun event, and it's grown every year. It's grown so much, the venue has shifted to the Sagamore ballroom at the convention center, because it's pretty much the only place in town where you can have lunch for 1200 people. The keynote speaker was great, the food wasn't actively bad, the program was pertinent, and it was a total technical nightmare. Gaah! The Convention Center is a union hall, so I'm not officially allowed to actually do any work there; the local stagehand's union works under the principle that if I move a chair, I'm costing a union guy his job. It wasn't as bad as that at the convention center; like anywhere, it's mostly about people skills. The union crew liked me, so I could get away with a lot more than if I were a jerk. In some ways, the union-ness of the building simplified my life. I couldn't do any work, so I didn't have to worry about doing any work. On the down side, I didn't get a vote about anything, either. When I arrived in the morning, I saw the microphone they were using on the podium: a Shure SM-57. It's not the crappiest possible mic, but it's close. It's what you get when somebody in charge decides that they're more concerned with a mic's durability than sound quality. It's what you get if you truly don't care how bad the sound is. And, it produced the longest sustained feedback I've ever heard from a sound system, ever. It wasn't a problem with the mic; it was more of an operator problem. She dashed away from the board to fix something and forgot she had left the mic live. It started feeding back, and it took her probably 15 seconds to get back and kill it. That may not sound like much time, but it's a long time to listen to feedback. The house crew leader was pretty adamant about me not being allowed in the booth; I couldn't do anything about it from backstage.

Major technical drama number two: about 20 minutes before we opened house, I wanted to test the live feed from the camera and see how the head shots looked on the giant projector screens. The house person said, "what camera?" Oopsie, they had forgotten to order one. Some panic ensued. I ended up calling a guy who does some video work for the Arts Council and asking if we could borrow a camera. The conversation went something like this:
Jeff: Hey, Mark. Is there any way I can borrow a vidcam and tripod today?
Mark: Sure. When do you need it?
Jeff: Twenty minutes?
Mark: ... Uhm. Sure! I'll be right there.
And he was. He just tossed some extremely nice, expensive gear in his car, zoomed to the convention center, and even helped us set everything up. Truly, the Arts Council -- and me, personally -- owes Mark Williams a huge favor. We really didn't have an Option B, and I didn't have anyone else to call who was even in reasonable driving distance to make it downtown before we started. So, many thanks to Mark and Image Nation. He's not only nice as heck, he's also extremely good at what he does; feel free to give him a call for video work.

One of the real kickers in all this? I was talking to the person who manages the ballroom, and mentioned that I had found a solution for the major problem created when they forgot about the camera: someone was donating a camera to us, and Chris was going to run it. And she had the chutzpah to say, "is he with the union?" I asked if it really mattered at this point, and she eventually said that she'd overlook it this once. How nice of her to not torpedo the last-minute improvised solution to a problem of her making....

And, I really enjoyed the keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson. I couldn't see him from backstage, but I heard his talk. And he was clever, funny, and extremely British. He managed to talk about a pretty varied set of topics, touching on a huge range of facts and opinions, and keep it all coherent and brief. The Arts Council has always managed to find excellent speakers for Start With Art, and this year's was one of my favorites.

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