BEING A SOUND OPERATOR
It is expected of any technician that they be prompt, efficient, and responsible. Further, they must be supportive of the team's efforts to put on a good show. In line with that, they should have a good understanding of the chain of command, and what position they hold on the ladder. The SOUND OPERATOR gets their initial instructions on the show from the sound designer, after which they become a part of the running crew responsible to the Stage Manager.
The S.M. will be the person who sets their calls, calls the cues, and gives notes on operations, once the show is opened. Before the show opens, notes may come from the designer, the director, the musical director, or the S.M. -- but it is still the S.M.'s responsibility to see that the notes are realized, so the operator should ensure that the S.M. knows about notes from any other source. The S.M. should be confident that the sound operator will carry out their duties with exactitude and patience, and produce an absolutely consistent performance every time.
"SOUND OPERATOR'S DUTIES•.
Essentially, the operator's job is to realize the designer's intentions. The pre-show or pre-rehearsal check confirms that everything works as it should; after that, the operator needs to be alert and accurate in following their cue-sheet. This can be difficult if they are also the designer, since time they should spend looking over the next cue and preparing their hands for the operation is often spent listening to the running cue and making design decisions about E.Q., placement, or intensity.
Operators are responsible for:
Schedule of expectations:
Production meetings, meetings with designer, training, prepare set-up paperwork & blank cue-sheets, set-up equipment call (fill-in setup sheets), paper-tech & levels (fill-in cue sheets), rehearsals with sound, performance.
Tape cables -- "neat = safe. Do it the same each time = write it down as a pre-show checklist. Microphones: on stands, in the air, on the floor: write placement & circuit. Tapes: in order, labeled, easy access, cued. Label the board. Make notes space. Adequate light for reading and operating. Avoid A.C. next to microphone lines. .
The sound check
Turning it all on: amps are LIFO -- Last In, First Out. Check backwards along signal path; speakers one at a time (which automatically checks amplifier channels), output levels, then inputs one at a time. Do not clear after check! READ the paperwork.
"THE LEVELS SESSION•
Any sound cueing session is useless unless the operation can be clearly written down. This means that cueing of a busy show cannot happen at a run-through, as the sound will automatically fall behind after the first cue while the operator writes. There has been much discussion of written cue-sheets for sound operators, resisting the idea of recording levels at all because the operator should be sensitive to the changes night-to-night. The most sensitive operator in the world cannot ride levels correctly if they have the wrong mics up! Cue-sheets are necessary, and it takes time to write them clearly. Of course levels change; such factors as atmospheric humidity, number of people in the audience, performer fatigue, all have their effect -- but the operator must have a starting-point, or be lost.
A clever and quick operator might be able to make the sound pretty in a run-through, but making it sound good in rehearsal is not the point. We must be able to reproduce the effect in performance, so the audience hears it sounding pretty. Too often, at E.S.A., we have faced situations where the operator has been congratulated on a song finally sounding right, what did you do? And the answer has been, "I don't know!" Not good.
Levels change with audience size, humidity. Adjust output. Normally, output levels will stay the same during a show, while other levels ride up & down; to do a global change, adjust the outputs and run your show as written.
Rehearsing with sound.
Operators in rehearsal need to:
After a run with sound, the director must be able to say to the Stage Manager, "I couldn't hear Joe in the "Ship Ahoy" sequence. What level is he at? Make it louder" and expect it to be done for the next rehearsal. If the operator can't refer to the cue sheet and know what level it was at, the S.M. can't pass on the note or rehearse the sequence to correct the problem.
Performing the sound.
Operators in performance need to:
Post-show wrap-up: striking the equipment. Every item that has been set up for the show needs to be shut down and/or put away in accordance with the post-show checklist. A good time to start a post-show list is at the set-up; as you set a piece of equipment in place for the show, ask yourself if it can stay there for the entire run. If not, it goes on the post-show list as a "strike" item, as well as on the pre-show list as a "set-up" item.
We would, very much, like to thank Mr. David Brewer for this terrific contribution to our pages.