by Phil Gravitt
SONOMA COUNTY, CA – In the world of theater it is often useful to know how to do more than just one thing.
Jeff Basham, a truly multi-talented person and wide-ranging contributor to Sonoma County theater, says, “It helps if the technicians understand the whole picture. A well-rounded technician is able to pinch-hit in any technical spot at a moment’s notice. If the deck crew knows how to run the sound board, and the sound operator gets sick in the middle of a show, that deck crew can run to the booth and take over.”
Basham is a stage manager and sound engineer, but he has also contributed to theater as a rehearsal stage manager and as an assistant stage manager, and in many other ways.
“It is extremely helpful for theater technicians to be well-rounded. If a production manager knows that they can use you in any position they need, rather than just lights or just sound – they will keep your name high on the list.” says Basham.
Although he has spent countless hours on the technical side of theater, Jeff has managed to find time to be an actor too. The difference in the amount of time acting takes versus other theater aspects is somewhat of a balancing act and must be considered carefully when choosing between the two.
Basham explains, “ The main difference is the time commitment involved. An actor or stage manager devotes 80% of their time to the rehearsals, production meetings, press events, etc. A sound engineer or deck crew member is only involved once tech week starts and during the run.”
There are other differences between being the on-stage presence and being a backstage or technical booth presence too.
“As an actor, the audience really identifies you. In other positions such as stage manager, sound engineer, or light board operator, talents come in the form of staying invisible, and your skill is based on how invisible you are during a show.” says Basham.
Besides the obvious technical training needed in order to run the vast array of electronic equipment involved behind the scenes, Basham explains other important skills that are necessary in order to work behind the scenes, “The ability to stay cool, because so many things can and will go wrong each performance. The microphones will mysteriously eat all their remaining battery when the battery was full ten minutes before curtain, the lights will randomly flash all over the stage, the actors will drop a line or a page or two of lines, and the technicians will then scramble to get in sync.”
The technical training necessary to work behind the scenes can come in many forms. For someone interested in theater, but who simply doesn’t know where or how to begin, Jeff recommends, “contacting your local community theater group, and asking how you can volunteer to learn about the area that interests you. Musicals give the most opportunity for the most people to be involved in the greatest number of ways. If you’re interested in breaking into acting, see if your local junior college or theater company offers classes. Many classes are taught by individuals who you may find yourself auditioning for in the future. If you do a good job in class, and show your determination, commitment, and heart, it will be remembered. If you also have the ability to listen and to give an encouraging word, you’ll go far, no matter what you set your mind to do.”
Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.