Spinning Plates

September 21, 2012

By Martin Stutzman, >buy Master Electrician

As I begin my fifth season here at the Arden I am excited looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead and the challenges that brought me to this place.

Six years ago I showed up at the Arden’s doorstep after touring with the circus where it was my job to set a man on fire twice a day. As scary and stressful as that might seem, I was expecting my first child and was to say the least, a little freaked out that I now had to make some sort of security for my soon to be family with the career path I had chosen.

Martin and his kids at an Arden Children's Theatre opening

Looking back, I couldn’t have ended up in a better place. I now have two children, a beautiful wife, and two mortgages to match. More importantly I have an incredible new theater family, that has been supportive, and taught me so much about life, but also have the same passion for theatre, and work tirelessly to create some of the best works in the industry. However it has been a very fine balance between what your heart desires, what you need to do to take care of a family and what it takes to be successful in this industry.

As Master Electrician I oversee all of the technical systems that go into making a production. I am the facilitator for the designers, and directors’ vision. For this coming production of Next to Normal, I will be installing, troubleshooting and maintaining sound, video and lights. These three systems are completely separate from each other, but have to function seamlessly together…function being the key word here.

Martin assists in giving a tour on catwalks above the Haas stage

These systems are all comprised of several elements big and small, some are visible to the audience and some are not. They have to physically occupy a space all at the same time without getting in each others way. A light cannot shoot thru a speaker, and a projector cannot project through a masking wall. Even though these factors are all being thought of way before the designs are handed to me, there are always logistics that can only be worked out in the physical space.

Every system is different; they use different cables, power sources, and computer systems by which to automate. Miles and miles of cable are used to drive these systems and if done well are never seen by the audience. All of these cables, as to not interfere with each other have to be kept completely separate from one another. Meaning sound cables can never be run with lighting cables, lighting with video, and their power sources should always be separate as well, otherwise every time you bring a light up the sound will buzz, or the video will get fuzzy.

All of these elements are installed for every show, and installations have to be completed and fully functional before the first day of tech. Tech is when all of the designers, cast, crew, and director, sometimes for the first time, sit in the space together and start building the show. Needless to say, even after everything I’ve accomplished in my life and all of the stressful jobs I’ve had, this moment still gives me cold sweats. It’s like throwing a huge switch on a gigantic machine you spent the last two weeks creating, only to have it fail seconds later with a puff of smoke. At that moment, with everyone looking at you, you have to make a decision if you want to run out of the room, or stay and fight. Fortunately, as we get better at our craft, this very rarely happens…or at least gets easier.

Once the shows are up and running, the shows only have to be maintained. This means that every part of those systems are functioning as well as they are for the last audience to see the show, as they were for the first. All of the color has to be changed periodically, the lamps on lights and projectors have to be changed, cables and amplifiers have to be serviced or replaced, and at the same time prepping and loading in the next show.

It is all very similar to spinning plates. However, in my case it’s more like spending all day learning how to program the clock on the VCR, getting them all working, then every time you walk out of the room they start flashing 12:00 again.

It is a delicate balance, and at times incredibly stressful and physically demanding. But I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else in the world. I’m just glad that my family is supportive and that I am able to do what I love and with one of the best companies in the industry.

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