Friday, September 30, 2011

New Job: Memoirs of an Ex-Techie

The Setup

So the other day I was working an event.  The event?  A visiting Ambassador giving a speech to Americans on the status of the geo-political alliance of select nations he represents.  It was my first official night working as a tech for this new job I've just started and I didn't want to mess it up.  Tech isn't really my thing anymore (partly because I just don't have that much black clothing) but I wanted to be a team player and show my new bosses I could take on responsibility outside of the office.  I wanted to shine and prove that I could represent our company with pride and eloquence.  And I certainly didn't want to look like a fool in front of an Ambassador.  That's my sister's specialty.*

I show up.  I'm wearing my blacks.  I'm calm, I'm cool, I'm collected.  I've been given a simple task:  make sure the event goes up on time.  The event is simple enough; it's just a powerpoint.  With a man talking.  Not that big of a setup--just a couple microphones, a podium, some cables, a table with linen and water and viola! you have a classy setup for a classy man.  No problem, right?

The Problem

It's about five minutes before people--real people, not just people that theoretically are arriving but real, live, human beings that have come here, come to see my event and be in the room that I'm setting up--start to arrive.  That's when the first bump of the night happened.

I go over to my boss's boss, who happens to be there as an audience member, and ask politely, "When are they bringing in their computer to set up their powerpoint?"

She responds just as politely, "Oh, you're providing them with the computer."

And then her smile falters a bit, "You've got a computer for them, right?"

And I say as calmly as I can, "Oh, did not know that.  I was told that they were bringing it in."

"Well, you can provide them with a computer right?" she smiles again, "I don't have to worry, right?"

This is about when the night started to take a turn for the bad.

"Oh no, you don't have to worry.  I'll let you know if you need to worry."

I stroll back over to the stage.  My tech--let's call him Ben for the sake of anonymity--is finalizing the cabling for the computer, the computer that I've just been informed is never to going to arrive.  I inform Ben of the latest development in our setup.  We both share a look of mutual understanding.  We need a solution.  Fast.

The People

For anyone who has not worked as a tech--or perhaps wonders what working backstage of a theatre would be like whenever out watching a play--there is without a doubt something wrong going on that you are completely unaware of.  It could be a missing prop, it could be a light cue that was fumbled, it could be a line that was dropped.  But, it's in moments like this that the onstage techs become the true actors of the evening:  they will carry off every fumble and every blurp during the performance with complete indifference for the outside world.  They will walk patiently and talk quietly into their headphones that the stage left pillow is missing and would the actor be willing to bring it on in the next scene even though they'll be on fire for the duration of the second act?

On the outside techs look calm and quiet.  But, on the inside stress is building to an incredible level.  And it's a very lonely form of stress, mind you, because the public is right there surrounding you as you shift bits of props and furniture around.  And while they are gambling on about how they interpreted the first act, you're fully aware that your star kid performer is actually stuck on a bridge in traffic with his parents because they thought it was an eight o'clock show and not seven and he's on in ten minutes.

To breathe a word of this to the public would be unprofessional. It would ruin the theatrical experience. It would be the end of the theatre's magical deception. But, most importantly, it would be a failure. And you, as a techie, would rather die than admit failure.  No, really. You. would. rather. die.

This is the other reason why tech work isn't really my thing anymore.**

The Goat

So, people are filing in, holding their drinks in one hand and explaining their jet lag with the other.  I'm waiting to hear back about whether or not we even have a computer onsite to use.  

There is one and Ben plugs it in.  But, when Ben climbs back up the stairs to the tech booth he is unable to get direct signal; it's like having a big screen TV with no remote.  Ben tries a second backup computer--this one doesn't even go so far as to get an image on the big screen.  Now, I can't speak for Ben.  So, I'll just tell you how I felt:  stress starts to rage through my body and it is then that I discover another attribute about my psychological/physiological makeup I was previously unaware of:  apparently, when I get really stressed, I turn into a fainting goat.  Ever seen this video?

Just like those little guys my leg muscles freeze up when my fight or flight adrenaline kicks in.  I know this now because at one point I had to bend down to remove some cables (since we were ditching our original setup plan) and I couldn't do it.  I couldn't bend my knee.  So, still trying to look calm, cool and collected in front of the now fiercely growing crowd, I did what can only be described as a poor attempt at the Trepak dance:

This is about when I consider walking back over to my boss's boss and telling her "You have a Myotonic Dystrophia-prone Event Coordinator and no computer, with an Ambassador waiting to talk to this growing crowd about how relationships with people are going smoother since technology has become an added attribute to society.  Worry.  Now."  

The Solution

I didn't end up having to do that.

Another thing you must know about working in tech:  for some reason, and I feel superstitiously scared of letting you non-theatre people in on this secret, but there is always something that comes along (usually) that stops the production's problem from turning the show into a complete meltdown.

Sure, there is an awkward moment; the stage hand backstage might experience a mini version of cardiac arrest; the audience might clue in that something wasn't quite right when the music kicked in on top of someone's line. But, there is some magic to live theatre that causes some solution to appear last minute, some sort of idea that hadn't been tried before that is discovered just at the last possible second before you, the techie, can bear it no longer.

These moments--and I tell you as a theatre kid who has worked in professional theatre for over six years now--have happened with almost every show I've worked on.  And each time they happen, it feels as if the solution to the problem could not been realized *without* the stress of a hundred oblivious eyes surrounding you.

Ben came up with the solution.  It was all him.  I take no credit.  I still don't quite fully understand what he did.  But, basically he pulled the computer offstage, put it upstairs in the booth and plugged it in directly from there.

It was still wonky.  We were still dependent on a system we had half-hazardly setup fifteen minutes after the presentation was supposed to start.  I had to run up to the stage in the hushed quiet of the Ambassador's entrance and manually hand him his remote for the powerpoint I had just previously raced/limped down from the tech booth.

I remember squeaking out, "Mr. Ambassador--Sir, here is your remote.  For--for the powerpoint."  I handed it to him and he grunted, "Oh.  Thank you."

I had no idea if it had batteries in it.  We didn't have time to check.  Watching him talk for the first five minutes until he clicked his first slide was an eternity because if that little piece of plastic and metal didn't have batteries in it then we were sunk.  Then I really wouldn't have been able to do anything because both my legs would have frozen up and Ben would have been left in the tech booth on his own trying to manually click the slides himself.

But, it worked.  The Ambassador spoke.  The people clapped.  The questions were asked and answered. And aside from the mics not being properly set--just fyi: ALWAYS TAPE CABLES TO YOUR MICS--and the Ambassador literally pulling his cable line out of his microphone, it ran smoothly.

At the end my boss's boss congratulated me on how on top of everything I was.

I smiled and awkwardly slapped Ben on the chest saying, 'It was all him!" (Note to self: don't slap the people you're grateful for).  But, that was the end of it.

That was my first gig at the new job.


*My sister works in Disaster Relief with USAID.  She was deployed to Tokyo immediately after the Tsunami hit Fukushima.  Now, as a representative and worker of the US she is to automatically introduce herself, her status and working position to any higher ups wherever she gets posted.  While at US Headquarters my sister rides up an elevator of some high rise to take notes at a meeting.  The meeting was about the latest updates on the crises and a bunch of representatives from America as well as Japan were to be there.  A man gets into the elevator with her and smiles politely.  She smiles back and waits for her floor.  The bell dings and she walks out ahead of him towards the room and sees two Marines on either side of the double doorway entrance to the big pressroom.  But, as she approaches to walk through the doors, with the man following her, the Marines take an immediate Ten HUT and salute fiercely.  Fiona, my dear, sweetly unassuming, awkward-when-given-too-much-attention sister, internally goes "Huh?"  She looks back, sees the man behind her again and it hits her like a ton of bricks:  the man riding in the elevator with her was the American Ambassador to Japan.  He smiles again serenely and beckons her to go ahead of him.  She didn't want to walk ahead of him now; she's missed her chance for formal introductions and the marines are waiting on her to move. But, he was being gentlemanly and motioned to her ladies-first.  She has to oblige, as it would be ruder to do otherwise.  So, she walks through the doors and is immediately bombarded by the press, snapping photo after photo of her.  They stop when they realize it's not the Ambassador but an awkward white girl with glasses.  The man of the hour finally enters, at which point the press snap back into action.  My sister I believe then hid herself somewhere behind a decorative begonia bush.  Our family has a special knack for entrances.

**I need failure to be an acceptable part of my work environment.  It's not that I consistently fail at my work.  In fact, I have incredibly high standards for my work output.  But, I will fail if you tell me not to.


  1. What new job? I seriously need to keep in better touch with you...

  2. Amy! I hear you're living close to Obama now. I think that means *I* need to keep better in touch with you. Also, I got a new (temporary) position working in the administrative world of events coordination.

  3. at the edge of my seat holding my breath. I love a good story! especially if it's true, heh. very chivalrous to give credit to ben. :c)I might have just smiled sheepishly.