Full-Assed Friday: quite possibly the only television post I’ll ever write that isn’t about the X-Files

Hello and welcome to another edition of Full-Assed Friday, where I write about something that’s awesome, funny, or just plain different- hopefully something that is a little bit outside the normal realm of what you experience every day.

Both of my readers whom I do not work with and am also not related to have suggested that I could do a Full-Assed Friday post about my job. Being that I haven’t put one of these up in like two months I thought, hey, what the hell. Plus we did something kind of cool a few weeks ago.

I do sound for musical theater. The producers of Broadway shows tend to keep a pretty tight rein on publicity and image, with good reason. I don’t go into show-specific details on my blog because I don’t want to violate that. Or get in trouble. These people are paying me, for god’s sake.

I decided that for this post we needed aliases. In the form of photo manipulation. Of course I immediately turned to the blogger with the hottest photoshopping chops I’ve ever seen, Julie of Go Guilty Pleasures.

Okay, so here’s the deal. My musical did an appearance on one of those national early morning news/talk television shows. The kind of TV show that most people have on in the background every morning as they’re getting ready for work or getting the kids off to school.

The kind of show I never, ever watch, because they’re on early; plus, I live under a rock and also my family doesn’t ever let me have the remote.

Consider for a moment how early the people on the shows need to be there for a show that begins broadcasting at 7am. To prep, to get dressed and get into hair and makeup, to review, to rehearse.

It’s early. Damn early, we, the guests, think. But the TV show’s hosts get there earlier than the guests. And guess who gets there before the hosts?

The TV crew usually starts around 2am. I see 2am frequently, but usually I see 2am and think, “Crap, I got sucked into watching heavy metal documentaries and I have to make lunches in five hours. Again. And where the hell was I when Anthrax did that tour with Public Enemy? Dammit!”

I did not have to be in at 2am because in this case, I wasn’t the real crew. I also didn’t have to find my own way in, for the same reason. A car came for me at 4:30am.

Forty-five minutes later (half the time of my normal commute) I was at the studio.


Then the boys got there.

What? Aliases through photo manipulation. I think they look perfectly natural.

The best part about my early call is that I don’t have to sing at that hour. These guys do. They’re singing live (yes, actually singing, no pitch correction, and they can’t suck, because “fix it in the mix” is a lie). They all did a show the night mere hours before, and we have two shows scheduled this day, after the TV appearance. I can’t adequately express how frickin’ good these guys have to be to pull this off the way they do.

As for me, I’m completely at the mercy of the guy in the broadcast booth. He will either be good, or he won’t. He will either care what I have to say, or not. I’ve been on gigs where they won’t let me anywhere near the broadcast booth, and I’ve been on gigs where they actually let me mix the broadcast feed. I’ve dealt with assholes and complete sweethearts. You just never know.

Ahead of time, I make contact. Days before we get there, I let them know what our requirements are: what mics we need, the details of our monitor mixes.

At the studio I make contact with the TV crew face to face. I’ve been here before, maybe five years ago. There’s only one new guy on the whole crew. I try to not be a jerk, but also not a weenie. We set for rehearsal and I tell our guys to let me know how they feel after we run it. I stand back.

The single most important thing is that our guys- the talent, the entire reason that we’re here- are comfortable. If they’re comfortable enough (I say “enough” because it’s not like they’re going to be, you know relaxed, exactly, in a situation like this), odds are they’ll sound good.

What? I know, you can’t really tell where the photo edits are, can you? She’s that good.

At this point everybody else jumps in.

Our production supervisor:

The TV show’s stage manager, the segment producer. Our choreographer. Our wardrobe; the TV show’s hair and makeup.

We run through the numbers. I ask how their monitor mixes are; they ask for changes and I pass them along. The choreographer works them; the stage managers talk about how the shots look and make adjustments to where they stand, where they look. I tell the guy who keeps dancing away from his microphone to get a little closer to it.

Then there’s more waiting.

We are but one small part of a two (three?) hour show. We’re like, I don’t know, six or seven minutes? And that’s a lot, in TV time. But there are a lot of other parts of the show, so there’s a lot of waiting.

There are donuts and fruit in the green room; coffee, tea, and water. And TV’s (tuned to the show, of course). There is no wi-fi.

They let me in the booth. There’s a moment when I’m afraid they won’t, but my persistence pays off and I’m in.

Every time I enter a television broadcast booth I’m blown away by the complete and utter chaos that ensues, and I’m shocked- seriously, totally shocked- by the fact that most live broadcasts come off without massive audio errors (pre-2011 Tony broadcasts excluded).

A biscuit is what we call an intercom speaker. In a TV booth there are at least five or six going- speakers that each carry one voice: director, stage manager, studio guy, monitor guy, and someone in each location they’ll be broadcasting from, whether that is downstairs or in another city entirely.

All these biscuits squawking.

Everybody talking at the same time.

Plus there’s a second guy in the booth, patching these sound and intercom feeds and previewing them. Both guys answer the biscuits, sometimes even ask questions.

Oh, and meanwhile, they are broadcasting the show RIGHT NOW. To millions of televisions across the country. And they’re rehearsing stuff and previewing videos. During the commercials. Many of which also have audio going through this same console. Somehow the sound guy keeps track of what his broadcast feed sounds like. It’s completely insane. I’ve never been in a broadcast booth where the sound guy isn’t sweating.

So I sit there in awe of the flurry of activity going on around me, we do our first number and the guy in the booth is good. Somehow over all the biscuits squawking he listens to me and makes the adjustments I ask for. I would melt down if I tried to do his job. We do another number and the host comes over and does a live interview with the guys and I just think, wow. Actors sometimes get a bad rap about how easy their jobs are, but not a single goddamn thing about this is easy.

To show up after not enough sleep and look good and hit the notes and make the moves and then come off intelligent and charismatic in a spontaneous interview, and then go do two shows- where they also have to look good and hit the notes and make the moves and be charismatic and all of that. Not many people can pull that off. I’m very fortunate to work with so many people who can.

We wrap, and I walk back to the theater because there are two and a half hours before my call time for the matinee, which isn’t enough to go home and back. I will not watch the recordings of the broadcast.

Some of our producers have delivered Christmas popcorn cones with chocolate peppermint drizzle. I’m hungry enough that I eat one and it’s the best damn thing I’ve ever had. Only the fact that I’m too tired to move keeps me from prowling around trying to find extras to swipe. Then I fall asleep in my chair for two hours.

(Yes, that was just about as comfortable as it sounds. And you wonder why I have to do yoga.)


23 thoughts on “Full-Assed Friday: quite possibly the only television post I’ll ever write that isn’t about the X-Files

  1. I don’t think anyone would have figured out I was behind these stellar photo manipulations. No way.

    I LOVE this post – I think I would have a meltdown doing any portion of your job – you’re incredible! I can’t wait to ask you a million questions tomorrow.

    Also, I couldn’t agree more about actors having a difficult job. They work incredibly hard to get to where they are; they usually have to claw and scratch their way through the masses of other people trying to do the same thing and then work non-stop to keep up the momentum. People think it just falls in their laps, but ‘stars’ are ambitious as all get-out or they wouldn’t be successful. I think just generally being in the public eye and dealing with fans/papparazzi is a huge burden, too.

    1. You mean dealing with piles of people that are waiting outside your place of employment while all you want to do is find your one true love, in a slap bracelet, and take her home?

  2. wow, what a cool job! not as glamorous as I’d like to think all acting/singing related things are, but definitely cool! I’m not sure I could deal with that kind of chaos… my chaos is limited to paper, not people and yelling and sound and LIVE RIGHT NOW… 😐 makes me stressed just thinking about it.
    Also, “What’s up pussy cat, Woahuwoahuwoahuwoahuwoh!”… I guessed who you had singing… definitely Josie and the Pussy Cats 😀 … don’t worry, I’m just very good at seeing through photoshopped photos 🙂

  3. That schedule sucks. Why did it have to be a two show day?!? Did any understudies go on in the matinee? I know if I were one of them I would have gotten up early and warmed up just in case!!

    And that booth sounds like one of Dante’s rings. Not sure which one. Fun for you to jump in though (and then jump right back out.)

    Happy New Year. xoxo

    1. It was a tough schedule for them but it was a huge publicity spot, doing Christmas songs the Friday before Christmas. Sometimes the things that really suck make sense. Oooh, yes I think that was one of Dante’s rings. Whichever one has an escape hatch!

  4. That all sounds very very complex to me. Talk about STRE-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-SS!
    I’ve been without TV for almost a year, and was going to shop for a flat-screen later today…but now I think I’ll just sit home and relax. I won’t be able to watch my favorite morning show without worrying someone is finally going to eff it up from behind the scenes…

    1. Stay TV-free. I wish we could ditch the cable here; I have so many excellent DVD’s I would be just fine with (X-Files, Dexter, Rush, Iron Maiden. . . ) sadly, I’m the only one in the house who feels that way.

      1. You like Maiden!! I just like your blog a little more now!:D

        I was going to post a comment but I got distracted by the above. I love the photo edits haha and thanks for explaining the behind the scenes. I’m a little less confused now about what goes on on the tech side of live shows…

  5. WOW! I’m so glad I am NOT in your profession although it sounds a blast – from the outside looking in!

    I was thinking you were doing Cats, but then decided that would be too easy, so you must be working on another show, otherwise using the cats would have given the game away!

    I always knew live TV was a hive of activity, but getting musical acts right would be a whole different ball game to just interviewing people.

  6. Once upon a time I worked in television broadcasting, and once I even got to be in the production truck where we were taping a show with Brian Eno. It was chaos and I loved it, but I knew I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life because I think I would have had a stroke it was so stressful. Between your job, the schedule, the 5 kids, and the sleeping arrangements, I am glad for you that you practice yoga. You most definitely need it.

    1. It strikes me as incredibly ironic that you find being a lawyer less stressful than being in the truck! Seriously, though, I’ll take theater stress over TV stress any day.

  7. Fascinating. When I see musical acts on these morning shows, I always wonder how much work goes into it for ONE song. Now I know. Wow. Everyone involved is awesome. Or crazy.

  8. I did tech theater in college, but I was more into lights and stage managing than sound. I think you just made thankful I went with English instead of theater. Sounds soooooo crazy…but fun, too.

  9. Thanks for making my dream come true! Now that im fully cast we need to get my cat version up and running. Do you think we will be able to use the same equipment? What about the pod people? Wecannot have a dog house.

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