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.

Waiting.

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.)

Full-Assed Friday guest post: DIY MFA

Hey. It’s Full-Assed Friday. I have a guest post today- sweet!

I have the incredible good fortune to be in two excellent writers groups. You’re probably wondering how that happened, but all I will say is it may have involved sacrificing a chicken or possibly a goat; beyond that I’m not revealing any secrets.

If you’re a writer- and lots of people hanging out in the blogosphere are- and you don’t have the good fortune to be in an excellent writing group, you’ll want to pay special attention to today’s guest post by Gabriela Pereira. She’s Full-Assed for many reasons: she’s a fantastic writer, she is a lovely human being, she is an excellent teacher, and she launched two gigantic projects simultaneously: her DIY MFA program, and a baby. The baby hasn’t shown up yet, but that’s okay, he’s not supposed to be here for a little while longer.

I asked Gabriela to put together something that I could post here on my blog about DIY MFA because I think what she’s doing provides a great service for writers who want to get better but, for a bajillion reasons, don’t fit with an MFA program. She’s got a lot of stuff going on at her blog, and next week she’s doing a free Webinar, so check it out.

Here’s Gabriela.

Have you ever wanted to do a Masters Degree (MFA) in Creative Writing but just… couldn’t? There are tons of reasons why MFA programs are out of reach for many writers. Sometimes it’s because they live somewhere far from any writing programs and they can’t exactly up and move their entire family just so they can go back to school. Or maybe the MFA programs are just too darn expensive. And let’s be realistic, here: it’s not like a higher degree in writing guarantees anyone a job when they graduate. Or maybe writers want to write in a genre or category that’s not represented by most MFA programs. After all, the ivory towers love literary fiction, but when it comes to romance or thrillers or YA or anything commercial… not so much.

This was why DIY MFA came about: to bridge the gap between graduate-style study in writing and writers who don’t have access to it. The idea behind DIY MFA is that all forms of writing can be approached in a scholarly manner and that you can get the same benefits you would get from graduate school but without the big price tag and rigid requirements.

Who is DIY MFA for?

DIY MFA does not discriminate against writers based on where they are on their journey or what they have chosen in terms of genre and writing style. We embrace our differences and take pride in the diverse backgrounds and outlooks of our writers. At DIY MFA, being different is not a disability. It’s a strength.

There is only one requirement, one common thread ties all DIY MFA writers together. Every writer participating in DIY MFA is serious about becoming a stronger writer, making writing a priority, and having fun with the creative process.

Why Do-It-Yourself?

The core belief of DIY MFA is that no two writers will share the exact same path, that you can’t shove a writer into a cookie-cutter system and expect them to grow creatively as artists. Rather, with DIY MFA each writer will create a personalized plan that fits his or her needs, which in turn empowers writers to take ownership of their writing journey.

Taking responsibility for our writing can be terrifying, but the do-it-yourself part of DIY MFA is crucial to each writer’s success. When you take ownership of your writing education, not only do you become a more empowered writer, you also create a writing life that’s sustainable for the long term. A prescribed plan is great and might even work for a short while, but over time writers will lose energy, maybe even quit. DIY MFA is about constantly reevaluating and reinventing your writing life so that it works for you for as long as you want to write.

How does DIY MFA work?

Because I did an MFA myself, I spent a lot of time researching and comparing writing programs. What I discovered was that MFA programs–despite being at very different schools, with different philosophies–have certain threads in common. Regardless of the many differences, all MFA programs essentially boil down to one simple formula:

Reading + Writing + Workshop + Community = MFA

The idea behind DIY MFA is to help writers build this equation into their lives without depending on a school structure. All four essential components of the traditional MFA are things that writers can cobble together on their own or collaborating with other writers. You don’t need to go to graduate school to get these benefits. In other words, DIY MFA shows writers how to:

(1) Approach literature like a writer to get the most out of reading,
(2) Explore both craft and creativity through writing,
(3) Give and take critique in a workshop setting,
(4) Build a community of like-minded writers.

How to join:

The easiest way to dive into DIY MFA is to follow the blog: DIYMFA.com Each week, I focus on one topic in DIY MFA, with longer posts on Mondays and Wednesdays and a short prompt on Fridays.

Don’t have time to read blogs during the week? No problem! The DIY MFA weekly newsletter Writer Fuel sends a round-up of the week’s posts (as well as other goodies) straight to your inbox every Friday afternoon. Just in time for your weekend writing sprints. You can join the mailing list, and when you do you’ll not only get Writer Fuel each week, you’ll also get a free workbook download–Jumper Cables–when you sign-up.

And next week, we have an extra-special DIY MFA event happening: I’m offering a FREE Webinar!

7 Ways to Boost Your Writing
Wednesday, Nov. 16
1:00-2:00 pm ET
To Register and for more information, visit the webinar page.

Gabriela Pereira

As for me, I’m Gabriela Pereira, and I’ve spent a lifetime telling stories, writing them down and helping other writers put the pen to paper and express their ideas. Having grown up bilingual, I know how important it is for writers to express themselves in their unique voice and to build a writing life that is all their own. I’ve been many things in my life: a writer, a teacher, even a toy designer. Now with DIYMFA I am the instigator, the one who lights the first match, but it’s up to you to fan the flame. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Connect with me at DIY MFA:

Twitter: @DIYMFA
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DIYMFA
Web: DIYMFA.com

To Those about to write, I salute you. To everyone else, I suggest you stay out of our way.

Full-Assed Friday: How attending the NY Philharmonic left me with clean underwear when I needed it.

Welcome to Full-Assed Friday, where I share something awesome, funny, or just plain different. Today I’m going to share what I did last Friday and how it made me end up with an extra pair of clean underwear at work which became incredibly useful when I got stranded in the city Saturday night.

I worked a second gig last week. I was fortunate enough to be asked to help do sound for a reading of a brand-new musical. One not based on a movie, book, or musical artist.

When people are putting together new shows, often they will do semi-staged readings with some production elements in front of potential investors. The idea being that the money people can see the heart of the show with enough production to know if they want to invest. It’s fast and furious and fun, if you’re into the adrenaline rush and can pull it off without screwing up too bad.

Usually the rehearsals and readings are done during the day because the actors and crew are doing other shows at night.

The rehearsal space we were in was near Lincoln Center. They have a bunch of fancy new signs there that tastefully scroll (yes, I said tastefully scroll) the upcoming events. Coming in early one morning I saw an ad scroll by for Kurt Masur conducting the NY Philharmonic playing Schubert and Shostakovich at the end of the week.

Musur AND Shostakovich? Whoa.

My under-caffienated brain started whirring away. I was beside myself with excitement. Let me explain.

First, Shostakovich:

I have an obsession with all things Soviet. I’ve read a freakish amount of Russian history. My most recent foray into this obsession was the controversial book Testimony: the Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich by Soloman Volkov (he kinda looks like Harry Potter in the sketch on the cover). The controversy is over whether the memoir is authentic. It’s a totally understandable question, being that when someone spoke out against the Soviet government, it could mean jail, work camps, and death for the speaker (not to mention his entire family and all his friends and anybody who had ever talked to him).

I believe the memoir is authentic and I was surprised to find myself charmed by Shostakovich’s outlook, passion, and humor. He’s also ballsy, and damn lucky. This is a guy who saw many of his counterparts in music and art disappear into the Gulag for no real reason.

Now, the Masur part.

When I was in college (the second time around, the time I didn’t drop out) I was in the audio program that was part of I.U.’s School of Music. We did archival recordings for nearly every event that happened in all the performance spaces.

I think it was my first semester there that they broke ground on a new Musical Arts Center. The new building was to have, among other things, more performance spaces and a badass control room for us audio geeks. It opened my last semester with a seriously impressive lineup of guest performances.

I remember being in that new control room with my friend Jeff and a couple other students. We all had headphones on and were laying down on the new carpet, blissing out while eavesdropping on Joshua Bell’s rehearsal and the dean walked in. We didn’t hear him at first. Because, you know, the soundproofing, and the headphones and all. He gave us some kind of dean-like equivalent of a thumbs up and left us to it.

For the inauguration of the new building, Kurt Masur came in and conducted IU’s Philharmonic playing Mahler. I don’t remember which one because I’m not a real music person but, being Mahler, there were like nine harps and a bunch of other extra crap and the stage was fuller than I had ever seen it. Mahler doesn’t do anything half-assed either, but he’s just a sidebar today; in this post, he is a vehicle for the Masur.

I was in the booth for the rehearsals and remember being so impressed by Kurt Masur, the way that he spoke to the musicians and the results he got out of them. I watched him pause at places in the score and have actual conversations with sections, heard them laughing, heard them play.

The night of the performance, he strode to the conductor’s platform, raised his baton, and led the IU Philharmonic in the most kickass performance I’d ever heard. It was then that I realized he was not using a score. I’d never seen anyone do that before and it blew me away.

So, back to the here and now. Here I am on a Tuesday morning in Lincoln Center, barely awake and seeing that Kurt Masur is going to be conducting the New York Philharmonic (who don’t suck, even a little bit), play Shostakovich.

Because of my job, I don’t go to many events. If it’s not happening on a Monday night, I’ve got to take a day off from work to “go out”. And if I take a day off, I should spend it with the kids, because I don’t get to see them enough as it is.

But this little nugget burrowed into my brain and wouldn’t leave until finally, at 11pm on Thursday night I got a sitter, got my Friday show covered, and got a ticket. I had a full day in the city, starting with my second gig, so I packed my suit, which I hadn’t worn since March and wasn’t quite sure how it would fit. I included a couple of underwear choices, because sometimes that matters with pants. Particularly if they’re fitting a bit on the snug side.

Here’s where I tell the ending in the middle: I didn’t need the no-lines version of the underwear, which is how I ended up having a spare pair at work when I got stranded in the city the next night because of Snowtober. Sweet!

I got to the hall early. I had a cheap seat but it was perfect. It was absolutely thrilling to be in the presence of a live, full, real orchestra without a single thing mic’d and not one electronic instrument. They mixed themselves. Ahhh.

I don’t mean to belittle the Schubert. It was his Unfinished and it was most excellent, even if it was unfinished. I don’t know Schubert but I totally dug it. But the Shostakovich- oh!

It was the Thirteenth. Babi Yar. And the entire point of this post is to tell you how it’s full-assed.

The program notes matched with what I had read in Testimony, but I didn’t know the details of the massacre at Babi Yar. The nutshell version is on September 29 and 30, 1941, Nazis, with the cooperation of Soviet Secret Police slaughtered 33,771 Jews. Um, that’s the official count, the number that they actually owned up to. Evidence shows that the number is far greater. Even the Nazis knew it looked bad, the way it went down.

There exists a Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who has written many great poems. He visited Babi Yar and wrote a poem about it, because that’s what he does. Shostakovich set it to music, and that’s the opening to the Thirteenth Symphony: big ass Orchestra, Men’s Choir, and Bass Soloist. As my friend Jeff says of this one, lots of low brass. I nearly wet myself when I saw the tuba mute come out.

This all went down about nine years after Stalin died. Everything had changed, but nothing had changed- not really, not yet. People were starting to be less afraid but that part was only beginning. You could still go to jail, the Gulag, or be killed for speaking out against the government.

Attempts were made to sabotage the premier. It finally did premier in December, 1962 in Moscow with a different conductor (the second) and a different bass soloist (the third). Sitting in Manhattan in 2011, I imagined what that premier must have been like- because this poem is heavy; it fully implicates the Soviet government in its role in the massacre and coverup at Babi Yar.

In the performance of the symphony, one dude stands in front of the whole orchestra facing the audience and sings this poem, full out. In Russian. He’s answered by the men’s choir at the back of the stage, singing in unison. In Russian. How I wish I had words adequate to describe the music, but writing about music is ridiculous (yes, I realize I am doing it right now). The music is chilling and it travels through your body.

Accounts of the premier in Moscow say the hall burst into thunderous applause at the end of the first movement, a big no-no when it comes to symphony etiquette (this is why I never lead applause). But people couldn’t contain the emotions this movement wrought out of them.

In 2011 Manhattan, in Avery Fisher Hall, the first note gave me goosebumps. At the end, there were numerous subdued vocal responses out of the audience that were variations of the one in my head (“Holy. Sh*t.”).

I’ll leave you with a snippet of the poem, written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translation by Valeria Vlazinskaya, from the New York Philharmonic program:

Chorus:

Over Babi Yar the wild grasses rustle.

The trees look sternly as if in judgment.

Here everything screams silently and,

    taking off my hat

I feel I am slowly turning gray.

Solo:

And I myself am one long soundless cry,

Above the thousand thousands buried here.

I am every old man here shot dead.

I am every child here shot dead.

Nothing in me will ever forget this.

**********************

If you ever get the chance, go see it.