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Entertainment workshop gives backstage view of production methods

Northeast State at Bristol hosted the three-day institute in July with 18 students getting a behind-the-scenes look of the entertainment industry. Students were musicians, audio/visual techies, and production professionals looking to learn more about a complex business.

Mary McClure, theater manager of the Lamplight Theater in Kingsport, enrolled to broaden her knowledge. McClure said she was drafted into service as the theater’s lighting director – among other things –shortly after getting involved with Lamplight in 2004.

“I’ve learned something new every day,” said McClure. “The seminar is perfect for anyone just starting in performance technology. From lights to sound, you need to know the basics because there is so much to learn.”

The institute’s highlight featured lecture from none other than recording artist and Sullivan County native son, Doyle Lawson. With a slew of music industry awards and records sold, Lawson and his band Quicksilver rank among the top bluegrass and gospel music performers of the age.

Lawson’s Quicksilver band member Josh Swift also visited the institute to talk live music and a peak performance. Lawson told students Swift knew the technical terms of musical clarity on instruments and through an audio system.

“I know what I’m listening for, but he knows how to tell you what it is,” said Lawson of Swift. “This has been a great experience to be a part of the institute to see so many people interested in live production.”

Live performances – great or small – require significant planning.  Events including church choirs, live theater, and live music performances need sound, lights, costuming, set rigging and often a host of other detail-oriented services to go off.

The institute’s first session featured industry professional Tony Hensley, owner of Appalachian Light and Sound, who explained the logistics of performance set up for shows great and small.

With more than 25 years in the industry, Hensley explained how he went from “the A/V guy” in high school to staging shows regionally and nationally. His morning lecture included learning about a performance venue, understanding the technical capabilities, rigging the stage equipment, and troubleshooting the inevitable problems of a live show.

“It is the cliché of show business that holds true:  The show will go on,” Hensley told the class.  “It is up to you to make it happen at the time it is scheduled.”

Hensley and the class put the ideas to work by implementing a set-up plan for the 620 State building’s performance hall. Students got involved in a variety of technical skills from stage lighting and sound system to accessing the necessary electrical power sources and

Theater Manager Travis Brooks discussed sound systems, microphone types and usage, and the variety of musical theaters and venues technical crews encountered in their work.  Brooks arranges scheduling, logistics, lighting and sound for events at the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts Theater on the College’s main campus at Blountville.

The College’s media services manager Eric Morritt delved into recording history from the Edison and RCA Victor to the digital recording of today. Morritt discussed the use of several recording items from his personal collection including a manual-crank gramophone record player and Webster Chicago electronic memory wire recorder. He also demonstrated how recording was done with the help of local musician Robby Spencer who recorded a song on the wire recording device and got instant playback on the gramophone.

The class featured several experienced musicians who played guitar, banjo, fiddle, flute, bass, and even saxophone. The institute wrapped up the final day with an impromptu jam session with Lawson and Swift playing with several students.

“I’ve played bluegrass all my life and toured across the country with many bands,” said student Crystal Shipley, a prodigiously talented fiddle player. “I wanted to learn more about the backstage workings of shows.”

Tom Wilson


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