A few weeks ago, I got a call from a production company. They were doing a telethon and needed another sound engineer. This was the first live job offer I had gotten in seven months. I was wondering what this moment was going to feel like, and maybe because it happened so much sooner than I anticipated, I just didn’t feel mentally prepared to handle this situation. The situation of simply discussing the details, negotiating, and then accepting or declining the offer. I have done this thousands of times. I did not expect my mere act of participating in the offer conversation to be rusty, but it was, I guess because I had a lot of new things to consider.
First of all, I was nervous about working at all. I was nervous about being around so many other people. The event was going to be outside, so that was a plus, but it would be in an outlet mall in LA on a Saturday. Of course, I would wear my mask the entire time. I thought about needing to get a fanny pack so I could keep my “Covid kit” on me at all times. I was also worried about endurance and stamina. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t spent the entire pandemic on the couch eating bonbons, but it’s difficult to keep my step average up without a weekly 14 hour show day. I also had to provide a negative Covid test result. I didn’t have much time to schedule an appointment in time for me to get results back before the event, and I worried about that unknown variable—when, exactly, would I get the results. Also, what if I was Covid positive and had to back out at the last minute? Ok, I realize this is a lot of “ifs” but this is just a small window into how my brain processes new information. It is exhausting, I admit, but I am rarely unprepared as a result. So, all of this is what made me feel rusty. There are so many new things to consider before deciding to take a live events job during a pandemic…to decide if it’s worth it.
I decided it was worth it. I would take a Covid test, and I knew everyone else would be required to as well. I would definitely wear my mask the entire time and wash my hands often and thoroughly. I would social distance as much as possible, and completely “scrub in” when I arrived back home again. Many of my friends would also be working this gig, and I wanted to work with them again. So I took the gig and scheduled my Covid test.
I took my Covid test at Rite Aid 9 days before the event. By the way, I totally recommend this testing method. It’s free, and you don’t need insurance. You can schedule online, you are given the test in the Rite Aid drive through, and you administer the test yourself, which I did and then returned through the window drawer. I got my negative test results three days later. The gig was great! It was exciting to be kept on my toes since the event was a live broadcast. Mostly everyone was masked. There were a few shoppers here and there that were unmasked. My set up and check were really easy and uneventful. I spent the rest of the day setting up backline for one of the other stages and just generally cleaning cable paths. It was very hot, of course, I was wearing all black, and wearing a mask just made the heat worse—not that I would have ever gone without it.
The event went on with no problems. I will say that many things about our run were adjusted or cut right there on the fly, and that was new to me, (I don’t generally work in tv) so I was on high alert the entire time. I was definitely tense. As soon as the event was over, I felt myself release a lot of tension, and my head immediately started throbbing. I had the worst headache for the rest of the night. I found myself debating whether or not to stop what I was doing and going to wash my hands every time someone coughed near me. The load-out was 3 hours long, and I really did have a difficult time getting through it. Pre-Covid, it would have been no problem. Post-Covid, I had reached my limit. I was hot and tired, and fighting a stress headache. After load out, I drove home and arrived just before 3:00 am. I was so sore, so tired, but also really fulfilled.
The reason I’m choosing to write about this day is that I’ve thought a lot about those 12 hours. There was nothing extraordinary about the gig, except that we were working an event in the middle of a pandemic. It was just weird, and I think that’s ok. I think it’s ok that I had new anxieties and handled myself differently. I wasn’t as strong as I normally am, and I think that’s ok too. I was a little too excited to work again and was maybe a little overwhelmed by the whole process, and I think that we’re all going to find that going back is going to be different, and however we react will be normal, because this is new. I also don’t know if taking that gig was the right choice. I don’t know that it was the wrong choice either. I’m glad I did it, and I’m happy to report that I am still Covid-free. I think I will probably be less anxious the next time I work. I’ve now seen which preparations are useful, and what else still needs improvement. I was very glad to see that the majority of the public were wearing masks, and behaving cautiously and courteously. We need more of that for us to get back to work.
When you get back to work, if you feel anxious or different or nervous, just know that I did too. I’m sure others are too. It’s ok. Just take one minute to breathe and center yourself. We are who we are because we can adapt easily—figure out how to work with what we’ve been given. It will get easier each time. We will have “normal” again soon.
Elisabeth Weidner is a freelance Sound Designer/Composer and Audio/Video Technician based on the Central Coast of California. She holds a degree in Commercial Music from Florida State University and has been working professionally in the live sound industry for over 15 years.
Prior to being a full-time freelancer, she served as Sound Director/Resident Sound Designer/Composer for PCPA-Pacific Conservatory Theatre from 2009-2019. While in residency, she also served as Faculty for PCPA’s Technical Theatre Conservatory. Elisabeth sits on the USITT Sound Commission jury for Current Practices and Research in Sound paper/article submissions and is a proud member of ASCAP and the TSDCA. www.elisabethanneweidner.com