Happy New Year, SoundGirls readers! I am so pleased to kick off my blogs this year with Part 2 of my interview with Anna-Lee Craig. ALC holds many impressive titles, even more, impressive when taken together. Among them are A2 for Hamilton on Broadway, inventor of the mic rig known as the “ALC Special,” and on top of all that, parent of twin toddlers!
If you missed it this fall, be sure to check out Part One of this blog, where we cover ALC’s beginnings in the industry, from getting interested in sound in college to breaking into the industry in NYC and making the connections that led her to her first union jobs and to working with Broadway sound designer Nevin Steinberg.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Want to learn more about ALC and the sound design of Hamilton? Check out the two episodes of the “Hamilcast” podcast in which she is featured! https://www.thehamilcast.com/anna-lee-craig/ She is also part of the team that was interviewed for the Hamilton episode of the podcast “Twenty Thousand Hertz”: https://www.20k.org/episodes/hamilton. You can find her on Instagram @frecklessly7 and on Twitter @craigalc.
Let’s talk about being an A2, and then about being the A2 for Hamilton. What is your favorite thing about being an A2?
Oh gosh. I really love my job, so it is hard to narrow it down. So, a list:
-I love when a catastrophe strikes and the mic swap or whatever goes so smoothly that the Mixer and audience doesn’t even know something went wrong.
-I love when an actor tries on a custom rig for the first time and says, “oh this is so comfortable, I don’t even feel it.”
-I love the rituals of a mic hand off and backstage dance choreography that no one else gets to see.
-I love all my elaborate Google Sheets.
Sidenote from Becca: I’m pretty sure this isn’t what ALC meant by “backstage dance choreography,” but here she is busting a move with Lin-Manuel Miranda while getting him into mic! https://twitter.com/i/status/726135286980313088
Can you talk a little about your process, and those elaborate Google Sheets? What kind of paperwork do you make for tracking, rigging, etc., and how early in the process do you get involved with the sound design team?
The A2 usually gets hired just before the shop build- so I’m integrally involved in the rack building, cable labeling, and system setup. I generate paperwork documenting actor/role mic rigs, frequency management, backstage cues, inventory, and anything backstage, related to the sound department, that impacts the daily maintenance of the show.
For Hamilton, how soon after the show opened did you learn the mix in addition to the A2 track?
I trained for the mix at The Public (which is when I joined the show), but it was only in case of an emergency. I was retrained for the Broadway version of the mix 6 weeks after we opened.
Can you give us a particularly crazy backstage “war story” about some of the crazy things that A2s sometimes have to do in the middle of a performance?
Sometimes A2s have to do address a mic problem that basically happens onstage- like behind an upstage piece of scenery. And then you’re just stuck there, hiding behind that door or whatever until the scene is dark again and you can exit without being seen.
How did the design for the ALC Special come about?
The ALC Special has had multiple evolutions and honestly continues to evolve to this day. The original concept was a request from Nevin- an experiment- could I build a lightweight under the ear rig. It needed to be as far away as possible from the tricorn hat brims, but also look and sound great. Nevin is a fly fisherman, and he must have suggested I look into fly tying. Long story short, much of the technique used in the ALC Special comes from fly tying, including the super strong, super thing fluorocarbon tippet that we tie the mics with.
Sidenote: You can watch Hamilton San Francisco A2 Adrianna Brannon build an ALC Special in the Hamilton-themed episode of “Adam Savage’s TESTED” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=351DxQghbh0
How did/do you balance the demands of our work with having a life outside the theatre? What are your favorite non-theatre hobbies?
To be honest, before parenthood I didn’t balance it very well! I have a few lifelong friendships that I carved out time for and other than that most things were theatre-centric. I would go out with cast and crew friends on days off- my partner would often join in.
Finally, let’s talk parenthood. To my knowledge, you are the first person to be on the sound crew of a Broadway musical who is not only a parent, but who experienced pregnancy and gave birth. This is something I too aspire to do in my career, so it’s really inspiring to see you shatter this glass ceiling for all of us! What was the process for negotiating parental leave from the show? How has being a parent changed the way you think about this industry and the ways it does (or doesn’t) accommodate families?
I remember working a press event for Hamilton] and the A2 on the RF station was a woman very much in her third trimester being a total badass, managing tons of mics, and she completely inspired me. And I thought “F**k yeah. If I ever get pregnant, I’m going to be like her, doing what I love, and kicking ass.” And really at that moment, I’ll never forget feeling like I could do both for the first time. (I’ve been trying to track down her name, but it remains a mystery.
The process of parental leave was very sort of casual. I let everyone in management know I was pregnant and was congratulated and I asked the parental leave policy and they said just to let them know how long I’d be gone. I was paid through the NY PFL for 12 weeks and any extra leave after that was unpaid. Covid hit mid-March so immediately after my PFL was up I applied for unemployment. But originally, I was intending to come back after 5 months off. And that was just kind of it.
Sidenote from Becca: New York is one of only 9 states (plus Washington DC) that has Paid Family Leave written into its laws. Every time I work a job in NY and open my pay stub, I see that a tiny amount has been deducted to cover this program. At the federal level, 12 weeks of job-protected leave must be granted, but there is no requirement that it be paid. And even so, many Broadway shows run for short enough periods of time that they don’t have to offer leave. As recently as late 2019, I know of a male stagehand who was offered zero paid leave upon the birth of his son, and for financial reasons felt the most he could allow himself was one week home, again unpaid, to be with his wife and new baby. I know I am on my soapbox again here, but this too is a huge issue that is stopping folks from staying in the theatre industry and reinforcing the stereotype that Broadway stagehand work is the domain of cis-het white men only.
More on this from ALC.
Everyone knows that the entertainment industry is hard for families. And that continues to be true. Most of all the schedule is completely unforgiving. 8 shows a week? I go to the theater every day except Monday; when exactly am I supposed to recover and enjoy being with my family? But there are benefits to working a night job for now. My kids are young enough to be early risers and they aren’t in school yet. I sacrifice my sleep because I get home at 11:30 at night and get up with my kids at 7 am. My husband and I love the mornings before he locks himself in the office. We all have breakfast together and read books and cuddle. Then I take the kids to the park, and we spend all morning together. I try to nap when they nap but that only happens 40% of the time. And then a nanny comes from 2-6 pm to hang out with them while I make dinner and get ready for work. Then my husband takes over, I kiss the kids goodbye and head to work and he does bedtime and cleans the house.
I think the balance I’ve figured out could be impossible for most theatre families. Most parents don’t have a partner that works from home (and my husband turned down a promotion in order to keep working from home; not everyone can even afford to choose family flexibility over paycheck). And I don’t know if we’ll be able to maintain it when they are old enough to go to school. We’re gonna wait and see. And if the schedule ultimately makes me feel like I’m missing out on my real life (which I used to think my job was) then I’ll leave. Maybe permanently, or maybe just until my kids are a lot older. There will always be work to do. Maybe not the same work but I guess that’s been the biggest shift. I don’t define myself by my job anymore…
More SoundGirls resources on balancing career with being a parent from SoundGirls blogger and badass mom April Tucker:
Thanks so much to Anna-Lee Craig for taking the time to share her story! Please follow her on social media, and feel free to reach out to me if you too want to do this career and be a parent, and if this blog made you feel inspired. Getting to write it sure inspired me!
Also, I am taking requests for what topics you’d like to see blogs about this year. Reach out to me via my website, beccastollsound.com, and happy new year!