Happy New Year, SoundGirls followers! As I reflected on the year gone by, it occurred to me that since the post-shutdown theatre reopening in the spring/summer of 2021, I haven’t written much about my specific career journey. In particular, I haven’t yet blogged about getting to work on my first Broadway show! Making my debut was a big milestone for me, and getting there has been a long and winding path. Also, the journey is different for everyone. So even though my story is individual for me, I thought it might be interesting and helpful to share. So, strap in for a ride on my road to Hogwarts!
Intro: A Catch-up to the catch-up
I’ll try to make this quick. Starting in the summer of 2021, my life was a whirlwind of mixing out-of-town tryouts (4 in the span of 12 months) and picking up freelance gigs in CT and NYC. I did NOT get to spend a lot of time at home, and while the opportunities were good for my career, the necessary sacrifices SUCKED for my marriage and my mental health in general.
So, in the summer of 2022, I worked on changing some of that: choosing my gigs more thoughtfully, reclaiming some of my headspace, and making plans to get myself actively moving toward some of my big career goals. I reflected a lot about that journey in a blog I wrote about the potential dangers of emotional attachment to one’s work which you can read here.
That period of reflection led me to make a lot of good choices going forward. I advocated for time off from my gigs to go to family events and a friend’s wedding. I reached out to an old connection who was on a show I wanted to be involved in, and he hired me for the entire 4-week shop build. I quit a show for the first time ever (!!) because I recognized that despite it being fun to mix, the overall process was making me miserable. And as fate would have it, that reflection and work paid off in a big way just a few weeks later.
Hard Work + Network = Broadway Debut!
At the end of 2022, I was offered a job at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a substitute A2. Like many opportunities in this business, this one truly was proof of two timeless career adages: 1. Luck = preparation meets opportunity, and 2. Don’t underestimate the power of the network.
Bear with me for some long but important preamble…At the very beginning of that year, I lost out on a big job I had been hoping to get. While the hiring decision wasn’t about my work or anything personal, I was still devastated. For a while, I questioned everything about that experience and what led up to it; Had I not done a good enough job during the tryout to be worthy of moving on with the show? Was I kidding myself to think I might have been ready to mix on Broadway? Had the designer been unhappy with my work in the first place, and if so, had I failed to notice?
It is SO easy to get in your head about getting rejected, especially in this biz, and I let myself fall prey to the doubt at first. However, in the weeks that followed, a funny thing kept happening: every couple of days I would get these random emails from sound people I didn’t know saying that I had been recommended to them by the designer of this show that I didn’t book, and was I available for future work? I was relieved, humbled, and grateful every time this happened. It was a total validation of this designer’s trust in me, and getting these recommendations (plus doing a lot of unpacking with my amazing friends and my therapist) allowed me to slowly let go of a lot of that self-doubt I had been harboring.
Fast forward to August, and yet another of these emails pops up. This one says something to the effect of “Hi, my name is A, I got your name from B, who got your name from C [the designer from before]. I am looking for a mixer for this workshop of a musical and oh also by the way do you sub? I’m looking for another A2 swing for my regular show.” In the signature of the email, it said “Head Audio, Lyric Theatre,” which is where Harry Potter plays. I couldn’t believe it! At this point, I hadn’t even worked for B (the middle person in the network) yet, but this original designer’s trust in me was enough that this co-sign of a co-sign counted for a lot. My now-boss called me a few days later to talk over the details, and I started training at the Lyric (and working on the workshop) less than a week later 🙂
Broadway: the same, just bigger
So, there I am backstage on Broadway. I hadn’t been an A2 in a while, and of course I had never worked on a Broadway show aside from one shop build, so I was definitely nervous about jumping in on such a big show. It turned out, thankfully, that I had nothing to worry about. Everyone at the Lyric was so amazingly nice and helpful. From stage management to dressers to my fellow sound folks, everyone was quick to point out all the important details, like where I had to stand, what I had to do during each quick change, and even the order in which people needed to move so we don’t have a backstage collision! This may seem small, but it’s the combination of thousands of details like this that makes a show as huge as HP run smoothly.
HP is so big that, unlike many shows that just have an A1 and an A2, it takes a sound crew of FOUR to do each performance! 1 person mixes, 1 runs all the sound effects and playback, and 2 people deal with mics backstage. Any of those jobs would be too much for one person, given that there are many hundreds of sound cues, multiple mic swaps and quick changes, and 56 channels of RF to keep a handle on! When I sub there, I run either of the 2 backstage tracks and depending on whether the absent person is a FOH person or a backstage person, the other regular crew people shift around to the other positions to cover the absence.
The biggest thing I have learned/had reinforced for me the most over my year-plus at the Lyric has been that having a good attitude counts first, and then you do good work to back it up. As I mentioned, it has been ages since I had run a backstage track, but I was ready to listen hard, keep my head down, follow instructions, stay in my lane, and not make a fuss. And that almost counted more than if I’d already been great at any of the arts and crafts that go into building our mic rigs. The ability to stay calm and adapt when something goes amiss is truly the most important quality a good stagehand needs, and cultivating mine has served me well every time I am there.
All told, booking HP felt like a big culmination of my preparation and work finally paying off. I’m still chasing many dreams, but it felt perfect to have a few big doors open for me. I have gotten to work on a lot more Broadway shows as part of the shop, load-in, and load-out crews. This allowed me to network with even more people in the “big leagues,” and move into a much higher-paying tier of work at venues like Lincoln Center and The Shed. Thanks to these gigs and HP, I was even able to make my first year of Local One money. I’ll explain that in more detail in my upcoming blog series, “IATSE 101,” but basically it means I am now 1/3 of the way through the 3-year process of joining the New York City chapter of the Stagehands union, which will be a huge deal for my career when I finish. All in all, it feels really good to know I’m on the right track.
So Happy New Year SoundGirls, and best wishes to you all for career and personal success in 2024! I’ll be back with the first installment of “IATSE 101” in the Spring. Until then, I’ll be in the dungeons of Hogwarts, pinching myself ☺