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Davis Journal

CenterPoint behind the scenes – the lights and sound

Sep 15, 2023 09:54AM ● By Braden Nelsen
The soundboard at CenterPoint with its many faders shows just how complicated the technical side of live-theatre can be. Photo by Braden Nelsen

The soundboard at CenterPoint with its many faders shows just how complicated the technical side of live-theatre can be. Photo by Braden Nelsen

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series that takes a look behind the scenes of what it takes to make a CenterPoint Theatre production.

CENTERVILLE—Lighting and sound in live theatre are two things that many audience members take for granted, but, if they’re absent, it’s very noticeable. As CenterPoint technical director Derek Walden put it, “If you know I was involved, I did it wrong.” Unless, of course, his involvement is highlighted in something like a newspaper article.

Walden’s experience in the theatre world has been lifelong, and he’s not the only one: Walden’s sister, Wendy Oltmanns, teaches the subject at Viewmont High. Walden himself had been involved at CenterPoint for quite some time before the departing technical director said, “You need to take my job.”

Despite a somewhat abrupt introduction to the job, Walden was quick to say, “It’s really a great place to work.” Being a technical director means that he is involved in a lot around the theatre, “If it plays in the building, it’s my job,” he said, and it’s really true.

Technical directors oversee everything from set design, construction, and painting, to lights, sound and more, especially at an organization like CenterPoint. As with the set, lighting and sound are much more complicated than they may seem at the outset: it’s far from simply flipping a switch.

For any production, lighting designers, like Walden, will spend hours pouring over the material, whether that’s a script, a concert, or other presentation, and, together with other members of the production team, design the show from start to finish. This includes the color of each light (hue), placement (focus), intensity (brightness), and timing.

This can be further complicated by the addition of modern moving light fixtures, which, in addition to needing to program all of the above, also need movement programmed in as well. All of this on top of an art form that, despite the performer’s best efforts, can change from night to night. As Walden put it, “It’s all about timing.”

Then there’s the sound. Everything from sound effects and backing tracks to the mics the performers wear all has to be meticulously choreographed so that on the night of each performance it all goes off without a hitch. Fortunately, Walden says, he has great help, “I’ve got the best people.”

When it comes to selecting those people to help with shows, Walden has just three rules that must be followed: first, is safety. All the moving parts both literal and figurative in a production can be dangerous, so crew members need to be on task, and pay attention to stay safe. Second, is maintaining the magic of the show.

For many, live theatre is an escape. Lighting, sound, set, and performance all contribute to an immersive environment, in which audience members can really just forget about the world for a moment, and escape into the world of the show. Thirdly, is having fun.

Theatre, even if the subject matter is deeply serious in nature, is intended to be fun for those involved in the production, both onstage and off. It’s a craft, it’s a creative outlet, it’s a very social art, and if it’s not fun for those involved, they won’t give their all. 

When it comes to the technical side of productions, Walden is confident in his team, “(the) crew is in it for the big picture,” he said, encouraging season ticket holders, and newcomers alike to come and see each and every production, “we want you to have the best experience.”