November 5, 2005
Everybody’s mics are fine.
Except for Elijah’s.
His whistles, every time he speaks.
It’s that electronic whistle, like a mosquito playing an electric guitar in your ear.
And it follows the eighth grade actor everywhere. It’s there if he’s speaking in a mumble or in his stage voice. And it could be coming from anywhere.
One of these cords. A cell phone, perhaps.
It’s already 4 p.m., 30 minutes past the original start time.
And dress rehearsal for this Hood River Valley High School production of “Seussical” won’t begin until somebody finds that electronic whistle and eliminates it.
That somebody is Tom Wanzek. He is and has been the audio/microphone guy for director Mark Steighner’s many productions.
“I just started doing it,” Wanzek says. “I’ve worked with Steighner since seventh grade doing this.”
Wanzek is working with two other “techies” in this skinny loft overlooking the auditorium and stage.
Leslie Smith’s responsibility is the spotlight. April Winfield’s is the ambient light.
These are the people you never see and never hear, but whose work and dedication allows you to hear and see the work of others.
The whistle in the microphone persists. And Wanzek’s voice is getting desperate.
“Steighner, there’s whistling and I don’t know where it’s coming from,” his voice booms from the loft down to the stage, where Steighner is coordinating the rehearsal.
“Elijah talk!” he says. “Talk Elijah.”
Elijah is wearing Seuss-like clothing, bright greens and yellows and pinks.
He’s alone on the stage, standing in front of an empty auditorium.
He pauses for a moment, trapped by the immediate charge to fill the air with something auditory. Then he begins singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
“Keep going,” Wanzek shouts.
As Elijah ventures into the chorus of that nursery rhyme, Wanzek’s hands search the two control boxes for the culprit.
Each box has scores of knobs and dials – a uniform array of suspects, all with the same face.
Ten minutes later, Elijah is still alone on the stage, but Steighner has deserted it, walked through the auditorium’s aisle, climbed the stairs and opened the door to help Wanzek in his search for the source of the whistle.
“Keep talking Elijah,” Steighner says.
“He’s No. 4 on the board,” Wanzek tells his teacher.
“Keep talking Elijah,” Wanzek says.
By 4:10, Elijah is recounting trivial and somewhat meaningless facts about his family: who his sister is, who his parents are and why he joined theatre. And his monologue has descended into a mumble.
“Elijah,” Steighner commands. “You have to project. Talk in your stage voice.”
And suddenly, at 4:14, the whistle, vanishes.
Elijah vanishes off stage too. And at 4:15, Winfield dims the lights.
A minute later, the stage is flashing with Seussical dancers and singers. The lights are dancing too. Lime. Green. Magenta.
It’s a relationship of inter-dependency. Without the lights and sound the singers and dancers have no stage. Without the singers and dancers, the lights have no purpose.