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Opening of another show: PAC tech keeps ’em coming

By on November 24, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
Mike Locke’s office is also tech control central for all PAC productions. Ninety percent of theaters in the U.S. use this system’s software, and that’s good news for his trainees and volunteers. Photos by Mike Irwin

By Susan Lagsdin

“’Yea! It’s the weekend!’ said no stagehand, ever.” 

So proclaims the poster in the office of Mike Locke, operations director of the Numerica Performing Arts Center.

Night and day, and especially when most people seek out entertainment — that means Friday, Saturday and Sunday — Mike ensures that the light and sound essential to any performance are as close to perfect as equipment and creativity can make them.

Mike’s humble about his craft, saying “I don’t really consider myself an ‘artist.’ That’s not how I approach a production. My job is to fit together all the pieces of the puzzle.” 

And there are plenty of pieces to play with.

“The night after Festival of Trees closes, we load in The Nutcracker. We’re working straight through December, every day until Christmas Eve,” said Mike. 

Here’s what the PAC house looks like from an unfamiliar viewpoint — although Mike doesn’t get to be at center stage, of course. His long hours of work let us see and hear performers at their very best.

Fortunately, he enjoys collaborating closely with a wide variety of out-of-town and local groups, managing the technical intricacies of setting up, running and breaking down multiple shows.

He’s accustomed to using his problem-solving skills to meet the public’s entertainment needs. After his BA in music performance at the University of Idaho, he worked in venues all over campus for the events services department.

 When the director of a visiting musical asked if he could run an electronic lightboard, he said “Yes” and then figured it out. That one serendipitous job led first to his MFA in Theatre Design and Technology, and then to the PAC position almost nine years ago. 

Though he’s adept at all phases of theater production — that was his steel-beamed three-story set behind Newsies this year — Mike usually focuses, so to speak, on lighting and sound. 

It’s not just “backstage” work; the tech crew (Maddy Degman, Kylee Bogg and occasional volunteers) often deals with heavy and delicate equipment above the stage, in the wings, way at the back of the house, or high above the audience. 

Sound and light present their special challenges. “Anything we do technically to enhance the performers’ voices should be totally natural,” he said. Every person needs to hear every word, which means electronically adjusting to a wide range of voices from novice actors to operatically trained professionals.

Most directors, Mike explained, know little about sound and more about light. 

“They range all over, from the ones that say, ‘just light the show’ to the ones that sit down and go over every nuance and cue with me.” He said his job became much easier once he relaxed and realized that it will inevitably change with every director he works with.

Mike has weathered some almost-disasters, like the wireless microphone that conked out on an Aladdin crew member. With the big wooden “carpet” set piece attached to his back, on hands and knees but now with no verbal guidance whatsoever, he managed, totally by feel to maneuver the actors around the stage.

Or the Newsies show with all power to the PAC lost, so with minutes left on an emergency battery he basically faced the audience with, ”I have to ask you to go home now.” (Memorably, cast members sang for the theatergoers as they exited).

Some shows are easier than others, like film screenings. Adeptly executed but darned tricky was the set-heavy Little Mermaid production. 

“There was a moment when we literally had 11 objects in the air, moving in and out,” Mike said.

Despite creating plenty of magical “how’d they do that?” moments that are part of his job, Mike would probably categorize his musical avocation, rather than his technical theater work, as his art form.

He played clarinet and saxophone in college, but a music professor advised him to take up the bassoon, too, for added value. Good idea. 

At a walk-in audition at The Wenatchee Valley Symphony 10 years ago, he nabbed and kept the hard-to-fill bassoonist position.

Mike enjoys not just a two-part performing arts life of theater and music: at home are three dancers — his wife is an instructor, and two daughters are performers (the infant girl has yet to choose). 

At 39, he anticipates in the future being a consultant to theater architects, but for now Mike loves being in Wenatchee, going to work at the PAC every day and many nights to manage the myriad wrap-around details of another opening of another show. 

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