Television drama

Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I haven’t done a lot of live television.  One job I think I don’t have the temperament for is that of live television director, the person who chooses which camera to take from several options.  I just don’t make decisions that quickly.

I know one reason some people like live television is there’s an element of danger.  Something could go wrong. Well, at WPT’s most recent live production, “The Final Forte,” something did go potentially quite wrong.

This concert and competition has become an annual programming staple.  Some of the best young musicians in the state compete for a chance to play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra during a live joint radio and television broadcast.  Each year only four make the cut to be in the program, and they compete to be honored as best by a panel of judges.

This year Adam Schrager and Lori Skelton were hosts, introducing the musicians and short taped intros that allowed the audience to get to know them a little better.  But when technical difficulties threatened the broadcast, the best hosting they might have done was by remaining absolutely quiet.

The show’s producer, John Gerbig, shared a nice account of what happened with WPT staff, and with his permission, I’d like to share it with readers of this blog:

We have no mics!

Yes.  Four words you definitely DON’T want to hear when you’re in the middle of a live concert broadcast.  Kind of heart-stopping, really.  But thanks to the quick thinking, quick hands and quick feet of Marv Nonn, Curt Sorensen and Russ Awe, disaster was narrowly averted last night when Marv’s audio board went kaput, just as the final soloist was sitting down to begin Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor.  So what did the plucky engineers do, you ask?  They brought up the only mics that were still working:  the two host mics, sitting off-stage in a (luckily) non-soundproof ad-hoc announce booth.  Luckily, Curt had the presence of mind to get on Adam and Lori’s IFBs and say, “Don’t say anything!  Your mics are open!”

 Over the next few minutes – while Adam and Lori held their breath – the stage mics were unplugged from the dead board and re-routed directly into the WPT Remote Truck.  Once that was finished, everyone in the truck breathed a sigh of relief.  And Adam and Lori just breathed. 

To the listeners and viewers at home, it may have sounded a little strange, like the piano and orchestra were in a different room.  But to those sitting in the audience, watching the concert – they never had any idea of the tension, the scrambling, the under-the-breath swearing that was going on backstage.  All they saw was the skill of the soloist and the members of the orchestra.  But there was also a lot of skill, determination and experience on display behind the scenes… as there always is when the folks at WPR and WPT produce a live broadcast.

So, thanks and congratulations to all who worked on last night’s concert.  It was a memorable experience, to say the least.  Everyone on the crew did a great job, and it looked and sounded fantastic – even the part that was a bit… distant.  I’m certain Christopher Eom will never forget how he felt when he sat down at the piano, just before starting the Concerto.  And neither will those of us who were backstage or in the truck!  But whereas he will surely strive to repeat that feeling, again and again, I’ll be happy if it’s a one-and-done experience, thank you.

So there you go.  Even for those who enjoy the drama of live television, this was a little much.


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