Posts Tagged ‘sound design


Lindsay Jones responds

Something that frequently gets lost on blogs is the nuance of life — the other side of the story.

When I recently posted a previously unpublished entry entitled Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on the trouble with the abundance of travel in American theater I asked my friend Lindsay Jones to help me understand the issue from the perspective of a theater artist who travels frequently to do his work as a sound designer. In some ways, I left off bits of what he said in the interest of brevity — or, rather, directness. But in the leaving out, I skipped over what Jones feels was an essential part of his point, and I’d like to give him an opportunity to explain it (in full) here.

He wrote the following to me in an email Friday night. I have not edited it, and have removed only the parts addressed personally to me.

It’s weird because I kinda feel like I’ve been placed in this role of the bad guy (which is not your fault), due to my line of work, and I kinda feel like there’s only been one side of the context that I provided, which was that I must travel to do what I do. That’s bad for the environment, and I understand that that was the point of your post, so I kinda let it go.

But, in seeing all these people picking up the discussion, I really feel like they’re missing the other side of what I wrote (and was not printed), which is that I think that a constant infusion of new artists collaborating together is actually very good for the future of theatre. Good art comes from new challenges and new ideas and, many times, that comes from new people and new situations. That happens by artists being in new environments, and, a lot of times, that happens through travel. I understand that your research shows that travel is now bad for the environment. And I totally see your point on cultivating a theatre that is based entirely in the surrounding community would be good for the community as a whole, but I thought that that kind of theatre already existed as “community theatre” (a term that has unfairly gotten a bad rap over the last couple of decades, but the principle and practice of it is still very strong, as far as I know). The type of theatre that I work in is different from that, and if you dislike the idea of outside professionals working in your community, that’s absolutely your prerogative. No one says you can’t make your own theatre your own way. But I do see some great theatre in the stuff that I do, and I believe that these theatres have a place in our cultural offerings. Not always, but quite a bit.

For the people who say that the future of theatre lies entirely in the hands of people who can do many different skills, I have to say that certainly sounds good, but only up to a certain level. I can guarantee that the person who thinks this policy applies to all situations across the board has never worked inside of a larger regional theatre or commercial theatre structure. The assumption that these theatres are just a bunch of dumbasses who never thought about combining people’s job skills in order to save money is simply ludicrous. Trust me, theatres are CONSTANTLY looking for ways to have less people do more work. They have the staffs they have because that is the bare minimum of what they need in order to get the work finished. I’ve seen what kind of hours those people put in, and I sure don’t see anyone in those situations sitting around, waiting for something to do. They all work very hard at the jobs they have. I honestly have no idea how they would consolidate their positions any further.

And, frankly, I’m no exception either. I have to justify my job to people all the time. Everyone has an Ipod now, everyone has a computer, and a whole lot of people think what I do is really a piece of cake or even completely unnecessary altogether. But my job is more than just technical skills, it’s a very specific craft that I have honed in over 500 professional productions now. And that’s the other point that I was trying to make, which is the one thing that I feel I was misrepresented in your comments to your original post. You say that “the implication that talented designers simply do not exist in certain parts of the country is nonsense”, but in fact, I only said that that was a possible reason why I might be hired. That situation has happened, the theatre told me that when they hired me. It hasn’t happened often, which I also mentioned in my email, but it has happened. But the larger point is that they may have talented people who do my job in their region and yet those theatres hire me anyway. Why? Because they hate locals? Because they love spending money? No. Because they believe what I have to offer them and their production is worth bringing me in for. They think that what I can do will make the overall product better. Am I the only one with this skill? No. But by this point in my career, I’m confident in what I have to offer. I feel like it’s worth it, and I work as hard as I possibly can to make it worth it. And while I’m happy to apologize that my air travel is ruining the environment, I won’t apologize for the work that I do. It’s good work, and I’m proud of it.

That being said, I’m not looking to engage in an argument with people who have an axe to grind. I feel extremely fortunate to have the career that I have, and I know that by even writing any of this to you, I run the risk of looking petty or egotistical or elitist. I know that you wanted to have an honest dialogue on this subject, and that’s honestly the reason that I’m sending this to you, because I really do respect your position and hope you’ll see my point of view as well.


Lost Post: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I recently came across a handful of posts I wrote for ecoTheater that never made it into cyberspace. For some of them it was clear why I had neglected to post them, but others stood out as better than some of the stuff I do post! What follows is something I wrote for ecoTheater last year, probably in the early Summer. I did some editing, and added some info to it (for instance the email interview with Lindsay Jones was conducted on August 22-23, 2008), but the general gist is from the original writing…


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Aside from being the title of one of my favorite childhood movies (the scene on the highway when Steve Martin falls asleep and John Candy is driving still makes me laugh), it seemed an appropriate header for my thoughts today. In fact, it’s perfect.

Through my current work and research here on ecoTheater, sometimes I am approached about the possibility of conducting workshops on sustainable theater for organizations and communities. I couldn’t be more flattered — or thrilled. But the question of travel always comes up because I have been struggling in recent times with how I am to get around the country (or the world) if I follow through with my desire to live more sustainably, thus shunning the airline industry, and its polluting ways.

Years ago, when I still lived on the west coast, in the Pacific Northwest, I regularly used Amtrak to travel up and down the coast. I loved it. It was slow, but I enjoyed the slowness, and I think that we could all use a bit more slowness in our lives.

So, recently I decided to look into the difference between auto, air, and rail travel from the perspective of carbon footprints, and greenhouse offsetting via NativeEnergy, a carbon offset program that has received high marks from critics. I was not surprised to learn that rail travel was the least polluting mode of transport, but was surprised that there appeared to be such a slight difference.

For my trip, the numbers worked out like this:

Auto: 1.95 tons of CO2
Air: 1.387 tons of CO2
Rail: 1.144 tons of CO2

That means a difference between air and rail of only 0.243 metric tons. Doesn’t sound like much, right? The equivalent of a few barrels of oil, which in today’s numbers, where we regularly read about millions of tons of CO2 and billions of barrels of oil, it seems insignificant in the extreme. In fact, it seems impossible. It seems wrong. When I contacted NativeEnergy about the seemingly too slight difference, I received a very thoughtful response, which I quote in part:

“According to our calculator, which uses Google Maps to calculate distances, the miles traveled by car was 1,993.5 and since roads tend to be more windy than either train tracks or distance as the crow flies, the highest emissions for cars makes sense. The calculator estimates 1,733.48 miles for both train and flights, which can’t be exactly true.

“The factors other than distance that go into calculating emissions are type of fuel use – and jet fuel used by planes emits more CO2 than diesel fuel used inAmtrak trains – and speed. Needless to say the train is just traveling for a much longer time than a plane since it’s going slower.

“In the end, trains are still the least polluting of the three, and supporting rail transportation has the added benefit of showing support for railway improvement. Improvement of the rail infrastructure will allow there to be faster trains, which in turn will be more competitive with flights, and this will give people a viable alternative to flying.”

So, there you have it. It should be pointed out that the folks at NativeEnergy also emphasized that the best they can do is estimate. Which explains how the mileage for a flight is equivalent to the mileage for a trip on the rails in their system.

Of course, in the end, the train still wins. But unfortunately, what it comes down to for most folks is speed. How fast am I gonna get there? I need to be there tomorrow morning! Perhaps it’s just about logistics, or economics. That is, we can’t afford to take two days to travel on a train when we could take a four hour flight instead, because we have jobs to hold down, and families to attend to.

I think this is particularly relevant for what I’ll call the “regional theater circuit,” supporting as it does a bevy of designers, directors, and actors that routinely travel from afar (New York, L.A., etc.) to work in Houston, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, and all points between. In my book, Careers in Technical Theater, one such designer (a great guy, and great sound designer named Lindsay Jones) confesses that he designed about 30 productions in 2005 — many of them far away from his primary home in Los Angeles — meaning thousands and thousands of airline miles, and many metric tons of CO2.

For Jones, taking the train is not an option. “I fly constantly to gigs,” he told ecoTheater recently via email. “I usually fly about 150,000 – 200,000 miles a year.”

“I don’t think I’d be able to continue my career as a freelance theatrical designer if I just worked in Los Angeles,” Jones wrote.

But what about the unsustainable nature of air travel? What about focusing on localizing and supporting the theater in L.A. — or wherever theater artists may live?

“There are hundreds of theatre companies in Los Angeles, that’s not the problem,” Jones responded. “It’s that quite a few of them do not pay anything close to a living wage, and have very primitive working conditions from a technical standpoint.” he continued. “To a lot of people in L.A. theatre is just something you do until you get a job in TV.”

Listen, I think Lindsay is great — he’s a great designer, and a great guy that I’ve had the privelige of watching work a few times (I say watching because I was just a stagehand-type on those shows) — but our email over this traveling point has brought an important debate to the fore: I say, localize theater, thereby reducing the amount of unsustainable travel and resource transport that needs to take place, while increasing theater artist’s obligation to their community and creating a more truly regional theater for all. Lindsay says, no, No, NO: I cannot make a living as a theatrical sound designer by staying in one place.

Jones writes —

I suffer no illusions that if these communities did have someone locally who could contribute in the way that I do, they would hire those people every time and I would never work in those places again. There are a bunch of theatres in this country that actually have staff positions for my job for this exact reason. They save themselves money, and I’m sure it’s easier to know exactly what they’re gonna get from this person on their staff than some person who’s coming in from out of town.

So, if they don’t have those people on their staff, then they’re hiring me for one of two reasons:

1. They don’t have anyone locally who can do it. Which happens.

Or more likely, and what I hope is the reason is:

2. I have an unique artistic perspective, which, combined with my technical expertise and years of professional experience, can enhance the overall audience experience in ways that are unusual and exciting.

Now, before you think to yourself “Gee, that Lindsay Jones sure does think highly of himself”, let me just say that, to me, it’s really not about that. To me, your position is the same as saying “Why would I go see a concert by some band from England when I can watch my friend play guitar right here in my house?” The answer is sure, you could watch your friend, and you’d have a great time. But you instead might go to see the band from England, because they’re coming from a completely different perspective and, as a result, it’s a totally different experience.”

The man has a point, doesn’t he? Funny thing is, I have thought about that when I have paid good money to see a musical performance by someone who has traveled from some far off place. Is it possible to localize everything? Well, yes, it is in theory — but perhaps it’s not realistic. BUT, what I’m talking about is not a touring company — I’m talking about a local, supposedly regional company, based in a certain physical place, and thereby connected to a regional community of some sort. Jones’ analogy is therefore a bit weak, as it seems to apply more to Broadway tours, than a company grounded in locality — I mean, the staff is local, the audience is local, the performance space is local.

To give Jones the last word…

I have a great deal of respect for your position of only using local artists and think that you should definitely do it. You may find things in that experience that you would never find by working with someone from out of town. And you’ve really made me think about how my work lifestyle is not the most eco-friendly, and I probably should look at ways to address this. But, you know, I worked really really hard to get to this point in my career. I still work really hard. I’m married, I’ve got two kids, and I gotta make a living. Right now, traveling is how I do it. It’s this or knocking off liquor stores.”

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