A few weeks ago, our high school performed Legally Blonde: The Musical in our newly-renovated auditorium. As a dues-paying, meeting-attending, program-designing Theatre Boosters parent with a son involved in both acting and technical theatre, I was eagerly anticipating opening night.
Halfway into the first number, it was already apparent that these students were incredibly talented and well-rehearsed. And yet I sat there increasingly frustrated and discouraged. No matter how loudly these kids belted out their songs or how energetically they delivered their lines, they were thwarted in their efforts to powerfully connect with the audience. The problem was we simply couldn’t hear them well enough. With an audio connection that kept cutting in and out, we’d hear parts of songs and lines, followed by long seconds of dead air, followed by bursts of sound. All at varying volume levels.
It’s not that the actors weren’t miked; it’s that nobody had taken the time to properly ensure the brand-new wireless microphones worked correctly with a full house in the brand-new auditorium. Lots of reasons were floated during intermission — cell phone interference, incompatible frequency settings, incorrect placement of receiver antennas — but the problem persisted not just in the second act but throughout the entire run.
I couldn’t help feeling that all of us adults had let these kids down. It just seemed inexcusable not to have a professional sound person ensure that the very expensive equipment worked properly. “Could you hear me any better?” they’d ask family and friends after each of five performances. We’d smile and nod slightly, not wanting to show our collective disappointment to these dedicated kids who’d invested so much in their performances.
I found it particularly ironic given that my work as head of Communications at K12 Insight is all about helping school districts ensure that all voices are heard clearly and completely. As I sat there, missing out on a good third of the lyrics and entire chunks of scenes, I realized that distorted voices are almost as bad as no voices at all. You hear enough to get a sense of what’s being communicated yet not enough to accurately decipher the entire message.
The majority of our kids work extremely hard to succeed — academically, socially and in their after-school pursuits. It’s up to the adults in their lives to ensure that every student is properly heard, whether on an auditorium stage, in a classroom or as an involved community member.