I don't act. I took a couple of acting classes in college -- just enough to realize how much craft, knowledge, and damned hard work goes into what often appears so effortless on the stage. I have a deep respect for what actors are able to do, and even more, for the effort and sacrifice they make, often on stipend or less, to appear in shows.
I consider it my humble duty to not add to their work load; to see that what I do with microphones or other technology is as comfortable as I can make it, and supports with the most clarity I can achieve what it is they are attempting to do on stage.
I also am not a musician. Sure, I can fumble around on a few instruments, but I don't have the skill even to sit in a pit, much less be good at it. I have the deepest respect for musicians, too, and make that same humble effort to make them comfortable and support them and see that their efforts are projected into the audience with as much clarity and honesty as I can manage.
My little fumbling around with recorder and crumhorn and ukulele is just enough to help me notice some of the specifics of their needs; tuning strings, wetting reeds, trying to avoid chipping a tooth during fast switches, etc.
On the flip side, they may very well know my job. They may know it better than I do. My special responsibility comes from being the one person who is free to walk about the theater and listen, concentrated, without having to think about entrances or if the tempo is too fast for the dancers or anything else. The person mixing the show (whether it is me or an assistant) is the one person who will be there every night, be there when the curtain goes up, and is thus the only person in position to make certain sorts of decisions about the ultimate sound.
When it works, we communicate that mutual respect and understanding of our individual tasks; I get out of the way of the actors and musicians and allow them to do their jobs, and they trust my ears and instincts when I tell them what it sounds like from out front and what my experienced opinion is about what they should do.
This is, I think, how we have to behave. Being a prima-donna, acting as if your skills trump everything else, or locking yourself in the booth and refusing to establish that rapport with the people who are out on that stage, is a mistake for a sound operator or sound designer.
Today's post not inspired by anything in particular. I opened two shows this weekend (neither of which I mixed myself) but they both went about as smoothly as can be hoped.