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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Denise Williams is behind the PHS theater scenes

  • The singers, dancers, musicians and actors on stage may be the most obvious part of a concert or play, but they’re really the tip of an iceberg made up of technicians who make sure the right sounds are heard at the right time, the proper lights are shining in exactly the right spot.

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  • The singers, dancers, musicians and actors on stage may be the most obvious part of a concert or play, but they’re really the tip of an iceberg made up of technicians who make sure the right sounds are heard at the right time, the proper lights are shining in exactly the right spot.
    At Pittsburg High School, technical theater students do much of this, under the direction of Denise Williams, PHS auditorium technician.
    “For the last five years I’ve been working with the kids on concerts, productions, etc.,” she said. “This year I was moved in here full-time. I also back up the computer technology person and take care of the marquee in front of the school. I’m not even sure if I have an official title.”
    Williams has also been involved with the first phase of updating the PHS auditorium.
    “The first thing we talked about was safety, things that would not affect audiences but could affect students,” she said. “I always ask, ‘Would I let my own child get in this position?’ If not, how can I put somebody else’s child in that position?”
    One example is the hanging of lights in the auditorium.
    “Some lights are in a very difficult position to hang,” Williams said. “You have to get up on a very high ladder and lean your body out in an out-of-balance position. I cannot ask a student to do that.”
    She said these safety concerns would be taken care of in the spring.
    Other issues involve the technology in the theater control booth, which is being updated.
    “One of our consoles had a mechanical problem,” Williams said. “We had been borrowing one, but it was time to get our own. Our audio mixer started suffering age-related problems. It’s unfortunate that this happened all at once because of the cost involved.”
    When it came time to consider choosing replacement technology, Williams was guided not only by quality but also by what technology could benefit students.
    “I called universities across the state and asked them what skills they looked for when they were hiring student employees to work at their fine arts centers,” she said.
    The answer was that these institutions wanted students who could operate high-end consoles and other technology.
    “That means if a PHS graduate applies for a job at a fine arts center, it will boost them up if they say that they can operate a Yamaha digital audio/visual mixer,” Williams said.
    She said that the PHS control booth’s new lighting console and audio mixer are both substantially larger than the old ones. Williams is looking forward to using them for the upcoming PHS musical, “The Wedding Singer.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “This show is all 1980s rock ‘n roll,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on 1980s rock concerts and watching a lot of MTV, which is kind of funny, because I didn’t watch a lot of MTV in the 1980s. I’m trying to get a sense of the lighting, and I want to go for a 1980s discotheque effect.”
    All of this advanced technology has occurred in the last quarter-century.
    “When I was going to college, technology meant you could actually store lighting cues on a floppy disk,” Williams said. “At Michigan State I did a couple of shows and we stored cues on a 5 1/2-inch floppy that would only hold the cues for one act. In 25 years we’ve gone from that to this incredibly high end technology. I can store cues and special effects for  five or six shows on a thumb drive. It has been a constant learning process for me the last 25 years, as well as teaching.”
    She has embraced technology, but admits she still has one old-fashioned habit.
    “I’m a self-professed techno-geek, but I still plan everything out on a piece of paper with a pencil before I use technology,” Williams said.  “What we do behind the scenes starts with an idea, then you go through all the steps of the process until it’s a fully realized idea. That takes lots of people and hundreds of hours.”
    She has a steady crew of about 10 technology students, but is happy to work with students who are involved in other phases of the events being planned.
    Williams also stressed that her students are students first.  
    “I am able to take really everything they learn in their other classes, such as English, physics, chemistry, geometry and algebra and use it,” she said. “You have to be able to incorporate all of them in order to be able to do something.”
    Williams worries about her students’ grades, and is available if they need help in a class.
    “I have a well-rounded enough education to be able to help with most subjects,” she said. “And if I don’t know an answer, I know who does.”
    Williams said that her crew this year is young.
    “I only have a handful of upperclassmen and a whole of freshmen,” she said. “The freshmen have done a phenomenal job.”
    Williams has the goal of having a perfect show, one in which no mistakes are made. That hasn’t happened in 25 years, but she continues to strive for perfection.
    There is another goal that she and the PHS students find more attainable, and that is to satisfy an audience.
    “An audience comes to us to be entertained,” Williams said. “They want to relax for a couple of hours and be taken out of their lives to something else.”
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