The N.A.S.W.A.


Most people have no idea what goes into producing a professional theatre production. Sure, they know about the actors, the directors, the playwrights, and the designers, and might even know of the various crew positions such as lighting, carpentry, wardrobe, or audio. But there are some positions that are mostly unknown to the general public, such as the technical director, or the outreach coordinator, or even the general manager. These positions are not in the limelight and generally go unnoticed.

But there is one position, that even some theatre professionals may not know about, because it is only used at a specific time during the set up of a production: The light walker.

It’s not nearly as cool as it sounds. Walking lights is usually reserved for apprentices or theatre students, is low paying, and very tedious. Basically, they are just stand-ins for actors during lighting level sessions. The lighting designer uses them to see how lighting instruments react to the human form. The walker moves around the space under the designer’s direction while various combinations of lighting is experimented with, sometimes for twelve hours.

Several years ago a young colleague was hired on by the local children’s theatre as the head of audio. It was his first house gig and he was a little nervous about it because of his lack of experience inside a professional theatre. In the weeks before he started the job, he would ask a lot of questions about how a professional theatre operates, and the differences between amateur theatre.

On one particular occasion, he was asking about set up week (or tech week, as it’s called) and what would be expected. I went on to tell him about how a typical tech week works out for me; building cues, plotting speaker positions, calculating delay formulas,etc. At one point, as a joke, I said “… but you will have to get your own sound walkers, I have my guys that I use, and you will have to get your own”.

He didn’t get it.

The production manager, from the same children’s theatre, was sitting with us and saw that the young fellow didn’t understand the joke, and with a twinkle in his eye, decided to play along. The conversation went something like this:

“… but you will have to get your own sound walkers, I have my guys that I use, and you will have to get your own”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you John, where do you find your sound walkers these days?”

“All of my crew are professional accredited sound walkers, which are very rare these days.”

“Ya, we’ve been having a lot of trouble finding people to walk the sound. It’s a dying art.”

“Well, they just don’t teach it in the schools anymore, so there are fewer and fewer trained sound walkers.”

“We should set up a training course through their union so there are more walkers”

“That’s a great idea, I’ll call the walker’s business agent tomorrow and see what we can do. I bet there are lots of individuals who would be willing to ride the sound waves.”

We kept up the joke for quite a while, and the young guy just nodded in agreement, thinking that he was a part of an important discussion about the industry with professional insiders, and not a ruse about fictitious theatre personnel.

After awhile, he thought about it, and declared “Wait a minute! Why would you need some one to be a sound walker? There’s no such thing is there?” and we all had a good laugh about it.

But the idea of sound walking, and the idiocy involved, intrigued me, so I explored the idea more and invented an entire nonexistent profession within the theatre complete with an organization that governed it and a logo. That night the North American Sound Walker’s Association (or the N.A.S.W.A.) was born.

I started writing a manual; a manifesto of sorts, on the inner workings of the Sound Walking profession, and it ended up being 5 chapters with a couple of additional supplements. I set up a website, and a Facebook group, and made PDF files available on both sites. Printed copies were left on the callboard at MTC, and soon appeared in other theatres including the callboard at the Stratford theatre and a few high level meetings with the audio department for Cirque du Soleil.

It all lasted for a few years, and then died out. Facebook changed the way groups work, and the website expired and I was content on letting it fade out.

Recently, however, I’ve been getting requests for the manuals again, so I’m going to edit them and post them here, as blog posts and pdf files, starting with Chapter One: History in a few days.

Stay tuned…

NASWA

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5 thoughts on “The N.A.S.W.A.

  1. Ken P says:

    I still need to get my hands on a sticker.

  2. Carl says:

    You know, I’d totally forgotten about N.A.S.W.A.. Thanks for the reminder, John.

  3. Diana says:

    I would love to get a sticker!

  4. Pam says:

    John,

    As I’m now based in the UK, I can report that the profession is alive and well over here. SWEIBAC, the Sound Walkers of England and Ireland Benevolent Association and Council has been in existence since the Victorian Era. Traditionally a working class profession, most old Sound Walking families come from London’s East End – cockney territory. They’re known in the trade as “Hay Boys” which is cockney rhyming slang, of course (SWEIBACK – pronounced “swayback” – rhymes with haystack, hence Hay Boys). That’s also the origin of the interjection, “Hey!” stemming from Stage Managers and Sound Designers trying to get the attention of hung-over Hay Boys who’ve fallen asleep after a three-pint lunch.

    Pam

    • JBJ says:

      It’s very good to hear that the Hay Boys are alive and well. I’ve seen pictures of SWEIBAC members walking the audio in the Victorian Era with the old victrolas, wax cylinders, and sticky tape with rust. It’s interesting that the velveteen suit haven’t changed much since then…

      I think I’ll have a three-pint lunch… um…. to commemorate the hard working Hay Boys…

      Ya… commemorate.

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