Brink Piloting the Ship at TFAC
I had heard that before becoming Technical Director, Jimm Brink had been hired as a janitor by TFAC. This came as a surprise since one of my first experiences meeting him was as a volunteer with basic technical skills that were put efficiently and effectively to use setting up lights and drops for a show. Now, with the departure of the Eric Kerchner, he has been named interim Executive Director and is literally running the show. I wanted to hear from him how this progression started and catch a glimpse of where he sees himself in the future of the Tryon Fine Arts Center.
How did you get started working at TFAC?
I moved from New Jersey in January of 1990. I bought a house in Saluda, and started looking for a job. I have a degree in drafting and design from a small college in NJ, so I looked in Greenville for employment. Unfortunately, most engineering firms were making the transition to computer aided drafting. The whole job market was tightening up and I decided to look for work closer to home. I worked for a local contractor doing general carpentry. It was very flexible work, however, it wasn't consistent, and so I moved on to work at a local mechanics garage. During the summer of 1992 I was hired as Janitor/Building Maintenance at TFAC. I think the position was called House Manager. I had figured that this would suit my needs for a short time. That was over 15 years ago.
How has your job changed over the years?
Well I think the biggest change is the technical advances in the equipment around the center. In the early nineties, most events were run by volunteers and the equipment was basic. As TFAC improved its physical plant, new sound system, new lighting system, and creating a small computer network, I found the opportunity to improve my education and began my long journey into what Technical Directors call the "dark side" of theater. I began buying and reading as many books as I could. In 1996 TFAC joined the information superhighway and I started networking with other people in the theater trade. In 1998, programming increased though TFAC's Special Events committee, and I was officially named the Technical Director. We found that many performing groups wanted to talk to the technical director, and the Board at that time realized that to be taken seriously in performing/visual arts you needed to have named staff that groups work with and feel confident that their stay at TFAC will be a rewarding experience.
What have you learned over the years?
Mostly that there are no hard fast rules in theater. Take lighting for instance, there is no right way to design lights for a show and two different productions of the same show will have vastly different lighting. Stage lighting and even sound effects help set a mood to a show. A good designer will try to come up with lighting and sound designs that convey the emotion of a scene and match what the director is trying to create.
For those who've never ventured to the "dark side," what does it take to set up and take down a show?
When I say the "Dark Side" I mean things that take place to help the production, but are not happening in front of an audience. This could mean building the set pieces, hanging the lights, even sitting in front of the computer editing sound effects. For every hour of a show that the audience sees, there are about 200 man hours of preparation on the "Dark Side," everything from building something to selling a ticket or hanging a light fixture.
Perhaps you could illustrate the difference between Alvin Ailey II vs. the Berlin Wind Quintet vs. "The Little Prince."
The Alvin Ailey II tech people will send me a light plot that will need to be hung, circuited and focused prior to their arriving at TFAC. We will have the dance floor (soft sheets of vinyl) attached to our stage floor and they will send me a cue list to program the show into our light board. They will have a soundtrack to be played for the dancers and there will be some color changes made during the breaks between dances. I have to make sure I have enough extra people hired to cover everything that will need to be done before, during, and after the show. The amount of work could be compared to "The Little Prince" which TLT presented this past summer. Since I was lighting and sound designer I could create a design that fit within the technical limits of the TFAC stage. However, with an outside group, there will be many phone calls to the tour technician and many compromises made to mount the show successfully on the TFAC stage. For a group like The Berlin Wind Quintet, there is not much to do during the show, but setting up and taking it down present different challenges. A music group needs our acoustic shell system to reflect sound into the audience. This also helps the performers hear each other during the show and meld the sound of 5 instruments. As far as lighting I just have to make sure there is even coverage across the stage and that the group has enough light on their music stands. All in all, I can't say there is any less work to mount an all music event. You just have to think of their different needs and change the stage to suit them.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
Two things really, first, being able to explore my creativity with my work on the stage. I really like challenging myself with a complicated lighting design like this past year on "The Little Prince" or a tricky sound design for a show like "George Washington Slept Here" with the thunderstorm. Secondly, I enjoy working with all of the volunteers around TFAC. We have great people in the area and I have learned a lot working with them.
How many hours go into setting up for such productions?
If you count the design work, attending rehearsals and running the show for "The Little Prince", I spent around 125 hours working on that show. The Berlin Wind Quintet was much shorter and somewhat less creative. I think I spent around 25 hours total on that show. I'll let you know about Alvin Ailey, I already have 5 hours in that show and it's not until April.
For the technically curious, what sound and light systems does TFAC have?
TFAC has an ETC brand lighting system with 96 dimmers. Each dimmer can handle 2400 watts of lighting. It's a moderately sized system and fits our current needs rather well. We have 178 lighting fixtures of different types and wattage. We haven't the need for computerized moving fixtures yet as most touring groups would bring their own if needed. As far as sound, we have a 24 channel Mackie brand sound mixing board and I can send the mixed signal to several outputs (called an output bus). We can send to 14 buses, 7 if you want stereo.
How do they compare to other area performance spaces?
For the size of the TFAC stage we are moderately equipped. The layout of the stage and the type of programming dictate what equipment is needed, so comparing TFAC to another stage is somewhat misleading. Flat Rock Playhouse just produces their theater shows. We have equipment for musical performers that they just don't need.
What are some of the more difficult things about the job?
Wanting what all technical directors wish for, an unlimited budget and flexible laws of physics!!!
How has your role changed now that you are interim director?
Well, the biggest challenge has been just getting up to speed quickly on all of the programs that the former ED has in place. I've had to learn how to keep up with marketing and publicity, research the grants that have been applied for and make sure that we move forward with everything that is in place. I'm doing both my Technical duties and the Executive duties at this time, but I haven't met with any big difficulties yet. TFAC has a great board of directors and all I have to do is make a phone call and they will be there to help.
How is the board handling Eric's departure and the move forward?
With my role as interim executive director and the commitment of the board of directors we have not missed a beat. We are presently searching for a new executive director. Programs and project development are continuing and as we approach the New Year we are more confident than ever that we are and will continue to be a defining force in the arts.
Are you involved in the search for a new executive director?
No, I'm not involved; the TFAC board is running the search.
What is currently in process for the theatre?
We are in the "most wonderful time of the year," and our annual "Morris" Christmas ornament is on sale now. This has been a great fundraising project over the years and has become a tradition for TFAC. As far as programs in the New Year, we have The Glenn Miller Orchestra on February 24th. We will be presenting this at the Polk County High School auditorium. Back on the TFAC stage, March 7-8 we have a one man show called "Man 1, Bank 0" that should be a lot of fun. We are presenting the Alvin Ailey II Dance Company on April 17th. We are getting some calls on this show already and I expect it will sell out soon.