Mic Check... Welcome to In The Heights

(Originally Posted: April 5, 2014)

LEHMAN COLLEGE, BRONX, NY- During my internship with the multimedia center at Lehman College, I got to work with live sound for a theater production. The biggest surprise was that it was for the Lehman College production of one of my favorite musicals In the Heights. For those of you who are not familiar with the musical, In the Heights is the three day story of a Latinx community living in Washington Heights. Although the characters are away from their home countries, they want to find their own place in the heights.

The actors were talented and patient with me and my sound crew when it came to making the show sound as best as possible. With my supervisor, Angela Piva and another audio intern, Vanessa Villalobos, we created the sound effects for the musical using Avid Pro Tools 10.  Now here is the thing; I am a DJ and have gotten used to working with a mixer, turntable, headphones, and controllers, and I know how to record and mix a session in a studio. Using a soundboard was completely new to me. It wasn't so difficult to figure out the individual channels, turn on the house monitors in the Lovinger theater, and what microphones to use for the band. I learned how to match frequencies on wireless mics, mic a band, send signals through an amp so it can be heard through the monitors, how to mic actors, and set the EQ/ gain levels for each individual voice.

Not everything was all fun and games. Tech rehearsals were long, and one show night, a lot of things went wrong.  I learned from my mistakes with the help of some audio experts, and took notes on how to fix those issues like feedback and working with the acoustics of the theater.  Along with the audio experience, I gained knowledge of all the hard work that goes into producing a musical. Production meetings were effective in getting all departments together to discuss what needed to be completed each week.

As opening day got closer, I kept reviewing all the audio techniques I learned at Hostos and with Angela. I became friends with the cast and crew, who are amazing individuals. There were posters all over campus, and even though my name was backwards, it felt nice to see it there. I was a part of something big, and that made me a little nervous. I had to do live sound in front of a lot of people. Being a DJ has gotten me used to handling music with big crowds, but there are still moments when I get cold feet. Opening night was definitely one of them. The seats filled up and I reminded myself to do the best I can. The cast was counting on me, and I couldn't let them down. I took a few deep breaths and convinced myself that this was sort of like DJing, only instead of mixing tracks, I was mixing actors and a band. The lights dimmed. I looked at Vanessa and said "let's do this!"

The musical was a big success the five nights it ran. The seats in the Lovinger filled up and the audience was entertained, whether they had seen the show on Broadway, or if it was their first time. Rosairo's Car Service, Usnavi's Bodega, Daniela's Salon, Abuela Claudia's Stoop; each piece of the set had a story to tell and the actors brought out the best in each character and themselves. Lin-Manuel Miranda would have been proud of us. The audience laughed with Sonny and Graffiti Pete, paid attention to Abuela Claudia's and Usnavi's hundreds of stories, enjoyed the gossip at the salon from Daniela, Carla, and Vanessa, and related to the situation with the Rosario family and Benny. They raised their flags (in spirit) and got to find the true definition of home. From where I was standing, Piraguero always came in at the right moments. He was that one character that in some way captured the hearts of many (sadly the weather was too cold to actually have a piragua).

I am really thankful for all I had experienced, the friendships made, and just being able to be a part of this. Will I ever do a live sound gig again? Probably not. I prefer a studio any day, but through the tough things I have learned one thing... "No pare, sigue, sigue!"

Photos: Rosa Elena Burgos

Videos: Rosa Elena Burgos

Last updated: June 25, 2019