April Rodriguez at the theatre sound controls.
It’s common to hear of people who love San Francisco’s “Beach Blanket Babylon” so much they attend the show again and again.
But every week?
April Rodriguez, Cal State East Bay alumna and staff member, is at the show one day a week, typically for two back-to-back weekend shows, so she can operate the soundboard for the wildly popular musical. It takes place at Club Fugazi in San Francisco's North Beach district.
BBB performs Wednesday through Sunday 52 weeks a year. Many of the actors and musicians have been with the show 15 to 20 years, and while the show is known for frequent script changes that keep it on top of current events, the trick to being a great sound engineer is running the “sound” identical from one show to the next.
Rodriguez, who graduated from CSUEB in 2005, had never seen BBB, much less known of its craziness, when she responded three years ago to head sound engineer Thomas Schueneman’s call for board operators.
Rodriguez was working part-time in the CSUEB Theatre and Dance Department as an office assistant and occasional sound engineer and sound designer in the theater. She also has supplemented her income at Berkeley Sound Artists.
Three weeks after seeing her first BBB performance, she soloed as BBB’s first female sound engineer.
“I love working the show," Rodriguez said. "I can hear the audience, sense the energy. It fulfills a need for instant gratification; it keeps me on my toes.”
Some nights there’s backstage buzz that someone famous, or perhaps a high-powered critic, will be in the audience. There’s the challenge of keeping on top of the 10 to 30 things that happen simultaneously while running the show, and occasional quick fixes and troubleshooting, such as swapping microphones and headphones mid-show.
Rodriguez will never forget the time she mistakenly shut down the system at the end of an evening, rather than logging out. The next day, she found herself locked out of the system. Only an administrator’s password could get her in, and that administrator was on vacation, and out of cell coverage. With five minutes to spare, a work-around succeeded, and the soundboard was able to synch with the computer system.
“I could have run the show manually," Rodriguez said. "I know the show inside and out. Plus this is how I worked at Cal State East Bay, (where) we had an analog system; there was no computer program to assist me as I ran full productions.”
But she was happy it didn’t come to that.
Growing up in Selma, just south of Fresno, Rodriguez had no inkling she would one day be controlling the sound for the iconic San Francisco musical. She and her family loved music, but when she headed to college at Cal State Bakersfield, Rodriguez had a geology career in mind.
Two years later she transferred to Cal State East Bay, where she hoped courses in theater production, sound, and lighting would land her a gig touring with a band. A few years later, while attending a conservatory in Arizona and working as a stage hand for Rhino Staging and Rigging, she met lead vocalist Chester Bennington of her favorite band, Linkin Park. Rodriguez pitched her case to him. While nothing came of it, Rodriguez found discovered that the touring life was not her calling and she returned to the Bay Area.
Two years ago Rodriguez was among the sound effects editors and designers of the Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.” Her resume also includes mix assistant for the documentary, “IMUA,” at Skywalker Ranch, and assistant sound designer for the short movie, “The Composer is Dead,” that played at the Berkeley Rep.
Rodriguez’ next dream?
“What I have going on right now is pretty solid and the changes ahead will only be made for the betterment of my career," she said. "But what I would really love to see someday is a female sound engineer appear on the cover of a major audio magazine.”