Getting to Know BEN ZEMAN - Dallas Theater Center
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Getting to Know BEN ZEMAN

Tell me about what you do as the Head of Audio and Video.

As the Head of Audio and Video, I oversee all sound and video support for Dallas Theater Center’s productions: I work with the designers of those areas to realize their vision and coordinate support from my department for other departments that need it (music, stage management, deck crew etc etc). I answer questions and problem solve when exterior designers implement their designs. Some designers use my position a lot for artistic support (recordings, A1 assistance, systems design etc) others like composers sometimes just need everything on and working to be able to make their art and that’s just fine with me. It fluctuates from show to show depending on the requirements and artistic goals of the designer, I’m there to move things along and forge a path for Dallas Theater Center’s productions’ sonic and videographic success.

What is your favorite part of the job?

It’s usually the people I work with, but I also like that A/V tech tends to be on the cutting edge of new technology and experimental storytelling–the digital revolution in sound technology *which is really kind of still happening* has been constantly throwing new methods and tools to use to create art–I love learning about those so I can use them to help others create. There are some pretty big changes to workflow in audio technology (specially live sound) that are still in their nascent stages that really expand what tools we have to tell stories effectively and efficiently. And don’t get me started on video and projections–we’ve seen the power of integrating those technologies in shows like ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ and in productions with companies like Manual Cinema — the storytelling possibilities are incredibly vast when levied on the stage. I get to be a professional nerd–what could be better?

 

How did you get into working with A/V?

Well, I had always been into music and performing from a young age, and there was an opportunity really really young for me, around 12 or 13 or so to start mixing bands every weekend in a ‘low risk’ situation and I took it. I fell down the rabbit hole hard: I started reading manuals on how to use the console we had, how to mix and how to develop an artistic taste and methods, and the basics physics at the same time I was still performing, playing piano etc etc so both of those aspects ended up dovetailing together. I started developing my musical sense at the same time I was learning about audio so it continually fed my desire to learn, the rest is kind of history.

What is the biggest difference between working in the Kalita and working in the Wyly?

In one of them, the audience is always facing the same direction! The Wyly is an amazingly flexible space from show to show (and big, acoustically speaking–there’s a lot of ‘room’ that the audience isn’t aware of because of how close they are to the stage, but how far their back is from the walls) which means I’m constantly pivoting how the designers and I think about system design and acoustic support. Sometimes we’re reinventing the wheel, other times we’re just hunting down how to get the best coverage of the audience–but in the Kalita all of that is pre-thought before we enter the space. We get to start addressing how we want to get clever or provide depth on stage and in the house a lot sooner in our thought processes. The conventionality of the Kalita (despite it’s rather unique architecture) lends itself in audio to a more artistic approach to sound design because the platforms are already there, while I would say the Wyly ends up being a tad more ‘experimental’. You can totally have both at the same time in both spaces as a designer (and believe me, we do both), but as far as my process is concerned, that’s how I’d break it down.

Is there anything you’ve been able to do at the Wyly that you haven’t been able to do in another space?

I really liked Twelfth Night ‘19, because it was a really cool blend of modern music and mixing approach on an older production. There was also quite a bit of that ‘experimenting’ in the Wyly I was talking about done with the pre-show band-storm. That stuff is totally possible in other spaces, but the immersive thrust and mobile instruments (!) lend themselves really well to creating a massive thunderstorm out of nothing but 3 band members, a variety of instruments ranging from bird calls, electric basses and wind chimes, and a massive amount of effects processing. There’s something extremely unique about the scale of that as well, because the Wyly is so ‘acoustically big’, scaling a storm up to be that immersive is more than just making it ‘loud’, but you have to make it flow, and change and grow and MOVE or it just won’t fill the space and have an impact as easily.

 

 

Cast members of Twelfth Night, photo by Karen Almond.


 

Aside from A/V, what is your favorite thing about theater (acting, directing, lighting, etc)?

The music/band aspect of theater is the more interesting aspect to me, but I already sit in the confluence of those ideas with audio so if I had to go far away from where I work, I’d have to say props. I always think of props artisans as mad geniuses with crazy workshops and I’m into that aesthetic.

 

What is your favorite thing to do while sheltering in place?

Animal Crossing and cooking. I’ve been baking bread (I know I know, everyone did that in April), making Shakshuka for breakfast and spiced-up ramen for dinner–all while trying to pay back Tom Nook for that third house upgrade I wish I had in real life.

Have you discovered a new hobby, TV show, book, movie, or other entertainment while spending this extra time at home?

I’ve had more time for reading, aside from the normal technical articles I usually read. Some books here and there while participating in an informal book club with some friends across the country on zoom.

If you could be a superhero, who would you be and why?

I want to say Number Five from Umbrella Academy minus the whole ‘master assassin’ thing–don’t need that: but blinking and modest time travel? I’m in. I’d love to be able to travel when it becomes safe to again. If I were to choose a more family friendly superhero I’d say Dr. Strange would be awesome–he studied his way to becoming the ‘master of the mystical arts’ and I think that that’s admirable.

Do you have any advice for people who don’t want to go onstage, but would like to be involved in the theater?

Don’t be afraid to be a patron of the arts–even someone who can watch and analyze and cheer is what theater THRIVES on. Communicating ideas through the theatrical arts includes the conversations that happen onstage and offstage as well, among friends, neighbors and your communities.

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