My name is Jane Rossetto and my role is Head of Sound for the Adelaide Festival Centre.
I joined the Arts in 1989 when sound was analogue and the cues were ALL manual. There were no cd players, computers or affordable radio microphones. Cassettes were rewound by pencil to get you close to what you thought was the track 8 start. We used china graph pencils for marking magnetic tape cutting points and kneeled on the floor of the wings, coiling and uncoiling long microphone leads for singers who had carefully choreographed their moves so they didn’t get lost in the spaghetti.
Being a part of the theatre technological revolution in the last 20 + plus years has been fantastic. Now shows run off computer cueing, so we don’t have to switch in scenes, mutes, EQ’s, reverb programs, etc – it seems so much easier now. Ipads run remote sound desk control. You don’t even have to be at your operating position anymore.
I’ve always wanted to be in the Arts, but I hated practising the piano and couldn’t sing. At secondary school in 1983, Drama wasn’t even a real subject or option for a career. Thirty years on, schools have music technology courses and run their own performance venues. Finding a path into the Arts back then was difficult. Thankfully today, there are study options from secondary school all the way to university. I entered Sound by studying at the School of Audio where you gained a solid theory base. But my best decision back then was to find any related work early into my course and get practical, learn from my peers and make mistakes.
Looking back, I never realised that working in sound would be as intimate as dressing an artist. You are with them at their most vulnerable. Exposed, unsure and fearful of how it will be. It’s not just the physical, touching them when fitting their radio mics as they sit in their underwear, or crawling around the floor in between their feet while they’re playing. You are in each other’s space. So I’ve learnt that this job is a relationship. You have to get on and you have to complement each other.
Having a musical background and an interest in the Arts is essential. It’s the first thing I look at when I interview someone for a job
Q: “ What do you do in your down time?”
A: “Play sport, watch TV?”
Huh, no!…I want to hear that you see bands, play music, worked with local theatre group.”
I’ve been working for the Adelaide Festival Centre for a long time now and the place has exposed me to an amazing and broad spectrum of entertainment styles. I spent years working on musicals, when eight radio mics were a lot and foot mics did the rest. Now 45 radio mics and no pack changes are the norm.
Recently, on the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, I was dying to meet Chita Rivera from the (West Side Story original cast), and ask her the one burning question I always ask when I come across theatre royalty of a certain era.
So, I knocked on door 10, she said, “Come on in.” She stood in her dark velour leisure suit, full stage makeup, fabulous red lips, her dark hair down and a groovy black sailor’s cap.
Jane: “Chita.. What did you do back in the days of NO radio mics?”
Chita: “We had to sing out strong and loud!”
Jane: “How? .. I mean you still had stage sets and a pit orchestra to deal with.”
Chita: “Well, they directed us to be down stage front and the bands weren’t as loud and big as they are today. We also had mics on tall stands that we aimed for in the pit.”
I must have looked pretty puzzled, thinking about what that would have sounded like. I guess mobile phones and home entertainment has set such a high level of competition. Nowadays, you can’t get away with an acoustic gig like that much anymore.
My love of orchestral and symphonic music lead me to apply for a Churchill Fellowship that I won in 2002 .This Grant allowed me to travel to the most amazing places. My application was to research the latest methods in orchestral and operatic amplification with particular attention to operating LARES systems. LARES is an architectural tool at the Adelaide Festival Centre that electronically enhances a space. I spent over 8 months away where I went to the Royal Albert Hall , Arena Verona, La Scala Milan, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Theatre, the Bregenz outdoor Festival, Konzerthous Vienna – just to name a few.
The Churchill Fellowship Association is one of the few public grants that will allow you to design your own research project and will consider a technician to be an artist and a valuable investment in putting on a show. So many entertainment industry grants don’t have any categories for technicians to specialise and focus on their craft. So, I’m forever grateful to the Fellowship and the opportunity it gave me, I can't stress enough how important it is for others to have a go at applying.
Over the years there have been plenty of moments backstage and FOH that you can or can’t mention. Ye old quote, “What happens on tour stays on tour.” is still backstage law. Finding stories that I can actually tell in public are scarce.
Great moments for me are based around the smaller moments. They are the old-school performers mostly. They dress for their audience, leave stage door with full stage makeup wearing a hat or turban and a great coat.
Sitting side stage in rehearsals when Debbie Reynolds just walks off and says “Hi, My name is Debbie. What’s your name?…
Getting a wet and limp hand shake from Dudley Moore after a piano concert.
Listening to Tommy Tycho play American in Paris while I’m under his Steinway trying to reposition a mic.
Having a rare African Tiger coat thrown at me by Nina Simone while she threatened to kill her band.
Holding a show while fitting a back up radio pack down Whoopie Goldberg’s pants in her dressing room then watching her run up on stage shoving toilet paper down her pants shouting “SORRY. I was held up.” at her audience.
Nowadays, I spend my time scouring through show sound technical specifications and consulting for companies like Womadelaide or the Adelaide Symphony. My favourite parts are when I read, “Please provide a sober, competent and English speaking engineer.” Sober? …do they still have to ask?
Those days are long gone.