Sound Man: Greenville grad running Broadway shows

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 10:48 am on Friday, February 10, 2012

Tim Schmidt decided to work in theater after he attended Western Michigan University. After gaining experience, he started doing the head audio for Broadway productions. (Daily News/Kelli Ameling)

GREENVILLE – What started out as a hobby and something to do with his friends has turned into a career of running Broadway tours.
Greenville graduate Tim Schmidt, 33, is currently on break from the “Peter Pan” tour where he does head audio. He handles audio on equipment, actors, speakers and how the theaters sound during performances
“I do everything sound-related,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt will be continuing on the “Peter Pan” tour in May. He said the tour’s first stint was basically a test to see how well the show would do and to see if the actors, such as  main star Cathy Rigby, are ready and prepared.
Other Broadway tours that Schmidt has worked on include “Oklahoma,” “Twelve Angry Men” and “Rent” with some of the original cast members.
Chris Chapman, technical director and auditorium manager for the Greenville Performing Arts Center, said it is great Schmidt has been able to accomplish what he has as a sound designer for productions in Michigan, as well has his touring experience.
“He is yet another example of what a background in the fine arts can professionally lead to,” Chapman said.
A typical day on the road can start pretty early for Schmidt and the cast. On a load-in day – which is the first day the crew and cast get to a new location – the day starts at about 6 a.m. The cast walks onto an empty stage where they unload about five semi-trucks of sets and props.
“It takes about six to seven hours to put everything together,” Schmidt said.
After dinner, the flight crew sets up, Schmidt runs sound checks and the cast performs several numbers so Schmidt can hear how everything sounds for the audience. He also tests the orchestra and the actors’ voices.
“I have to make sure everything sounds good,” he said, adding that this is how the actors and him get used to the room.
From there, the Broadway show takes place, usually lasting about two and a half hours. On load-in days, Schmidt usually gets done about 11 p.m.
During the week he is at each location, the cast gets the day to explore their new city. Schmidt gets back to theater about two hours before the show to do sound checks without the cast to make sure everything is working properly.

While on break from the Broadway production of “Peter Pan," Tim Schmidt is helping out at the Greenville Performing Arts Center by doing sound work and making stage sets.

On load-out day, the crew puts everything back onto the semi-trucks.
“It usually only takes us two to three hours on load-out day,” he said.
At each location, the Broadway standard is to perform eight shows – typically one performance per night Tuesday through Friday and two shows on Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday night through Tuesday morning is reserved for traveling.
When Schmidt was a student at Greenville High School he was involved in every music class available. Outside of music, he participated in the drama club and even started a group with his friends to put on plays. At that time, most of the plays were done by  adults without many students.
When it came time to go to college, Schmidt was undecided about what he wanted to go into.
“It came down to what college I got accepted to,” he said.
If his first acceptance came from Michigan State University, he was going to go into music, but if he was accepted to Western Michigan University, he was going to be theater.
He ended up going with theater at Western Michigan University.
Schmidt knew that he could perform but he did not necessarily want to be a performer. That’s when he got into the technical side of productions.
While at the university, Professor of Theater Matthew Knewtson took Schmidt under his wing and taught him everything he knows.
“He just kept showing me everything,” Schmidt said.
Because of costs, Schmidt left school and came back to the Greenville area. He began working on productions at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre where he met and worked with Randy Hoekstra. The two men started working on sound and adding sound systems to the auditorium.
“We had Broadway-quality sound in the Civic Theatre,” Schmidt said. “That’s where I learned my craft.”
Schmidt said he wanted to go to other theaters and work on productions to learn how things were done.
“I wanted to see how they did it,” Schmidt said. “I was like a sponge.”
He started to work at Cherry County Playhouse, where he made connections and gained more experience. Later on, Schmidt came across information about the “Oklahoma” tour and the contact on it was someone he had met at Cherry County Playhouse.
“I saw it as a sign,” he said, adding that in this type of business, it’s all about who you know.
Chapman said Schmidt’s experience as a sound engineer is exceptional.
“Last year he did the sound for the touring ‘ABBA Gold’ show that the (Greenville Area Community Center) brought,” Chapman said. “It was fantastic to have someone of his expertise deal with audio issues on a touring show like that.”
When Schmidt was hired to do “Oklahoma,” he was able to meet and work with Brian Ronan who recently won Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical at the Drama Desk Awards for “Anything Goes” and “The Book of Mormon.”
Ronan knew what Schmidt was capable of and how he worked so he continued to hire Schmidt for his Broadway tours.
“It’s been a long road, but it’s been fun,” Schmidt said. “Growing up here is where it started.”
Today, Schmidt said what he likes most about his job are the children. He learned this about himself after working on “Peter Pan.” He said the production could be done outside where children can see Peter Pan flying around on the wires and even when the sun flushes out some of the lighting, the children are always so happy and excited.
“They are totally entranced by the magic,” Schmidt said.
He said most of the time the children are on the edge of their seats.
“I do love (my job),” Schmidt said. “I am very passionate about what I do.”

Tim Schmidt worked the soundboard at the Greenville Performing Arts Center while on his break from the Broadway production of “Peter Pan."

While Schmidt is on break from “Peter Pan,” he plans to stay in Greenville and help assist Chapman at the Greenville Performing Arts Center.
Currently, Schmidt is helping out with an auditorium renovation project at Greenville High School, which includes an upgrade to the sound system.
“The new soundboard we are going to obtain is a standard in the entertainment industry right now and is well beyond the original equipment installed in the facility,” Chapman said. “His expertise will be essential in training me on this equipment as well as Greenville High School students.”

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