Today was the last day of the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Before the day’s final performances and presentations were in full swing, Festival sound engineer Steve Fisher took a moment to talk about his role. Fisher has been working the Festival for twenty-nine years. He started out working with a sound design company that was contracted by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and has since become the coordinator for the Festival’s entire sound design.
Can you describe a typical day at the Festival?
I’m out on the Mall pretty early. I make the rounds on my bike, check the equipment at each area, touch base with the sound crew, basically make sure things are as they were the night before. During the day I’m available to address and hopefully resolve any technical issues that may arise.
When do you start preparing for the Festival? What does the prep work involve?
I start working on the Festival months in advance. I’m in touch with the program participants, trying to assess their technical needs. Eventually I compile a grid of each participant and their specific equipment requests. I want to be sure we provide the best sound design for the performances.
With the Festival wrapping up, can you talk a bit about the deconstruction process?
Everything in the tree plot areas belongs to the Smithsonian. I have to make sure all of that equipment is taken down and stored properly. We actually contract out for the performance areas under the tents. I oversee that deconstruction, but it’s pretty much their crew taking everything down.
The role of sound engineer seems like a two-part job. Can you say more?
Part of my job is to communicate with participants and design the most appropriate sound system for their presentations. Once the Festival’s going, I direct my energy toward the supervision and function of these systems. It’s part creative, part management.
Hannah Crepps is a web production and social media intern with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She graduated in May from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and hopes to pursue her interests in cultural heritage policy and international diplomacy.