Sunday, March 13, 2011
There and Back Again
So, this past week was...interesting. And just so we're clear I say interesting in the 'sucked balls' sense of the word. But first we need a bit of background. Sherman, set the Way-Back machine to last November or so. *insert the flashback sound and visual effects of your choice here. I prefer the Wayne's World version*
Deedley Dee--Deedley Dee--Deedly Dee
So every year I check the United States Institute for Theatre Technology website to see what sorts of classes will be offered at their annual conference. If the offerings seem useful, as they almost always are, then my school sends me there to get me some larnin'. This year the pickings were kind of slim, but one workshop stood out. Basic Sound System Design and Optimization. Now many people think that the stuff I do with lights is esoteric and difficult to understand(stop giggling, Deb), but to me, anyway, lights are child's play compared to the intricacies of sound. So I jumped at the chance for some formal training that would help us to upgrade our equipment, and to learn to use it properly. So I registered for the conference (just under $500) and the workshop ($125), and started looking for hotels. Unfortunately these conferences are always held in large convention centers which are usually in the middle of cities, in this case Charlotte, North Carolina. There are any number of hotels available, but they're always expensive. The first time I went to USITT I booked a hotel that was less than $100 a night, but it was so far from the convention center that what I saved in hotel fees I spent in cab fare, so it makes sense to spend a bit more and stay within walking distance of the venue.
The conference always runs from Wednesday to Saturday, but the workshops run either on Monday, or Tuesday, or sometimes both. The sound workshop was only on Tuesday, so I booked my $150/night hotel for Monday through Friday. Then I went to book my flight. I had hoped to fly into the main airport in North Carolina, but Charlotte is two hours away from there, so I had to fly to a smaller place where only the higher profile airlines go. Granted this is not my personal money, but it does come from my department's budget, so this was really making me uncomfortable. But, if it would help us get our sound system working well, it would be worth it.
Fast forward to the end of February. An email comes to all who are in the workshop letting us know that the time of the thing was being changed; no big deal; but it also came with a more in-depth description of the class. The word 'basic', it seemed, was something of a misnomer unless you already had a degree in acoustical engineering, and I realized that my working knowledge of how to run sound systems would probably not do me much good in this class. So I contacted USITT to see if I could cancel my registration. I was informed where to send a letter, and also that there was no guarantee that I'd get a refund. So rather than lose nearly a grand all tolled I decided that surely I'd get something out of the class, and the conference is always informative...right?
Wrong! Well, mostly wrong. I was right about the class. It was essentially an infomercial for a pricey bit of proprietary software, and covered absolutely nothing about system design beyond how the software interacted with the company's amplifiers. I tried to keep up with the information the very knowledgeable gentlemen were putting forth, but it was like being an auto mechanic who was suddenly dropped into a class on the proper tuning of a nuclear reactor. I understood most of the basic concepts, but the applications they were describing were quite beyond me.
Fortunately the class was only the one day, so I went back to my expensive hotel room to chill. And I mean that literally. There was a thermostat in the room that didn't seem to do anything. Then I began to learn that in expensive hotels, rather than there being more amenities then in, say, a Motel 6, there are less. No free WiFi, no free breakfast, and the restaurant in the lobby was expensive as hell. Just as an example their weekly drink specials included $4 drafts on Thursdays. That's the special price!!
Well, Wednesday was when the conference started, but there weren't any classes I wanted to take, so I wandered the city. There is a nice science museum and IMAX there, so that was fun. Then I puttered around my room and watched TV. Thursday was better, with useful classes and the opening of the vendors show room with its requisite SWAG hunt. If you've never been to a conference like this just about every theatrical vendor, from curtains to lights to stage floors and makeup, sets up a booth to hawk their wares. Many of them give away little goodies emblazoned with their names and web sites, and we geeks live for these bits of silliness. It's kinda like trick-or-treating as you go from booth to booth seeing what you can get, be it a rubber duck, or a highly compressed tee shirt, or just a pen or key chain. There were also interesting demonstrations of new equipment and materials, and everyone had a scanner that read a bar code on your name badge so now I'm on a dozen new emailing lists...some of which I even care about.
Friday morning had the last class I needed, and then it was straight into a cab and on to the airport. The flight home was uneventful, but I have rarely been so happy to get back from a trip. All tolled I wasted nearly $500 and three days of shop time to attend a useless and misrepresented workshop when I could have flown up Wednesday and come back Friday with the same amount of useful information. I have sent an email to USITT recounting the salient points of this tale, and I shall be looking much more closely at next year's offerings, but I fear this will have to go into the 'lesson learned' category of my life rather than the 'wrongs redressed' column.
But at least I got a cool rubber ducky.
Marius the Peeved.