LIGHT AND DARKNESS IN DALLAS SCHOOLS – Letter from the trenches / by Bo Gerard

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Gretchen and I have been performing "original, musical shows with a message", in Dallas schools since 1989 and have been in every single one of the 277 schools at least once, and in some many more times.  So, I speak from experience when I say that there are a lot of hard-working dedicated teachers bring “light” to the 160,000 students that attend.  But getting light on the auditorium and cafetorium stages has been a challenge from day one.  And a couple of years ago, it got even worse. (Sort of)

I consider myself lucky to have had a career performing at both high-end corporate venues with amazing AV, and at schools and other facilities where AV might has well have stood for Awful Viewing.  Back when we started doing shows for DISD as the Dream Collectors, many schools had most of their stage lights missing or burnt out. And some had none working at all.  Prompting us to open shades and curtains to get the most light we could onto the stage.

But about 5 years ago the Dallas School District must have gotten funding to upgrade their antiquated lighting and sound.  I imagine that the District hired a AV consultants to bid on the project, and subsequently every school got a more modern lighting and sound system installed.  Except for a few cases, where the light truss was placed so far upstage that there was no way to throw light on anyone standing downstage of center, they did a good job of designing and installing the system.  They tied all of the lights into a dimmer panel, that was controlled through a wireless digital tablet.

Here’s where the fun begins!  We would sometimes arrive at a school and find that the AV company had neglected to train anyone in the school as to how to operate the new system; or only one person knew how to work the tablet and that were sick that day.  Just the other day we arrived at a school to do one of our Pipdilly Shows and found that tablet had gone missing a year ago, and they hadn’t replaced it.  So, this schools $20,000 lighting system sits unused, gathering dust.

This school has two light trusses, with 6 instruments each, that go unused.

This school has two light trusses, with 6 instruments each, that go unused.

And how can a teacher or administrator, who is already overloaded with the work of running an over-crowded school, teaching to the test, and educating a student population that is largely not speaking English at home, find time to worry about whether or not the lights in the auditorium work or not.  Clearly an advocate is desperately needed; someone to help coordinate the personnel with the technology.  Is there an arts organization out there, like Big Thought or the Texas Commission on the Arts, that would be willing to help these schools present their arts-funded programs in the best possible light?