I arrived in Kansas City yesterday with flat expectations. After landing in the KC international airport I was fully prepared to be greeted with a landscape dominated by the horizon and bible-thumping middle Americans proselytizing me for my sinful yankee ways.

I was completely wrong.

Kansas City is beautiful, and the people couldn’t be friendlier. We’re staying at the Hotel Phillips less than two blocks from the Power & Light district, KC’s well designed downtown entertainment district. On the main concourse several franchise restaurants and bars surround a covered atrium reminiscent of the Vegas strip, with LED lighting fixtures and a pro audio system for us techies to drool over. Of course,  I’m not here to review the Kansas City nightlife. The USITT 50th anniversary conference called bright and early Wednesday morning so we retired to our rooms to rest up for the opening excitement.

First thing in the morning–after receiving my full conference pass–I met my companions in line for the Stage Expo opening. And what an Expo it is! Lighting fixtures, people flying systems, gels, drops, vinyl dance floors… a theatre geek’s dream, and LOTS of swag, I spent most of my time on the floor today getting the feel of things, I’ll be having some more in-depth conversations with presenters over the next few days.

After the Expo it was on to the first of many sound sessions; the first I attended was given by John Leonard, an internationally renowned sound designer from the UK. He began the session with a retrospective view of the last 50 years of sound design technology, contrasting the system for the 1960’s era West End production of Oliver, which consisted of 5 floor mics, 4 or 6 speakers, a single 100 watt amplifier and 78rpm vinyl disc playback with the contemporary production which uses over 100 speakers, three separate mixing consoles, highly complex processing equipment and over 50 wireless microphones for the same size cast. Overall I found the session interesting and informative, but not particularly useful as per my CURCA grant goals.

In the afternoon I attended ‘The art of sound for dance,’ a panel session featuring four prominent sound designers sharing their insights on the subject. I found this session tremendously useful, Darron West (resident sound designer and founding member of the SITI company) encouraged us to be more proactive in the rehearsal process with the final goal of creating a performance where “both sound and choreography can stand on their own and combine to create something magical.” Mr. West also commented that sound design for dance could use theatrical sound effects to open new worlds of creativity for both choreographer and designer.