This is Wednesday, and “Un-Block the Music” has a huge treat for you. I have three amazing sound engineers all working on Dear Evan Hansen. Maxine Guitierrez, (Broadway), Emma Thomson (London) and Mackenzie Ellis (U.S. tour). And, what will top this all off is that I secured an interview with the man that started it all, Nevin Steinberg! (The same Nevin Steinberg who sound designed Hamilton). In addition to his amazing work on these shows, his support of women is worth an additional shoutout. Remember the story I wrote about Jessica Paz…well he co designed and won the Tony Award with her for Hadestown! https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/04/15/hadestowns-jessica-paz-first-woman-to-ever-win-a-sound-design-tony-kicks-off-women-wednesdays/ So, let’s honor Nevin along with the other amazing women of Dear Evan Hanson on this Women Wednesday and in the days following.
Maxine Guitierrez, Head Audio on Broadway
Let’s start with Maxine. She found her way to Broadway by walking down Sesame Street. What???? Maxine’s path is a unique one. “I was not involved in theater at all growing up. I was born in Philly, Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. I am Filipino-American, first generation. My mom worked in Pharmacy and my Dad is in Finance,” she laughs. However, you may be surprised to find that Maxine’s parents wanted her to learn to play an instrument.
Maxine wanted to play sax. Her parents told her the sax was too expensive so they bought her a clarinet. “I loved it. The following year, I started piano. I didn’t like that!” Her piano teacher knew it, and decided to create a different curriculum for her. “He started teaching me music theory. Part of my lessons were learning chord progressions and transposing. I was 12 years old! He knew this is where my mind was going. So, he rolled with it,” Maxine said.
It took until high school for Maxine to be able to play the sax. When she started at the school, the music program was new and while there were not a lot of musicians, there were a lot of used instrument donations. “I picked up bass clarinet. Then picked up baritone sax. I learned that playing sax is easier than playing clarinet.”
When it came to college applications, Maxine knew she wanted to go into the arts, but that scared her. She had visions of the struggling artist and didn’t want to disappoint her parents who put she and her siblings through 12 years of Catholic school and then through college. “They always said, ‘you finish college, we pay. You don’t…you pay.” So, she started out at Penn State with the idea of becoming a chemical engineer. She didn’t love it and tried hard to figure out what she should switch to. A few of her friends worked at Sesame Place Theme Park and when a job came up for technician to run the shows, they coerced her into doing it.
“It was at Sesame Place that I started learning about sound consoles and computers that run the sound effects. All of the Sesame Street character voices are copy written, so you have to work with a lot of prerecorded voices. I realized I liked working with performers and liked working the board. It was bringing technology to entertainment, and that sort of career never crossed my mind,” Maxine said.
Sound Engineering was not a choice of major at school. “The closest thing they had was acoustic engineering, but that was a graduate program. What was the undergrad? Electrical engineering.” It was a difficult major with not a lot of girls in it, but she earned her degree!
Maxine still worked at Sesame Place which was affiliated with Sesame Street Live, their production company. The powers that be saw she had audio experience, and ended up hiring her for the first Kidz Bop Live tour. “It was a few months long, but that’s when I knew I wanted to work with performing artists.”
Destiny has a way of playing her hand. After the tour, Maxine was in the process of moving to Los Angeles, but a friend of hers from Sesame Place passed away which brought her back home. A week or so later, she got a voice mail from someone offering her the primary audio engineer position on the national tour of Cats. (Called the A1 position, responsible for the technical design of the sound system, PA, mics, wireless and more) as well as the live sound mixing for the show.
“I thought ‘Me???? What????’ I only had five months of touring experience. I could not fathom this phone call. I called them back with a large question mark. They said their A1 was planning to leave. They didn’t have anyone on their roster, so they started calling other production companies looking for recommendations. They called Kidz Bop. With only three or four months left on the Cats tour, they thought she could handle it. Two days later, Maxine was on a plane. “They only had one audio person on that tour. Within 10 days I had to learn how to load in, load out and mix it. It was positive stress. I had to learn to troubleshoot.” Needless to say, Maxine grew up on the tour, and ended up doing eight years of touring. (Rock of Ages, Catch Me If You Can, Evita, Pippin).
The reason Maxine stopped touring had nothing to do with burn out. She just wasn’t challenged anymore. So, when she was offered the job as A1 on Broadway’s King Charles III, she came to New York. “That was the first and only play that I have done.” Then she was offered the substitute job on The Color Purple. “That was a great step back in to the world of musicals…and just across the street from King Charles.”
After working on the 2017 revival of Once On This Island, Maxine took over as A1 on Dear Evan Hansen. “When you originate a show, you know where the trouble spots are. Taking over is a little different.” Learning a mix puts different pressures than originating a mix. No one does it exactly the same, but the goal is to get the same integrity that was created from the beginning.” Once On This Island was performed at The Circle In The Square Theater where every single door is used, and it has “a different vibe and intimacy.” There are so few shows that lend themselves to being in the round.”
“Un-Block The Music” was thinking about what Sesame Street songs would fit “Max” as everyone I spoke to called her….I think “Believe In Yourself” hits the mark.
“Folks may say you’re different,
That you’ve gone and lost your senses,
But the world is yours to walk in,
Go ahead and leap the fences.”
Sung by Elmo and Friends (including Michael Buble)