AVL: Crew, community, and companionship

Although many John Brown University students begin their freshmen year with a work-study position, not many have the opportunity to work for the Audio, Visual and Lighting (AVL) department.

Ever-present in our Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday night chapels, AVL records and live streams an estimated 110 chapels a year. The AVL crew is in charge of the audio, visual and lighting components in almost every JBU event, including the talent show, Mock Rock, dances, plays and musical productions.

Bear Klenda started as a work-study student from 2005–2008 and graduated from John Brown in 2008. He returned in the fall of 2014 as a full-time AVL specialist at the University.

Beyond chapel duties, Klenda said, “We are first and foremost here to serve the band, each other, the audience and the congregation.”

Hanging in Klenda’s office is a poster that states AVL’s mission statement, “The Mission of AVL Technologies is to serve John Brown University’s live production needs by providing creative and effective solutions.”

The AVL poster also states: “We seek to provide excellent sound reinforcement, lighting design, video production, and presentation graphics. We aim to teach students technical ability, as well as develop leaders who understand how to lead a team through an array of challenges and various technologies.”

Klenda added, “We are here to be professionals and act at a high level of professionalism and have our speakers be confident and their content be represented well.”

When Klenda first started working AVL 10 years ago, it only took four people to run a chapel service: a sound mixer, a recording engineer, a graphics person and one fixed camera engineer. Now, it takes three teams, 7 people in each, to run chapel.

“We are now able to make it more dramatic but also personal, so we can connect the viewer with what is happening,” Klenda said.

Junior Cameron Lambert has been working for AVL for two years now, and had about five to six years of experience from his church before working at JBU. Unlike being hired the regular way through the work-study program, AVL’s coordinator Melissa Mitchell found Lambert at church and noticed his skills.

“You are always learning new stuff. I never mix two shows the same way,” Lambert said. “Even between all the rehearsals, you are constantly tweaking and learning new things.”

Lambert appreciated the work that other team members do on the crew.

“The more you are in it, the more you learn how much everyone else does. The lighting crew puts in the most hours, and they are creating a new system every time,” Lambert said.

One thing Lambert pointed out was the appreciation he has for his job, and that he has to constantly adapt and learn.

“For Mock Rock, I got thrown on a camera, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’” Lambert said.

When an AVL member first joins, it takes a while to learn which avenue is best suited for the person.

“When they first start, we place them in a position and empower them in a place where they can excel, but we also wait to see where their interests are,” Klenda said. “We watch them and see where their passion lies and cross train them in multiple fields, whether lighting, camera, visuals or audio.”

Lambert said, “It’s so good for each of us to try to figure out what we enjoy and find our natural tendency while also getting our hands wet in each avenue.”

“The cool thing is it’s a compliment to go unnoticed. We don’t want the audience to be thinking about the tech crew,” Lambert explained. “When everything goes smooth and you don’t think about us, we did it right.”

Klenda explained, for this year’s projects, AVL worked to set up the auditions, tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals and actual shows.

Regarding this year’s talent show, Klenda said, “We take 45 minutes for each act to make sure we have all the inputs and every instrument and signal to perfect all the technical aspect and rehearse so that we can get a real sense of mood and atmosphere that they want to create for their act.”

The AVL staff and students logged 1,090 hours leading up to family weekend, and nearly 600 hours at last weekend’s Next Big Thing. With the amount of time put behind each project, a community formed within the AVL crew.

“We are very much a family,” Klenda said. “People can come in, hang out and share life, and we are not just robots that push buttons and move cameras. We are people with real issues, real problems and real joys that we share together. We go through the good, bad and ugly together.”