Sam Skillings has been responsible for the smooth running of every Academy Event, Dance Showcase, KFC and School Meeting since 1985. Skillings has served as Deerfield Academy’s audiovisual technician for 28 years, and it is fair to say that without him, our shows would not, and could not, go on.
Skillings grew up in Amherst and began his career in the audiovisual field during high school. “I was one of the geeky kids in high school,” Skillings admitted. “[Audiovisual] was a niche that I fell into. It started with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones—everybody had to be in a band when they happened, and there were too many musicians but not enough techies.”
Skillings was able to travel around the country as an audiovisual technician for a traveling entertainment troupe called the Ice Capades. “I didn’t get to go to Alaska, but I’ve hit 49 of the 50 states, and putting all the equipment in sea containers for Hawaii was an ugly affair,” Skillings recalled.
Directly before coming to Deerfield, Skillings worked as an AV-tech at Amherst High School. Now at Deerfield he has witnessed a decline in the number of students interested in AV work.
“There aren’t as many students interested in working on the tech crew as there used to be,” Skillings said. “My suspicion is that this is because technology is much more widespread. Nowadays when you say technology, people think of computers, but in the old days to get your hands on technology you had to be in the AV club.”
One particularly fascinating, and occasionally aggravating, part of Skillings’ job is adapting to technological development and learning new techniques.
“In the new Memorial Building they want to run all lighting and sound control systems over Ethernet,” Skillings said. “How many times have you seen Ethernet fail? It’s digital, and the way the system works right now is analog. For 28 years I have had a failure rate of zero using analog. Do you think I’ll have that rate using digital? I don’t expect that kind of durability from digital.”
Although changes in technology can be challenging, Skillings still finds excitement and enjoyment in being an AV technician.
“I like doing it. I like working with the students. I’m fascinated by it, and I’m still learning,” Skillings said. “The technology changes I’ve gotten to see are phenomenal, from lighting to sound to video.”
Skillings remembers an Academy Event 15 years ago when 70 students helped set up. “Those kids walked away saying they would never look at a concert or performance the same way again, because they had seen the hidden side,” he said.
For Skillings, the most rewarding aspect of being an AV technician is not the end result. “By the time you get the show ready to go, that’s the easy part,” he said. “But it’s nowhere near the energy or adrenaline drive that it takes to get there.”