- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - There was a live sea lion on stage - and ducks, and pyrotechnics. But Fairbanks audio-visual guy Jonathan Huff said he found his eyes wandering to the edges of the stage.

As he described it, Huff’s mind seldom drifts far from the technical details that make productions possible. That included when he was attending a family reunion with his wife in Myrtle Beach, Florida, and they went to a dinner theatre with a pirate theme.

“I told my wife, ‘Is it bad that I’m watching the rigging and not the stuff that’s going on over there?’” he said.

“I’m trying to grow the value of production both in town and in the state. I’m always looking at the next way of doing something. Or a different way of doing something that I’m already doing.”

If you live in Fairbanks, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Huff’s work even if you’ve never met him or noticed his equipment van with the vanity plate “AV” for audio visual parked outside a Fairbanks concert or convention venue.

In Fairbanks, Huff’s production company “Alaska Universal Productions” did technical work for events this year including the Fairbanks Cirque du Soleil show, the Rodney Atkins concert at Fort Wainwright and the Arctic Energy Summit. He’s done work for television and movie productions like the commercial for the Fairbanks Asylum Haunted House and work on the Hollywood horror movie “Unnatural.” He’s always doing some kind of production work. He estimates there were only one or two days this year that he wasn’t doing something for his business.

Early start

There was no audio visual club at Anchorage’s Bartlett High School when Huff was a student. Huff got into technical audio work at his church. As one of the only self-described “AV nerds” at Bartlett he found his skills were needed for a string of plays, stating with a production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Huff, who’s now 30, founded his business Alaska Universal Productions when he was still a high school student.

Huff first came to Fairbanks to get an associate degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He’s long been at home at the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Carlson Center. While he worked on an associate degree from UAF, his first job in Fairbanks was as a part-time Zamboni driver and tech guy at the venue.

After a stint back in Anchorage working for TV station KTUU, he returned to Fairbanks for another job back at the Carlson Center in 2005. The arena wanted him to help install the large video display over the hockey rink.

Huff was at the Carlson Center again when he was interviewed for this story. He was setting up for the Arctic Energy Summit organizing, a banquet-type setup over the arena’s hockey rink that he’s done many times before.

Ambitions

Huff measures the growth of his business with its growing gear pile. He purchased his first equipment, a set of 12 stand lights, in 2006. At that time he could fit all his gear into his apartment at Sophie Station. His equipment has now grown to the point that he rents a 2,400-square-foot storage unit to house all the lights, speakers, sound boards and other gear.

But event and film production work is inconsistent. Huff and one part-time employee do the day-to-day work and when big shows come to town they draw on a large pool of temporary employees. With its massive set and flying acrobats, the traveling Cirque du Soleil show in 2014 used a local Fairbanks staff of 60, a particularly large technical support team.

The most technically complex show Huff has directed audio and visual effects for was the 2014 opening ceremony for the Arctic Winter games. That event, also at the Carlson Center, featured more than 2,600 participants. Huff used more than 100 lights, 25 of them moving, and 50 of them used specifically to illuminate fabric hanging from the rafters. Huff controlled the lights with his $13,000 lighting console, his favorite piece of equipment in his tool box.

He’d like to do more complex productions in the future, but in general he likes to see more of any kind of show come to the Interior.

“It keeps people active. It brings great value to town and just keeps people living here,” he said. “If the town gets boring and dries up people are going to move out.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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