I have a friend who’s a development director for a large non-profit.

It’s his job to lure people who share a passion for the work, then turn them upside-down and shake them until all the coins fall out of their pockets. Then he scoops them up and runs away real fast.

He said it’s easy to get people excited about the sexy stuff. Who wouldn’t write a check to help dig wells across Sub-Saharan Africa? Or give women in South America micro-loans to start businesses? Easy sell.

But what if headquarters in Phoenix needs a new 20-ton air conditioner? Tough sell.

Over the years, my friend figured out which donors were likely to buy in to something like an a/c unit, and in this case ended up writing a sum total of four letters asking for help. It worked.

CPAC is in that situation now.

Green Valley’s Community Performance and Art Center is looking at buying a new sound system. When you look at all that goes on at CPAC — plays, lectures, concerts — focusing on a sound unit is decidedly unsexy.

Unless you take a minute to close your eyes and listen. That’s what a few of us did the other day in the CPAC auditorium.

Front and center was Brian Honsberger, who’s pitching a roughly $50,000 system to CPAC. He’s the owner of UPstage Group out of Goodyear, and was letting us test drive a unit.

Brian and Steve Schmidt, CPAC’s technical director, speak a language many of us don’t really get — amplification, balance, mixing, uneven sound and decibels. They’re the kind of people who probably enjoy the scratchy sound of an old-fashioned LP spinning on a record player. But when it comes to theater, they want it crisp and clear. None of this muddy stuff that’s currently flowing out of the CPAC speakers.

How do I know? Because they proved it. They played a few pieces of music — from Toto (that’s rock) to Bach (that’s not) — and the difference almost had me writing a check (and I’m pretty tight).

Just as cool was learning that a single speaker these days could have dozens of patents tied to it. The computer brains in these things are mind-blowing.

The system can send sound out of several spots around the theater, not just one speaker hanging over the stage. You can mic 10 performers on stage and tune them individually to a place that works best for their voice. Same with instruments.

“My goal is to make sure you hear every instrument on stage, whether it’s a four-piece band or an 80-piece orchestra,” Brian told us.

The great thing is that it can be done; the awful thing is that those of us in the theater that day have now tasted the finer wine — and we really like the idea of buying this thing.

Before sticker shock sets in, hear my favorite part: This could actually save CPAC money in the long run. Several acts bring in an extra sound person to adjust or add equipment. But this system could mean that’s no longer necessary, allowing CPAC to negotiate a better price when booking acts.

The new system also provides the same listening experience no matter where you are in the auditorium. No more being blasted out if you sit near the speaker, or straining to hear if you don’t.

“Nobody likes to be poked in the ear by sound,” Brian told us.

The system is remarkable, but I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it.

Steve put it best: “You really don’t know what you’re missing until you know what you’re missing.”

CPAC would love to have this installed in October. Interested in helping? Contact CPAC online (www.performingartscenter.org) or call 399-1750.

— Dan Shearer

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