Spencer Allen watched as his three students worked. His eyes flicked between the screens, making sure nothing was wrong.
The countdown had begun.
Thirty seconds till devotional.
Allen sat at the back of the small room, directly behind his students. He wore a white shirt with the words “BYU-Idaho A/V & Broadcast Productions” inscribed over the left pocket. A clipped pen stuck out of it, something he always carried with him. Around his neck was the pass all Audio/Visual Department students and staff wore, a BYU-Idaho lanyard connected to a plastic pass. It had his name and a yellow stripe with the words “Production Staff” inscribed.
The man himself stood 5’10” with a slight hunch. For a 64-year-old, Allen looked young. His full head of hair was usually perfect, probably due to his wife, a former hairdresser, and the comb he always keeps in his back pocket.
“Two is live,” said Raven Moore, a freshman studying communication, from the middle seat, pushing the button that brought the teleprompter in the BYU-Idaho Center to life. On another computer screen the script appeared, waiting for the conductor to begin opening exercises. Dylan French, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies, and John Dutson, a freshman studying financial economics, seated on either side sat forward, ready.
“He’s up,” Moore called.
“Brothers and sisters, welcome to devotional!” the conductor, Rob Garrett, Executive Strategy & Planning vice president. The teleprompter moved the words up the screen as Allen’s employees scrolled.
Devotional had begun.
The four people in the small room continued to focus through the conducting notes, the opening song, the scripture and the speaker. Each of them checked and double-checked each part.
Allen has worked in the entertainment technology industry since 1981. He can list three main locations he has worked: Blacksburg, Virginia; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Rexburg, Idaho. But the truth is, everything began in Utah.
“After college I ended up doing a couple of — what I call — musicals,” Allen said. “Productions for short runs which would be for like a summer or a fall.”
He lived in Utah for that time doing shows from 1981 to 1986, except Allen doesn’t count the time he spent in Ogden.
“Ogden was kind of a scary place,” he said. “See, you have to understand the whole background to Ogden and Pocatello.”
“As far as Mormons were concerned, those are the gentile towns that Brigham Young established,” Allen said. “That’s where they send the bad people, the gentiles to go live. So, my mother’s generation, you went to Logan. You went to Salt Lake. But you never went to Ogden, because that’s where the bad people, the gentiles were. You never went there … ” He paused. “For anything. You just didn’t go there.”
Then, Allen laughed. “Funny thing was the General Authorities loved, in the early 1900s, going to Ogden for stake conferences because they said they got better coffee there on Sunday morning.”
Mom, Home and Apple Pie
“Pack your bags,” Allen said to his wife late one evening, over the phone. “Pack your bags and start packing up the house.”
“I know,” his wife, Denise, replied, “we’re moving to Salt Lake.”
“No. We’re moving to Virginia.”
In 1986, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, usually known as Virginia Tech, flew Allen out to Virginia from Utah.
“I didn’t realize at the time I was the only candidate for this particular interview section,” Allen said. “They had done two other national searches and turned down a whole bunch of people. They were looking for somebody who epitomized mom, home and apple pie.”
The position was as the music department technical director, but most of the assignment would be working with the New Virginias, a traveling and performing group from the university. Virginia Tech had the all-American performing group. All they needed was a director who fit the image.
So they interviewed Allen, then stuck him on a bus and sent him, and the college performers, up to Maryland to a cherry festival.
The bus pulled up to an old high school where the performance was to be held. Men in grey jumpsuits — signature clothing of the local prison — helped move equipment and unload. Performers rehearsed. Allen did his job.
As the performance started, he took his place on the balcony, then rolled his eyes. There were more people on the stage than there were in the audience. The cherry festival, in charge of advertising the event, hadn’t been quite as successful at their jobs.
Allen sat on the balcony by himself.
“Literally, this giant balcony with just a spotlight operator way down there at the end of the balcony,” he gestured widely with his hands, “and another one way down at the other end.”
Allen still wasn’t quite sure how he’d ended up here.
“I’m sitting in the middle watching this show and I didn’t have any – I mean,” Allen shook his head. “I was only going for three days because they were paying me to come out to Virginia and interview – I had no inclination I was going out to work.”
Still he sat there, observing and making sure everything ran smoothly. Then came the finale.
And I’m proud to be an American/ Where at least I know I’m free
The familiar lines of Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud to be an American” filled the stage.
And I won’t forget the men who died/ Who gave that right to me
“You’ll do good things with these kids,” said a voice, clear and strong. Allen looked around, searching for the source. There was nobody anywhere near him.
“I heard this, as clear as I’m hearing now and it wasn’t my imagination — people will say it is — but I heard it, and I thought someone had leaned over and talked to me, but nobody was there,” Allen said. “So, I called my wife.”
As soon as Allen returned to Utah he began to pack and wait for the phone call he knew was coming.
“How soon can you be here?” the hiring managers asked on Monday.
“Friday,” Allen told them.
Two years later, Allen was still there working with the New Virginias. Then, he found out why he was hired. It was due to him being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With the applicants for the position being those in entertainment, Virginia was having trouble finding their representative of mom, home and apple pie.
“You know,” Allen said, “long hair, smoking marijuana, drinking beer. People you typically think work in technical entertainment. That’s what they were. So I showed up and they closed the search.”
According to Allen, Virginia Tech said, “It didn’t really matter what your qualifications were. The fact that you were a Mormon and had some knowledge, the job was yours whether you realized it or not.”
He stayed with them for 11 years after that.
Something wrong with Las Vegas or something wrong with me
When asked why he ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada after working for Virginia Tech, Allen had four words. “I followed my wife.”
In 1999, Denise Allen finished her master’s degree in education. She wanted to interview with schools looking for potential teachers to get comfortable with interviewing.
Denise Allen’s intention was to practice her interview skills and then apply for teaching positions in Virginia as they came up. So, she interviewed in Clarke County, Nevada. Then, she and Allen went on vacation to Yellowstone National Park.
Partway into their vacation, Denise Allen checked the phone mail. She had two days to respond to a job offer from Clark County.
“So, we looked at each other in the car and said, ‘Why not?’” Allen said. He smiled, remembering the conversation, “I said, ‘I guess I can support you in your job, because if I can’t find work in Las Vegas there is either something wrong with Las Vegas or something wrong with me.”
Why? Because, according to Allen, Las Vegas is one of the biggest entertainment capitals in the world.
The couple cut their vacation short, drove back to Las Vegas from Yellowstone. They even sold their house along the way.
Allen and his wife bought a house in Las Vegas, one overlooking the elementary school, drove to Virginia, packed up and two weeks later their family was living across the country. Allen stayed for a couple months, until October, and finished up his contract with Virginia Tech.
“The people in the ward had no idea we’d left,” Allen said.
Virginia Tech kept Allen’s position open for two years waiting for him to come back.
“They figured I would come back to my senses and realize I hated Las Vegas and would want to come back,” Allen said.
Allen worked as a union stage hand primarily for the Blue Man Group at the Luxor Hotel and Casino. When he interviewed for the position, the soundboard operator said, “You’re either a Mormon or you’re something else. Why don’t you stay forever?”
Allen didn’t stay quite that long.
Don’t touch the microphone
Allen has a spiel to give to each devotional speaker when they came to rehearse. The devotional speaker for Jan. 29, David Saunders, was no exception.
“First rule is,” Allen said, “don’t touch the microphone.” Saunders nodded, eyes on Allen.
“Second rule,” Allen said before pausing, “don’t touch the microphone.” Saunders laughed.
“Third rule,” Allen paused again, “have fun.”
It was during a magic show that Allen realized he wasn’t having fun in Las Vegas anymore. There were white tigers on the stage, yet Allen sat there thinking.
That’s when Allen received a call from a friend of his.
“I’m looking for a new sound guy. Do you know any LDS people who would be interested in applying for it?” he asked.
“I would,” Allen replied.
Several conversations later and after confirming that Allen really was serious about the position, Allen ended up in Rexburg, Idaho, during the building of the BYU-Idaho Center.
Now, Allen continues his one-sided conversation with the speaker and goes through the rules of teleprompting. Where to place hands (it doesn’t really matter), when to switch teleprompters (whenever you feel comfortable) and how quickly to speak (if you think you’re speaking normally, it‘s probably too fast).
Allen started in audio when he first came to BYU-I before moving to lighting, then production coordinating and then moving to A/V Services and teleprompting. He has been teleprompting for three years.
“I like working here because I’ve been a parent of students before I came here,” Allen said. “I have a good perspective of that it takes to be here.”
It shows in his advice to the students. Allen loves to give advice to his students.
“Besides a strict education, that you can get at any other university, immerse yourself in other things,” he said. “Be it church involvement, be it opportunities for student leadership or the opportunities to work on campus. It‘s just, there is so much more than just an education at this university. It is an environment that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Take advantage of everything you can to get involved here.”
Allen smiled to himself and to the three students sitting in the small teleprompting booth.
“I think it’s a phenomenal place to be,” he said. “That’s my favorite thing, is I just like being here.”
So, Allen sits, waiting for the start of the next production.
Thirty seconds till devotional.
The room is live.
“He’s up,” Allen calls to his students.