He’s Got the Chops

Meet Timothy Sage, The Smith Center’s passionate and percussive technical director

Timothy Sage looks like a rock star. Perhaps it’s how he carries himself, in a graceful, fluid way. Or perhaps it’s his clothes—a suit, yes, but one that exudes cool instead of the propriety natural to a person who worked for casinos. Or it’s his hair, which is unusually long for a professional man of 57.

But this is the real reason why: His heart pumps music, and the notes and cadences and rhythms tumble out when he speaks. It’s exciting to be around him. It feels like he’s famous, even though he’s just famously behind the scenes. All of his qualities come together for a more noble purpose: Sage is the technical director for Las Vegas’ biggest artistic innovation since the decision to put showrooms in casinos: The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. The job has so many varied responsibilities that it’s best described in a poetic way: Sage’s mission is to breathe life into the $470 million, state-of-the-art building. He’s the one who turns an empty room into a theater. And he’s the one who makes sure it looks stunning, sounds flawless and runs smoothly. Sage ensures the illusion of the stage is seamless.

“We’ve spared no expense on this building,” Sage says. “You can clearly see that. And it goes right on through to the technicians and our obligations to our listening audience.” It will take the full range of Sage’s musical and theatrical skills to fulfill that obligation and make good on a building that has acoustical needs built into its very bones (3 feet of soundproof concrete in the basement, for instance).

Over the course of 26 years, Sage did entertainment technical direction for Steve and Elaine Wynn on eight hotels, as well as in Macau, rising to vice president of entertainment production services. He taught stagecraft at the Community College of Southern Nevada, and was also the technical director for its theater department. Sage was even a production/road manager for musician Paul Anka. And as a Las Vegas native who first learned how to build stages at age 6 from his neighbor Virgil, a stagehand at the Stardust, he feels it’s his destiny to work for The Smith Center.

“I find every part of this business to be fascinating,” Sage says. “I’m a musician. I still play, I still record, which has also worked to refine techniques in audio and to continue to keep my ear really clear to sound reproduction and sound reinforcements so that I can identify what sounds good.”

Sage’s instrument of choice is the drums. As a person who has “always got to be moving,” he likes the physicality of percussion. Instead of just sitting there and letting his fingers move across a piano (Sage plays his own 105-year-old Baldwin grand when writing melodies), he can put his entire body into drumming. Sage becomes one with the instrument. “In a day when you need to just blow off some energy,” he says of drumming, “you’re in the rhythm of it all. That, to me, is fun.”

When posed the question, “What is your favorite drum sound?” Sage becomes excited. “Without a doubt, timpani,” he says. “Timpani to me is just a resonant percussive instrument that just has such tremendous power. But at the same time, being a melodic instrument as well [it] can be played so wonderfully. But then again, you’re opening a huge can of worms for me because the bougarabou, a kalimba—there’s a number of different drums—doumbek, conga, bongos, shakers of all different kinds. These are instruments that I personally own. These are fun instruments, there’s a certain place where they fit in the melodic world of music.”

Sage’s house is overrun with musical instruments. There are timpanis in the living room and a dedicated recording studio with even more instruments. He says it drives his wife crazy, and is a topic of conversation at least once a month. Of course, even Sage’s instruments are subject to his love of aesthetics. “I have things strewn over the house,” he says. “But they’re done in such a way where I actually have a djembe, which I use as an end table, and my congas have a nightlamp on them. When I feel the need to play, I just take the lamp off and sweep off the magazines and I start playing.” Sage is taking all that passion and energy and applying it to The Smith Center. Between now and the March 10 opening, he’s working on final preparations. But his mind is already looking toward the center’s future.

“My wheels are turning, and I’m already thinking about what I can do with people who come to experience The Smith Center,” he says. “I want to be able to enhance that. I want to be able to say that the building does this, it breathes this way, it has its own pulse this way, but let’s put another spin on it. We have an open canvas in this venue to do some very creative things. Bringing tremendous fanfare and pageantry to a space that already lends itself to that. This building is already creating that, and what I want to do is to enhance it. You can see how I’m talking to you enthusiastically here, I’m ready to go with a lot of ideas.”

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