News Column

Four Arts job offers starry side

November 23, 2013


One day last season, Ben Irene arrived for work at The Society ofthe Four Arts and, within a few hours, the star of a movie he'dwatched the night before was shaking his hand.

The handclasp came as 31-year-old Irene (pronounced EE-reh-NAY) wasin the midst of sound-checking the stage in the Four Arts' 700- seatauditorium and in a blink, it hit him: That's Oscar-winning actorand all-around talent Stanley Tucci.

"He took a few pictures with me and I kept thinking, 'Hey, I wasjust watching the (2012-released) movie The Hunger Games yesterdayand here you are,' " Irene said.

It's not uncommon for Irene -- a native of Haiti, a longtime PalmBeach County resident and an audio-visualengineer/information- technology specialist -- to cross paths withfamous people sprinkled throughout the Four Arts' extensive anddiverse cultural programming.

Lighting and sound for performances, speaking engagements and otherevents don't implement themselves.

When a mic, say, for a best-selling author giving a talk needsadjusting, or a computer-generated presentation needs fine- tuning,someone in-the-know has to take care of such things. Irene -- theFour Arts' senior associate of technical services, which alsoentails in-house computer and networking issues -- is one of thosepeople.

"I love my job," said Irene, who joined the Four Arts' staff in2012. "Working here means I'm exposed to a lot of people andculture I might not otherwise be, but it has more to do with thefact that the Four Arts is just a really good place to work, and agreat place to learn and grow."

Prior to joining the Four Arts, Irene, who spent his teen years inLake Park and attended Palm Beach Gardens High School beforecompleting formal technical studies, was a pro-audio manager at theWest Palm Beach location of the Guitar Center, a go-toretail- and-programming resource for amateur and professionalmusicians, DJs and others.

The music world is one Irene knows well: When he's not at the FourArts, he produces music, and is a DJ for weddings and other privatefunctions.

Married with two children -- a 3-year-old daughter ("she's a littleprincess") and a 6-year-old son ("he loves music as much as I do")-- he lives with his family in suburban West Palm Beach.

Now and again, he enjoys telling his wife, Mikel cie, aboutoccurrences during his workday at the Four Arts -- like the daylast season when he met actor Tucci.

So we wondered: Among the famous people Irene has met at the FourArts -- five others besides Tucci -- and what was it like to meeteach one?

1. Legendary soprano Barbara Cook. "I met her during a sound- check,and she was super fun and exciting to work with. ... After sheshook my hand and greeted me, she asked if she might have a glassof spring water and then she went to rest in the green room (anoffstage waiting room/lounge) before her performance and, to makesure no one disturbed her. I sort of acted as a security guard,standing watch outside the door."

2. Master American pianist Jeffrey Siegel, a soloist with many ofthe world's great orchestras. Irene has met him a few times beforeSiegel's concert-plus-commentary appearances at the Four Arts."During one of his presentations, I learned so much about thefundamentals and the creation of the piano. ... When he walked intothe auditorium (prior to one of his presentations), I was playingthe piano because we had just gotten it tuned and I was testing it.He asked me all about what I like to play on the piano and how I'ma music producer, and he gave me all sorts of pointers. By thesecond time I met him, he talked to me like we were buddies."

3. Eric Whitacre, one of the most popular choralconductor- composers working today who conceived the Virtual Choirproject, a series of assemblages of voices from around the world heposts on YouTube. "I had learned about the Virtual Choir aboutthree years ago," Irene said, "but I certainly didn't think thenthat I'd be setting up Mr. Whitacre's PowerPoint presentation atthe Four Arts and that I'd actually meet him. He's a real humbleindividual, considering all of the things he has accomplished inhis musical career."

4. World-renowned opera soprano Renee Fleming. "I met her during asound-check. ... I didn't know who she was at first, but afterseeing how many people were attending (Fleming's event) that day, Idecided to Google her -- which I did quickly -- and I was amazed bywhat I found with all of her accomplishments in the music world."

5. Princess Maria Pia de Savoia. "She was here for a Campus on theLake lecture-and-interview series. I set up her mic and helped withother pre-setup. When she found out I was from Haiti, we startedspeaking French together. In French, she asked me about all I do atthe Four Arts and about other things. Considering she's a princess,that seemed so down to earth."

When he's not at the Four Arts, he produces music, and is a DJ forweddings and other functions.

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