When the lights come up on the Bret Harte Theater stage revealing a lone pianist or the entire Mother Lode Youth Symphony, Kelly Ellifritz is in the theater control booth making sure everyone in the audience can see and hear the performance.

As theater manager, Ellifritz schedules rehearsals, concerts, recitals and other performances to take place in Calaveras County's new and only performing arts theater. He also designs the lighting and sound for performances.

"I can go with a wireless mike, a hardwired mike or the hanging mike on the stage," he explained as a Bret Harte High School piano class rehearsed for its end-of-year recital.

Ellifritz carefully set sound levels for a recording he was making of the class performance.

"I'll record this so they can listen to it in class and see where they need to improve," he said. "It's so they can listen and learn."

At 39, Ellifritz said working in live theater and other performing arts is where he wants to spend his time and his life.

In his office just a few steps from the control room, Ellifritz has stacks of books on stage lighting, stage rigging and stagecraft.

"Live performance working on sound and lighting started as a hobby, became a passion, and now it's kind of an obsession for me," he said. "I read lots of technical books. Can't get enough. The theater business is so big you just can't learn it all."

Ellifritz, who lives in Murphys with his wife, Tracey, has learned more than one craft through the years. In the Air Force he was a jet engine mechanic, working on F-15 Eagles.

As a kid growing up in Manteca, he wanted to be a professional baseball player. "I had a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds when I was 19, and I played with some California and Mexican teams," he said, the memory giving him a chuckle. "In the Air Force, I played ball, and that was great double headers on Sunday during baseball season."

Later he worked as a plumber and a carpenter and had his own landscaping business.

Ten years ago, he met Tracey through a mutual friend. She had just moved to Murphys to be with her mother, who was dying of cancer.

"We like to say her mother brought us together," Kelly said. He and Tracey cared for her mother until she died.