It started with a couple of broken radios in the family’s South Florida basement. Brad Thyng ripped them apart as a child to see if he could fix them. He could. From there, he only got better with audio gear.
“My older brother was in a band, so he had some sound gear,” Thyng said. “I started learning about the sound gear and recording and just kept going.”
It took years of fighting fires, firefights – and building on his experience with the broken radios of his youth – to bring Brad Thyng to the back of the Wynona Thompson Auditorium in January to prepare for the drama club’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” He sits nearly invisible in the soft glow from the lights of his soundboard and the limelight of the dog at his feet. He likes it just fine that way.
“In the rear with the gear,” Thyng, now the tech director at the auditorium and owner of Paradise Studios, said. “I get the enjoyment of performing on stage without being in front of the audience. I stay in the darkness.”
Thyng satiated his appetite to perform on stage in his younger days. He played guitar with his brothers in a band called “Brothers in Paradise.” Somewhere, the thin man in his 50s with a thinning coiffure has a demo CD proving he once had more hair. He played his first gig with them at the age of 16 and got on stage in a few high school theater productions before shifting his focus to the technical side of putting on a show.
Thyng’s career path has taken him far and wide, but working with audio equipment remains close to his heart. It’s another way to help people, something he’s done his entire life.
“It’s strange to do anything or think of doing anything else that’s not helping people,” Thyng said.
After bouncing around other parts of the South, including a stint spinning records at a country-western club in Texas, he built a career spraying water and rescuing people as a firefighter in Boynton Beach, Fla.
“Ever since I was about that tall,” he said from Wynona’s backstage, holding a hand at knee height, “I wanted to be a firefighter. I just had that need inside me to help others. I just had a blessed life that I’ve been able to do all that.”
He didn’t leave the turntables behind in the Lone Star State. While working 24 hours on/48 hours off shifts at the fire department, Thyng had plenty of opportunity to hone his craft, spinning records in his off time and occasionally recruiting his fellow firefighters for some extra muscle to move the speakers.
Thyng has never been one to quit moving. A self-described workaholic, he moved to Cody just a week after his retirement. That was back in 2011.
Flush with time, he began passing the days by twiddling his thumbs at the newly minted Mountain Paradise Ranch, waiting for the wind to blow down one of his fences. The ranch outside Cody wasn’t his first crack at retirement and as he often saw with his colleagues at the fire department, it didn’t stick.
“My therapist said that my career was all adrenaline,” Thyng said. “My brain is used to just work, work, work … So being retired and doing nothing wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t good for me. I needed to be productive and keep going. I needed to get back into something.”
That led him to contract work in the Middle East during the Iraq War.
Thyng walks around the Wynona Thompson Auditorium, getting things ready for the impending rehearsal of “Romeo and Juliet.” The show is a little over a week away and all of the student actors are off-book, Elizabethan English and all.
Close at his heels is Teacup, a post-traumatic stress disorder service dog that (almost) never leaves his side.
“I like to call her my supervisor,” Thyng said. “Without her, I feel like I’ve lost an arm. The worst part of the month is those couple of hours when I send her to Wash Dog for a bath.”
Thyng started developing symptoms of PTSD by the end of his firefighting career. His brother noticed his symptoms were worse after he came back from Iraq in the mid-2010s.
“I wasn’t really paying attention,” Thyng said. “It was more like an intervention. So I went and sought help. That’s the hardest thing when you’re a rescue-type person. Your whole life has revolved around helping everybody else. It’s really hard to step back and say, ‘I’m broken, and I have issues, and I need help.’”
Teacup is Thyng’s second service dog. Maizie, his previous one, was diagnosed with cancer last spring, and the community organized around him to get another dog.
Led by Beth Blatt and Leigh Tuten, the campaign led to more than 70 people donating to the cause, and Teacup became a community symbol.
Thyng hid his PTSD for a long time. It wasn’t something he wanted to discuss or acknowledge. Now with arguably the most popular figure in Cody at his side, he can’t hide it anymore.
“When it got so bad I realized I was going to need her, I wasn’t gonna be able to hide that I had issues,” Thyng said. “So, I think of it more as a positive now. She’s kind of like a billboard for what PTSD is about.”
Depending on the situation, Thyng doesn’t mind when people come up to pet Teacup. The theater kids have come to love her, and she helps get them ready to perform if they’ve had a bad day. Still, she is a working dog, bonded to Thyng.
She often senses when something is wrong before Thyng realizes it himself. She can snap him out of anxiety attacks or prevent them before they start. He credits Teacup with keeping him off medication and employed. He took the job at Wynona Thompson when he wrapped up his Middle East contract. It’s work that is familiar to him.
“It’s kind of like the work that I used to do,” Thyng said. “I’m still helping people. You’re providing a service, you’re giving and it’s just in a different capacity. It’s not life-threatening. It’s not endangering my life. There’s nobody shooting at me anymore. It’s just fun and relaxing.”
There is still plenty of work to be done before the show. Thyng’s new soundboard allows him to program the entire show – microphones, lights, everything – from the touch of a single button. Teacup will be right there at his side, in the rear with the gear. An icon in the community, she’ll steal the spotlight. He likes it just fine that way.
(Samuel Ceisler and Robin FitzClemen contributed to this story.)