Students reflect on importance of technical theatre

Pallevi Pillai

Junior Olivia Sumner, along with the rest of the technical theater (tech crew) members, spend hours meticulously crafting sets, adjusting the pitches of sounds and lighting in order to create the best ambience for performers to take the stage. These are just some of the many responsibilities of a member of tech theater. 

According to Sumner, third-year tech crew member and stage manager, tech crew works on every production which takes place at the high school. Tech theatre classes teach basic skills in lighting, sound, scenic construction and theater management. This year tech crew worked on production for “Because Their Hearts Were Pure”, “Studio One Acts”, “Our Town”, and supported every band, orchestra and choir concert. They are currently working on the spring musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, which begins on May 17th.

Tech crew is in charge of all aspects of behind-the-scenes production; this demands a wide skill set from crew members. Efficient collaboration among the crew is crucial in order to have  a successful production, according to Andrew Okerson, tech theatre instructor and auditorium director.

setting the stage:
Junior Olivia Sumner pushes part of a stage outside of CHS. Tech Theater members must prepare aspects of the stage for performances at the school. Sumner said she enjoys the work she does for tech theater, though said she wishes they got more credit. (Arthur Mansavage)

“Depending on the production, we have between three and 50 people on a crew,” Okerson said. “There will always be a stage manager, a light board operator and a sound board operator, but we often add video, rigging, make up costumes, props and house management crews, too.”

With so many hands on deck working behind the scenes during a production, there is always a chance for error. With that chance for error, Sumner said, comes a sense of pressure for tech crew to constantly adapt in the background while performers are onstage.

“Things go wrong a lot. That’s just natural in a performance because we are constantly moving lights,” Sumner said. “As stage manager, I definitely feel the pressure because I call all the cues on stage. Sometimes a person in charge of lights could turn them off at the wrong time, and since I’m in charge of the show, I have to be ready to think on my feet.”

Claire Bartley, first-year tech crew member and sophomore, said she agreed with Sumner, and added that time constraints on stage exacerbate the pressure of production.

“During “Because Our Hearts Were Pure”, we did not have a lot of space backstage because we were in the Studio Theatre and we had a ton of big set pieces,” Bartley said. “We had to get our scene changes in under 10 seconds, which was very hard considering we did not have a lot of room to store pieces and move quickly.”

Sumner said auditorium renovations have made productions particularly difficult this year for tech crew. Plus, due to renovations, many school productions took place at offsite locations. 

“Because of the renovations, we lost the auditorium workshop,” Sumner said. “During the first few weeks of summer, a group of five of us would move all of our equipment from the old space to an old dance studio in E rooms in order to have a workshop space this year.”

Okerson said this shift in location created a short window for set design and production.

“We only have three weeks to build, rehearse and produce the winter play, and this year it was at another building. Being efficient with our time and making sure everything is ready when the audience arrives has been the biggest challenge,” Okerson said.

The spring musical, one the most popular school programs of the year, will take place at the varsity gym due to the renovations. 

Sumner said, “We’re going to every musical rehearsal for blocking notes. We’ve also been doing marketing to fund the show. We don’t know what the setup is for the gym, and it’s unclear right now how costume changes will work as of now.” 

A Fresh Coat: Tech Theater students, senior Allison “Alice” Amburgey (left) and junior Kylie Lethen (right) paint and build a desk for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Students at the preparation were told to paint the desk both black and white throughout the block. (Christian Ledbetter)

Okerson said tech crew has been diligently planning and adapting to create a production in the new space.

“We have been planning this show since September,” Okerson said. “We are bringing in several large trucks of professional sound, lighting and staging equipment. All of those pressing issues are in addition to building sets, gathering props, measuring for costumes and the hundreds of other jobs that have to get done. It really is going to be a great show.”

Despite the fact that tech crew works behind the scenes, Okerson said that he does not feel that they are overshadowed by the performers.

He said, “Our performers at CHS are incredibly kind and appreciative of our work, it makes it a pleasure to come to a show. Also, without us, everyone would be in the dark, so we are just as essential as the on-stage talent.”

Bartley and Sumner, however, expressed different views on the topic.

Bartley said, “ I feel like people just don’t know how much work we put into the performances. The audience doesn’t see us perform but they see the actors. And that is what they care about. I wish people knew how much work we put in.”

Sumner said she agreed with Bartley, but said she was proud of the work they put in.

 “In the ‘Evening of Show Choir’ program, [the members] weren’t listed, even though we did the whole set up for twelve hours straight,” Sumner said. “But our work shows through, and that’s what matters the most.”