Saddleback Community College SOCCCD Collaborative 2008-2009CTE Grant Funded ExternshipPresents The World of Technical Theatre By Ann Bergen Career Guidance Specialist San Juan Hills High School Capistrano-Laguna Beach ROP Externship Dates: July 2-3, 2009
The Dual Sides of Theatre For most people, the concept of theatre arts conjures up images of theatrical performances with colorful costumes, live orchestras, musical scores and talented actors often in the style of Broadway extravaganzas. While much of this description is based on the rich heritage of the American theatre experience, there exists another equally creative world that extends beyond the spotlights known as technical theatre. The culture of technical theatre, and with it a multitude of careers behind the curtain, offers a rich and artistic experience for those choosing to stay in the shadows of the stage while expressing their “art”.
San Juan Hills High SchoolSan Juan Capistrano, CA In the hills of San Juan Capistrano a gem of a new regional theatre designed for student use and learning was opened in the fall of 2008. • SJHHS Theatre Facts: • Seating: 600+ • Fly System to accommodate backdrop & set changes • Automated Orchestra Pit • Multilevel Seating • Box Office & Online Ticket Sales • Exceptional Acoustical Sound • Private Rental Opportunities
Learning the Arts Exploring Career and Technical Education (CTE) through South Orange County, California’s newest regional theatre at San Juan Hills High School was a natural match for the SOCCCD Grant Funded Externship. Not only are local colleges and universities (such as Saddleback Community College) opening academic programs in technical theatre and design but high school drama departments themselves have been promoting and teaching career related skills in theatre technology for some time.
We Begin The two days of exploration of technical theatre began with meeting Robert Stewart, currently San Juan Hills High School Theatre Manager, for an extensive guided tour of the theatre. Along the way, Mr. Stewart explained the many careers incorporated throughout the theatre’s departments as we explored beyond the stage and behind the curtains. Mr. Stewart has had over 30 years of technical theatre experience in the areas of production and stage management before joining the SJHHS staff as Theatre Manager.
Behind the Scenes Mr. Stewart’s theatre experience has ranged from working at the Orange County Performing Arts Center as well as participation in theatrical productions nationally and internationally. In true technical support style, Mr. Stewart requested to remain behind the scenes as the externship report was formulated pointing to career opportunities for young theatre students to explore instead. It is with that in mind we begin to explore the many careers that are available away from the spotlight, in the areas known as theatre design and technology.
Finding the “Tech” in Technical Theatre With the advancement of technology, it is no wonder live productions have become increasingly sophisticated. Common to most live performances are the following key elements:
Arts, Media & Entertainment Technical Theatre is a Career Pathway within the Arts, Media & Entertainment Industry Sector
Various Careers within theTechnical Theatre Pathway • Make Up Artist • Prop Manager • Set Designer • Carpenter • Rigger • Stage Manager (SM) • Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) • Stage Crew • Costume Designer • Seamstress • Dresser • Sound Board Operator • Sound Designer • Light Board Operator • Lighting Designer
The Control Room Booth The tour of the San Juan Hills theatre begins in the control room center obscurely located behind the audience’s seats, sometimes known in the technical theatre world as “the booth”. The booth contains the lighting and sound equipment needed to run a live production.
Sound While in the booth, we were given a short overview of the sound board and its many properties. Contrary to popular belief, a sound operator does not control a master on and off switch. Specifically, sound technicians learn to manipulate various sound frequencies in microphones for voice performance, musical instrumentation, as well as pre-recorded audio.
Let There Be Lights Adjacent to the sound board is the light board run by the lighting operator. Most theatre lights are hung over the stage and the audience. These lights are electronically controlled by the light board. Theatre lights come in various colors, sizes and intensities. Light combinations are programmed into cues and run during the show. As technology has advanced, so has the capacity to program a multitude of lighting combinations.
In the Spotlight Separate from the programmed lights are the traditional spotlights. The SJHHS theatre also incorporates these manual lights to highlight individual performers. Theatre students often find their initial experience with light operations is with a spotlight.
Elements of Design Apart from the light operator is the lighting designer, an artist in their own right. Lighting designers are in collaboration with the director during the programming phase of a show influencing mood and timing. It is not uncommon to have more than 200 light cues preprogrammed for one show. As an instructional opportunity for the externship, our participating theatre student was given the assignment of designing and programming the lights for a musical of their choice.
Beyond the Curtains Outside the booth and high above the stage, other specialized effects take place. At the San Juan Hills theatre, there is a “fly system” which accounts for the building being the tallest on campus. Within the fly tower is the ability to house several scenery backdrops or equipment which can be “flown” into the flies for quick scene changes.
On the Fly The fly system is operated through a complex looking system of ropes and pulleys that may be operated by the “flyman”, i.e. a crew member that operates the flying equipment. A demonstration on operating the fly using our accompanied theatre student proved that backdrops and sets several times the weight of the flyman may be maneuvered up and down through the strategic system with ease.
Rigging the Fly Fly riggers are specialized stage crew members that attach the scenery and equipment to the fly system. Entire careers are organized around various stage crew positions such as being a “rigger”.
Playing it Safe With the theatre’s high up technical locations and catwalks, for attending to the “lofty” needs of productions, particular care and training on safety is imperative to the well being of all theatre participants.
Need a Lift? Other equipment, such as the lift, also requires strict supervision and instruction for the theatre students. The theatre manager at SJHHS is acutely aware of the many levels of risk that must be overseen due to the advanced design of the facility. Student safety and the proper use of the equipment is paramount.
A World Down Under Other strategic points along the tour were pointed out such as the stage trap door and the automated orchestra pit. The SJHHS Theatre Manager’s job is to oversee all extensions of this highly complex and sophisticated building while school is in and out of session.
Costumes No theatre is complete with out the accumulation of unique and elaborate costumes. Current drama teacher, Robert Rigg, has brought with him to SJHHS not only his many years of experience as a theatre professional but also an extensive collection of costumes from previous productions. Many colleges and universities are highlighting costume design as a creative component to their technical theatre programs.
A Set Up Shop and carpentry is not dead in the public schools as some would say, it has simply moved to the scene dock shop. The design and building of sets have brought drama students together in the common goal of putting on a performance. Learning to design, build, paint, set up and strike the set when the show is complete, has taught numerous students the carpentry skills that those outside of the theatre world can only imagine.
Props Managing and acquiring volumes of props is both a logistical and often design challenge. Prop (short for Properties) managers are required to be organized, pay attention to details and item authenticity, all of which are essential to the creative process.
Tickets Please Selling tickets is the ultimate goal of all performances for without the audience there would be no show. The ticket booth needs special overseeing as thousands of dollars can easily change hands for just one show. Current technology also is there to assist as tickets may now be purchased online in advance and picked up at the will call window. Business and marketing acquired skills is another of the many hidden experiences offered to student participants. Those with hearing impairment may also check out headsets for their added assistance.
Not to be Forgotten... Many other key positions are found in the technical side of theatre such as: • Dresser – Crew member that aids with dressing the performers • Electrician – Chief, Deputy and Assistant – necessary to keep the proper working of lights • Orchestral Conductor – Conducts the Orchestra • Dramaturge – Responsible for the literary interpretation and meaning of the play and historical accuracy
The Director Artistically speaking, the person responsible for the interpretive aspects of a stage, film, or television production; the person who supervises the integration of all the elements, as acting, staging, and lighting, required to realize the writer's vision is none other than the director. Once the director has completed his work, he is often seen in the audience as the play is performed. Many times the director will move to another theatrical project as the current production continues to run. Question: Who then is running the show if the director takes his leave or becomes an audience member? Answer: The Stage Manager and the stage and technical crew.
Stage Management Headsets on, dark clothing to blend into the shadows with and prompt book in hand the stage manager’s job kicks into high gear just before the curtain is raised. Prior to the show’s opening night, the stage manager is busy scheduling rehearsals, meeting with the director, participating in auditions and overall organizing and bringing together all the elements of the entire production. It is the stage manager’s job to insure the director’s staging and creative direction are carried through into the live performance.
From Start to Finish Throughout the run of a show, the stage manager is in charge from start to finish. Through “calling” the show, which may include calling the cues to the light board operator; checking on sound quality; double checking with the assistant stage manager (ASM) on scene changes; checking with performers regarding entrance cues; or overseeing prop management, the stage manager’s job is to execute the director’s artistic plans and instructions during the live performance. What the conductor is to the orchestra, the stage manager is to the show. Managerial skills and acute problem solving abilities are essential to this adrenalin filled position.
The Prompt Book With so many tasks to be mastered, the stage manager relies on their “prompt” book to keep the show running smoothly. This notebook holds all the lighting cues, master script, musical numbers, rehearsal and show schedules and numerous other important pieces of necessary information to insure the running of a production. The prompt book is the stage manager’s self produced instruction manual to preserve the director’s vision and instructions.
The Final Curtain Call • Thank you to the following for making “The Technical Side of Theatre” presentation possible: • Saddleback Community College and the SOCCCD Collaborative 2008-2009 CTE Grant Funded Externship Program • The Capistrano Unified School District • Capistrano-Laguna Beach ROP • San Juan Hills High School • Robert Stewart, San Juan Hills High School Theatre Manager • CUSD/Tesoro High School Theatre Arts Alumni: • Hilary Bergen- Tesoro Stage Manager 2008-2009 & all around “Techie” 2005-2009 • Brooke Bergen- Performer 2003-2007