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Working behind the scenes, Brandeis techies integral to theater

By Jacob Edelman

Section: Features

April 8, 2016

“Techies” is an ubiquitous term in theater that many use to describe the team of people who run shows behind the scenes. These individuals lend to the performance and actors many of the tools necessary for creating a thespian spectacle for viewers to enjoy.

Tres Fimmano ’18, Sara Kenney ’18 and Zak Kolar ’18 all work in theater at Brandeis, and through the various areas they participate in, have plenty to say and admire about the work these individuals do to ensure that the show goes on. Fimmano is an HSSP and Theater Arts double major and History minor, Kenney is a Theater Arts major and a Medieval & Renaissance Studies minor and Kolar is Computer Science and Education Studies double major and Theater Arts minor.

The term “techie” can mean a number of things to different people. “Techie is a very general term, but it is pretty inclusive … it probably makes more sense to be specific when talking about specific people who have all different kinds of involvement,” said Fimmano. “There are producers, stage managers, directors, set designers, carpenters, technicians, prop masters, scenic designers, costume designers, run crew, board operators, sound designers and the list goes on and on.”

Techies often find themselves at their busiest during the final week before a show opens, a period known as “tech week,” when they rush to complete the building of sets, get the actors used to the setting they’ll be performing in and put the finishing touches on a show. “For the Undergraduate Theater Collective, we scrunch a bunch of shows into a short time period, forcing us to do things differently. Build doesn’t start until the week of the show, and the actors stop rehearsing so they can help with it, and they won’t get to do any kind of run through or rehearsal until two nights before they open at the earliest,” detailed Fimmano.

Kolar has a passion for theater lighting. When describing the work that he does to make the lights for a show, he goes into great detail describing the care and nuance that is involved with creating just the right illumination for a performance. This sort of skill is part of what goes into turning a script into a true work of art. “The colors depend on the mood and overall feel of the show—for example, a sad, dramatic play might have a few subtle shades of blue whereas a big musical would have a bigger variety of bold, saturated colors,” he described.

Technical expertise is necessary for a position like Kolar’s. He is required to work with creating diagrams of the theater space, photometrics (which takes into account the size, brightness and distances of light beams), hanging lights, setting cues with actors and operating the lights themselves from a light board. “In the real world, the lighting designer’s job ends once the cues are written, and someone else actually runs the light board during the shows. In the UTC, I sometimes run the light board myself and sometimes have someone else do it depending on my availability and the show,” said Kolar.

In a different technical capacity, Kenney has served as a props designer for four shows this year. Being a props designer involves acquiring all of the props that are to be used by actors in a show, along with ensuring the safety of actors while they use the items. Kenney commented, “Any object or detail mentioned in the script—from the specific LP records in ‘This is Our Youth’ to the Salisbury steaks and sporks in ‘Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead’—automatically becomes a part of my job.”

Kenney also observed that while the process of finding props seems straightforward, the process of finding items appropriate for the specific show, scene and actor can be “incredibly meticulous.”

To find the items needed for a show, Kenney will make herself familiar with the show being performed by reading the script, then analyzing what the specific actors might need while on stage. She is then responsible for budgeting, shopping and coordinating with set designers to determine all things pertaining to the props she procures. With a highly organizational job, props designers like Kenney need to stay constantly aware of the location, condition and availability of physical items that they are tasked with stewarding.

Similar to Kolar, Kenney describes finding the right prop as a nuanced process, similar to finding the right pair of shoes. “Propping a show isn’t strictly limited to finding any old lamp, album or phone; it’s all about the look, feel and soul of an object,” and continued by saying, “I feel like I know a lot more about the crafted of Amazon searching and online thrifting than most people—I can find three kinds of chicken suits in under a minute, that kind of thing—but also how to make tons of fake food out of Styrofoam.”

Because of the wide variety of tasks and shows that techies find themselves working on over the course of a semester, jobs and skills can overlap easily. A designer may have experience as a carpenter, or a lighting technician (like Kolar) may have had experience working a light or sound board. Fimmano points out that overlap can be useful to one’s technical skill-set, however certainly is not necessary for someone to do a good job. Sometimes, however, when theater at Brandeis finds itself understaffed, techies can find it difficult to not work on multiple tasks over the course of one show.

Fimmano spoke of the difficulty techies go through in terms of time commitment, saying, “I think that a particular challenge that’s specific to the UTC is what’s expected of techies to do with less than a week for build. It puts an insane amount of stress on everyone, and the fact that people still manage to get to class and do their school work is amazing.”

He went on to say that the most fulfilling part of being a techie is “the sense of creating something.” He continued by saying, “It’s funny how you can read a script and from there a million different products can come from it and every production is going to do something different. It’s interesting having the ability to put some of yourself into something like that.”

Because most of what techies do is behind the scenes, many audience members do not notice the care and utmost attention to detail that many of these workers put into their craft. Kolar pointed out, “In a perfect show, the audience doesn’t notice any of the tech elements because they are seamlessly integrated with each other and the actors to create the world of the show.”

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