By: TCA Technical Diretor Karen Bunch
We have been extremely fortunate here at Tecumseh Center for the Arts (TCA) to have a program entitled the Student Technical Corps. This program allows us to train students in technical theatre jobs, those “behind the scenes” and performance jobs that most people don’t think about as they watch a live performance. In fact, techs like to say that if they’re doing their job, most times, you likely don’t even realize that they’re there!
Though quite informal at first, it seems that the TCA’s Tech Corps has always been an integral part of who we are. The Corps, which is now officially in its second decade, has seen more than 160 middle and high school students, aged 12-18, participate in the program. Every year, we train and hire high school aged students to work everything from locally produced Homegrown Season Performances to National and International Touring Shows.
During the past five years, we have also included introductory, hands-on opportunities to explore the world of tech theatre at our annual TCA & Tecumseh Youth Theatre (TYT) sponsored Summer Drama Camp. Students have been introduced to lighting and sound boards and other equipment, have worked on sets and costumes, and on make-up and playwriting. July 2019 will mark the third year of a sold-out stage technician-only drama camp class. We have some returning campers, but there are also first-time tech students as well. These students will work with the TCA staff and provide technical support for the performers’ culminating shows at the end of each session of Drama Camp.
But, I get ahead of myself…
When the Tecumseh Civic Auditorium (now the Tecumseh Center for the Arts - TCA) first opened its doors in February 1981, there were several adults who “teched” shows – everything from concerts to films were covered with a crew of only 3 part-time employees. As the schedule grew to include touring shows, such as The Acting Company from New York, Famous People Players, Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats, or Meadowbrook Theatre, where the number of crew to load the show in and out required 8-12 people, we called on local community members who were familiar with live performances to work as techs for the day. Most would literally take a day off of work from their own daytime jobs, or schedule it into their day to get the touring show onstage.
Performances increased throughout the years, and programs such as Tecumseh Youth Theatre (TYT) were introduced. We found that including the “kids” on the tech crew was a great experience for them. Most early TYT casts included people from ages 5-80, so why shouldn’t the crew include middle and high school students? That was the beginning for many young people to explore their interest in the technical aspects of theatre and live performance. We were literally training the next generation of technicians, while fostering new Arts patrons.
Little did we know how well that idea would take off…
We originally had 3-5 kids involved, on an informal, volunteer basis only, mostly for TYT shows. They worked directly with adult volunteers backstage as stage running crew, moving sets and props, assisting with make-up and costumes, as well as lighting and sound. As the program grew and things began to develop, we created an “official” Student Tech Corps who were part-time, as-needed techs who were responsible for helping staff community, regional, and national touring shows. This continues on today, as we rely on our Tech Corps of about 20 students to help us bring the great shows you see to life!
For most of our student techs, this introduction and training into the world of theatre is the first “real” job they will have. Of course, not all Student Techs will seek jobs in theatre or live performance, but we are honored to have been the starting point for many students who continued using their TCA-learned skills beyond high school, and for several that have entered into careers in the industry.
We thought you might enjoy hearing about what they’re up to in, Where Are They Now??
The Early Years
Jeff was one of our very first student techs who continued on in the live entertainment field after high school graduation. He attended Jackson Community College, now Jackson College, worked with Vision Performance Group in Adrian, and went on to have a 7-year association with Feld Entertainment, working exclusively with national and international touring shows of Disney on Ice. At various times, he worked as a lighting tech who loaded-in and -out lighting rigs and equipment, rigged them (climbed to the top of ice arenas to drop secured cables, lines, and motors to lift the lighting rigs over the surface of the ice), and programmed and operated the lighting board for shows.
After an adventurous life on the road with Disney, which toured throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Central and South America, Europe, Australia, Japan, and Korea, Jeff returned to the area, working at Jackson College, first as an audio, lighting, and stage tech, and is currently their Senior Theater Technician.
His IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Union crew membership work has sent him to some of the largest venues in the state, working alongside some of the biggest names in the entertainment business: Comerica Park, the Wharton Center, Cobo Arena, The Breslin Center, with shows such as The Rolling Stones Tours.
When Greg was first contacted about possibly being a part of this article, he was “… currently sitting in the dark in the Power Center (at the University of Michigan) while (lighting) focus (was) going on.” Love it - well done!
After Greg graduated, he attended Jackson Community College and worked for a time in the area. He and his wife Casey moved to High Point, North Carolina in August of 1998 to work for the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival where they lived until 2004. While in North Carolina, Greg worked for the Festival off and on, was a house tech for the High Point Theater, a carpenter in the theatre department of University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a part time house tech at North Carolina School of the Arts, and was a union stagehand, joining IATSE Local 635 in 2000, where he was elected President in 2003.
Greg and Casey moved to the metro D.C. area (Alexandria, VA) where Greg went to work as a scenic carpenter for The Shakespeare Theatre Company, a Tony Award-winning regional theatre company in Washington, D.C.. In 2008, he became their Scene Shop Foreman.
They returned to Tecumseh in 2013. Since then, Greg has worked as a union stagehand and joined IATSE Local 395 in Ann Arbor, which afforded him the opportunity to work at various venues throughout Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Toledo. He has also worked as a carpenter for University Productions at the University of Michigan, and has gone to Charleston, South Carolina in the spring for the past 5 years to work with the Spoleto Festival U.S.A.
Terry was also one of our first “techies.” Currently a Vice President at Mercury Sound & Lighting in Metro Detroit, Terry attended Jackson Community College, and Specs Howard School of Broadcasting and Media Arts in the Video Department. After graduation from Specs, he worked for WILX-TV 10 in Lansing, Michigan as a Studio Camera Operator and Editor.
After working at WILX, Terry had the opportunity to work for Feld Entertainment and Disney on Ice for nearly 7 years as Head Electrician. Like Jeff, he was able to travel the world while working with some of the most talented skaters and entertainment technicians in the world.
When he returned, Terry joined the Political Productions team, where he toured with the 2003-04 Presidential campaigns of both major parties, fulfilling their production needs, while also working at Pegasus Theatrical as a Project Manager. He then went to Fantasee Lighting as Operations Manager for another 8 years. Before he accepted his current position at Mercury Sound & Lighting, he worked at Joseph Productions, Inc. as their Production Supervisor.
Next Gen – Halfway there!
Matthew Chandler – Matt received his Master’s Degree from Florida State University, and has worked in a variety of venues since. He eventually settled in Chicago and became an Associate Production Manager at The Goodman Theater. He worked on four direct-to-Broadway transfers, which means they made their debut at The Goodman and then went straight to Broadway. Those shows were Million Dollar Quartet, War Paint, Chinglish, and Desire Under the Elms. He also worked on many regional and international transfers – direct from The Goodman to places other than Broadway.
During Matt’s tenure as Associate Production Manager, Goodman Theater performances included many notable actors and personalities such as Dennis Quaid, Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey, Mary Queen of Scots), Stacy Keach, and John Mahoney (Frazier).
Matt recently accepted a position with Orange County, California’s Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory as their Director of Production. He hit the ground running and within 2 weeks of starting his new job, had his first show. https://www.goodmantheatre.org/
Matt Halberstadt started as a TCA tech, running a spotlight for TYT when he was in 8th grade. He worked as a part-time paid tech through High School, and after graduation, attended Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton where he received his Master’s Degree. While at MTU, he worked at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts, and was hired in as a freshman, something he was told “never happens.”
Shortly after graduating from MTU, he was hired into the Research and Development Department at Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC), one of the world’s preeminent lighting design and manufacturing companies. He has been recently promoted to Technical Product Manager II, Entertainment Controls, where his attention has been on ETC’s Eos, Augment3d, ColorSource Console and CueSystem. He is directly responsible for those products, and helps on ETC’s recent acquisition (High End Systems) and the “Hog4” family of lighting control systems.
One of ETC’s founding members, Fred Foster stated that their company develops professional tools, and makes them accessible to everyone. ETC products can be found in small and large venues worldwide - theaters, churches, restaurants, hotels, schools, television studios, casinos, theme parks, and opera houses. Indeed, our lighting control board, dimming system, and many of our lighting fixtures at Tecumseh Center for the Arts are ETC products! What goes around comes around?
Amy has been working in the IT department at Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) as an Audio/Visual Media Tech for 7 years, providing support for classroom technology and conference spaces. She also administrates WCTC’s digital signage software on campus.
She began her technical training at the TCA, and worked as a technician through high school as well as after graduation. She also worked locally for Joe Jenkins’ Vision Performance Group in Adrian for load-in (set-up), as a crew member, and striking (tear-down) at various events and venues throughout Michigan and Ohio, including Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Bowling Green State University, and Adrian College.
Michael was a TYT alum, working backstage and with lighting for many shows throughout middle and high school. He was a Student Tech for nearly 4 years, and after graduation helped with our annual summer lighting and sound maintenance tasks. He also helped tech the TCA Summer Series shows and dance recitals by local dance studios.
Michael graduated from Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo, where he interned for a summer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He currently works at Miller Auditorium on the campus of WMU, primarily as the Assistant Head Electrician, and also as a general stagehand. He works with the Head Electrician of Miller to help run the Electrics Department.
He has done everything lighting related, from light plot hangs (physically hanging, circuiting and focusing) to show calls (working behind the scenes for shows), and everything in between. Miller hosts events for WMU, lecturers, bands, and Michael’s favorite; touring Broadway musicals. “It’s pretty similar to my time at the TCA,” Michael says.
His favorite show that he worked on so far was The Phantom of the Opera. “The show is massive compared to most Broadway shows. It takes three 16 hour work days to put together. They use 18 semi-trucks to (carry equipment and) take the show on the road across North America.”
During the show, Michael was a Tower Follow Spot Operator, which means for every show, he climbed a 20' tall lighting tower and ran a spotlight for the show with a Broadway flat (a wall of sorts) masking him from the audience. “It was such a cool and unique way to see the show, and a bit toasty when pyrotechnics went off!”
Michael became friends with a fair amount of the Phantom crew and an actress named Carmen. “One night after a show, we were talking and I mentioned that I had seen Phantom during my travels to London. I’ve been told many times before that the theatre world is very small, but what really made it sink in was her telling me that she was in the production I saw in 2012 in The West End in London.I still have the program from 2012 and found her in it, she signed it, and we still keep in touch.”
Michael plans to stay in Kalamazoo one more year or so, and then work as an electrician with a touring company, “… hopefully a musical!”
After David graduated high school, he enrolled at the University of Michigan (U-M) in the Electronics Engineering Department. He has continued to work in theater and Performing Arts as a student, and has added a theatre minor to his schedule.
David worked with Vision Performance Group throughout Michigan and Ohio during the summer and into this past fall. He works in the electrics shop (lighting) at University Productions where he has participated in lighting eight School of Music Theatre and Dance Shows each semester. He has loaded in, focused, and struck nearly every show since he’s been at U-M, and has worked on run crew for several. “Because of my experience from the TCA, I have quickly become a trusted member of the lighting team at the University of Michigan,” David said.
He has also continued to volunteer for the theatre with one of the oldest student groups on campus, MUSKET, which performs each semester at the Power Center. He has volunteered his time as assistant lighting designer with that group. “Thanks to the TCA, I’ve continued to make theatrical production and volunteering a part of my life.”
David starts an exciting summer job soon at the Tuacahn Amphitheater in Utah.
Maryssa just finished her freshman year at Adrian College, double-majoring in Musical Theatre and Political Science. During her first semesters, she has had the opportunity to be an Assistant Stage Manager, a Lighting Designer, and an actress. Maryssa hopes to be the next Lin-Manuel Miranda and is working on writing her first show.
We’re also very happy to say that Maryssa will join us as a college intern here at the TCA this summer!
In addition to those who chose a career in The Arts, we have also had several former techs who took advantage of their TCA training to secure jobs in the theatre, audio/visual, graphics, communication departments of their colleges and universities, as well as and other theatre/live performance related jobs. There was even a former tech, a doctoral medical research student at the University of Michigan who was the light board operator/lighting tech for the Medical Department Talent Shows at the Power Center while he was earning his degree!
Of course, not everyone continues on after graduation or chooses a career in the Theatre or Performing Arts world. In fact, the scope of jobs our former techs have chosen runs the gamut. We are pleased to have had a future Assistant District Attorney, the above mentioned research doctor, studio and working musicians, a mortgage processor, business owners, entrepreneurs, and an executive chef among our tech corps alumni. Plus some of these folks are moms and dads, which is a full time job in and of itself!
Regardless of what our techies chose as a career, we believe that what they learned here at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts as Student Technicians will help them wherever they end up on life’s path – teamwork, cooperation, self-reliance, confidence, and reliability are qualities all employers value. Beyond that, we hope that we have helped to foster a love and interest of future generations as patrons of The Arts!
We hope you have enjoyed looking back with us, and looking into the future of some of our tech “kids!”