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Published: October 09, 2012

Technical Theater Training Transitions Students to Professional World

Sitting on the Ruth Eckerd Hall stage, a handful of UT students watched as LED lights were compared with tungsten in an experiment using a piece of colorful fabric.

The jungle print morphed to an underwater seaweed scene with the switch of a blue gel over the lights, and then again to a desert sunset with a quick switch to an amber gel. The students were attending a lighting master class on Sept. 27 as part of the Technical Theater Career Training program offered by the performance hall and the entertainment production company PRG.

“I love doing lighting because with different types of lights you can create different emotions,” said Errick Rees ’14, a film and media arts major with two minors in communication and exercise science.

“You can change the whole mood of a scene just with the lighting,” said Rees, assistant stage manager for the musical DROOD, which will run in Falk Theatre Nov. 15-18.

UT students joined the group of about 50 from 15 Tampa Bay area high schools and colleges. This was the first of four classes in a series of professionally led workshops revolving around production for the stage, including scenic design, audio and stage technology.

Alex Amyot, UT’s technical production coordinator, said the program gives students a look into the behind-the-scenes operations of modern entertainment.

“By their very nature of being backstage, technical production careers are often unknown to the audience in front of the curtain,” Amyot said. “Opening the doors to a large set of highly skilled, well-paid jobs in the entertainment production industry puts our students at an advantage usually not found at a liberal arts university.”

The project was born of the wish of Zev Buffman, president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall, to do something significant in education beyond the routine after-school arts instruction offered by many performing arts establishments, said Haig Mardirosian, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. The collaborative program marries innovation in the arts with how that world relates to the community.

“Clearly, the student benefit rests with what I would term ‘authentic learning,’” said Mardirosian. “As students involved in the use of technology in the performing arts get to work with and alongside of the experts in the business out on the line, they understand the ‘real world’ scenario in ways that rarely happens in a classroom.”

Mardirosian didn’t diminish the legitimacy of classroom work, but emphasized the powerful aspect of experiential learning.

“When our students last week were introduced to the variable, programmable lighting that the PRG technicians brought to the Ruth Eckerd stage, they not only saw these as pre-professionals, they had the opportunity of learning hands on from the very legend in the business who first programmed moveable light,” Mardirosian said. “Can it get any more authentic than this?”

Emily Thaler ’13 loves being involved in every aspect of the stage.

“The minute I’m stage managing I have such a great time, but then I get jealous because I want to be on stage,” said Thaler, who has an acting role as Rosemary in the upcoming Picnic, which runs Oct. 11-14. “I just want to do it all.”

Thaler said the technical training is especially helpful from a stage management perspective since it’s best to know all aspects when managing. “You need to respect everyone around you because you have to rely on them. If you don’t respect them as you respect your own craft, you won’t get very far.”

Both Thaler and Rees want to work professionally in the theater and view this as a step in the right direction. Mardirosian said those participating in this program have already taken the first step.

“Few artists ever get to live free, unencumbered, artistic lives. The arts student who learns broadly, who knows the technology as well as the skills of performance, enjoys far greater marketability and has, furthermore, a deeper sense of the integration of the pieces into the whole,” Mardirosian said.

“These students will also have access to rich internships, some with PRG itself, and will extend this experience out into the marketplace,” he said. “Their transit into the professional world has, by virtue of a project like this, already begun.”

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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