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Out of Spotlight, Hillcrest Stage Crew Shines

Apr 07, 2016 02:33PM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

Midvale - Hillcrest sophomore Lillian Willis often goes unnoticed when the stage lights go on to state-winning musicals and plays at her school. 

She, as well as 21 other stage crew students and 24 Introduction to Technical Theatre students each term, is found after school, on weekends and other days when classes aren’t held, hammering, screwing and piecing together sets for the show.

“I don’t need to be in the spotlight,” Lillian said. “I get recognition from the actors and if other students don’t know how things work on stage, then we’ve done our job. My favorite part is knowing I built something and was a part of it.”

Classmate Mary Pope agrees: “It’s fun to be in on the secret and knowing I helped create this piece by piece, but it’s not needed to be recognized.”

As part of the stage crew class requirements, students are required to complete 25 after-school hours to put toward the assembly of a set. This includes lighting, costumes, sound and stage construction.

“My favorite was sitting inside the raft during ‘Big River’ last year and making it move. Not very many people knew I was in it, so it was magical,” Lillian said.

During late February, students were constructing an island and a pontoon boat for the show “Argonautika,” slated for March 17-19.

“By doing sets, I’ve learned how to build things, and that translates into doing home projects when something needs fixing. Before, I had no idea what a ¾-inch ply was, and now it’s just second language to me,” she said.

Senior Jorden Reese wants a career as a sound designer or technician after graduation.

“I’m much more interested in the sounds and lights and the fly reel,” he said. “I’ve learned how to work them digitally. It amazes me when an actor says, ‘Show me how to work this microphone’; it has become second nature to me and how to limit the frequencies they share on the radio.”

The Intro to Technical Theatre students spend eight hours outside class helping with set construction plus job shadowing the stage tech crew to learn how to run the show. During this spring, students either worked on “Argonautika” or will help with the school’s Broadway revue May 12-14.

Freshman Harry Sullivan said he was learning to use tools, such as a miter saw, as he was building the set.

Classmate Ryan Perkins said he learn more about not only construction but teamwork as well.

“It’s fun, but you have to work together,” he said. 

Lillian said one of her favorite parts of stage crew is problem solving.

“I like looking at what we need to build and saying, ‘I want it to look like this and this is how we can build it.’ If I can’t figure it out, then I can ask to see if someone else has an idea. We want to come up with a solution before we present it to our teacher,” she said.

Giselle Gremmert, who has been the stage tech and technical theater teacher for two years, encourages active problem-solving.

“I want them to anticipate a problem or something that may not happen the way they planned and discuss it before they approach the project,” she said. 

Such was the case with the 28-foot turntable they used with the carousel during the fall musical, “Carousel.”

“Building the carousel was relatively easy, but incorporating every piece of scenery on it and around it took hours of time. The horses were labor-intensive and the LED lights ended up blowing up a light board, so we rented a new one and had to reprogram it last minute. ‘Big River’ was the most challenging since we had to build the set in one week as others were using the stage. There are challenges, foreseen and unseen, that students need to be prepare for,” Gremmert said.

Hillcrest theater director Josh Long applauds the students working backstage.

“They are the show,” Long said. “They’re not helping; they are the show — the ones who create the most memorable parts of the show, the visual and sound — that everyone remembers. These students don’t need to be acknowledged. It’s their selflessness I applaud.”  

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