Behind the scenes, design and tech students take the lead in theater productions

Before the semester started and actors were cast, Diem Nguyen, a theater major and set designer, read scripts, wrapped his brain around how to visually convey the essence of stories, and sketched out sets.

Nguyen then took his vision to Michael Ruiz, a senior theater arts manager and stage shop manager, whose job was to figure out how to make it work practically on stage – what kind of wood to use, for example, or what size do a particular Platform.

Meanwhile, in his role as lighting designer, senior theater arts major Dylan Latham worked hard to “paint with light,” as he puts it, figuring out how to light the stage in a way that serves the better the show.

When those lights came on at Sacramento State’s fall theater productions, the cast took center stage. The work of Nguyen, Ruiz, Latham and three dozen students working in the design and technical fields, however, was – though often unseen – essential to their success.

This year, two decisions enhance the experience these students receive, helping to better prepare them for careers in professional theater.

“In my time here at Sac State, this is one of the most truly collaborative experiences,” said Michelle Felten, vice chair of the theater and dance department and director of “The 25e Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” one of two upcoming productions. “We’re trying to create an environment where (for) students it’s not just about doing. They’re really in leadership roles in other areas, and the mentorship is deepening.”

“Spelling Bee,” an upbeat musical, ran from October 27 to November 27. 13 The Other Show, The Dark But Powerful Room »The Laramie Project”, opened on November 3 and ends on November 20.

“It’s important to chart the paths of theatre, to go in and help students recognize that these bold choices that are made for what the environment looks like, there’s art in there, there’s There are careers in that, really exciting careers — Stephen Jones, Assistant Professor of Drama and Dance

The shows are for the first time presented “repertoire style”, with performances on alternate weeks. After the first weekend of performances of “Spelling Bee”, the students spent the beginning of the following week switching stages to the “Laramie” set for her performances on the second weekend, a pattern that continued throughout the month.

This experience which will be useful for students if they work for a festival or another place where several shows are in production simultaneously.

This year, the students also benefited from much more creative control over the technical elements of the productions. The shows are entirely designed by students, under the supervision of the teaching staff.

“We’re seeing student enthusiasm for being able to make visual storytelling choices,” said Stephen Jones, an assistant professor of theater and dance who teaches stage design and stage design.

Students are making innovative practical choices, Jones added. One, for example, designed a smoother way to move the scenery when changing scenery.

“It’s important to chart the paths of theatre, to go in and help students recognize that these bold choices that are made for what the environment looks like, there’s art in there, there’s there are careers in there, really exciting careers,” he said. said.

The two shows couldn’t be more different, presenting unique challenges in their design for them to run concurrently. ” The 25the Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a fun, light and heartwarming send-off of academic competitions. Students converted Playwright’s Theater into a makeshift school auditorium, complete with school-themed flags and banners.

“The Laramie Project,” on the other hand, chronicles the 1998 murder of Matthew Shephard, an openly gay young man from Laramie, Wyoming, through the real words of locals and others interviewed after the murder. Production of Sac State of the minimalist game features a simpler set of eight chairs that are rearranged and rearranged as needed, including to create the fence that Shephard was tied to after being brutally beaten.

“I find it interesting to do these two pieces at the same time, because you have one that’s a really happy piece about kids who like to spell, and the other not so much,” Nguyen said, noting that the setting of ” Laramie” is literally built on top of the whole “Spelling Bee”. “You can’t have both at the same time, but we can.”

For “Laramie,” Nguyen sketched out a rustic, natural setting, with weathered wood to give the impression of a small town where there isn’t much new. “Spelling Bee,” she said, involved more artistic elements, including the school-themed posters and banners that will line the “gym” wall.

For the three student leaders – Nguyen, Ruiz and Latham – taking on this level of responsibility on a theatrical production is a first and has been, Ruiz said, “liberating, knowing that we can take the reins and we can take responsibility.” .

“But then the fact that it was in the safety of a school setting was really nice, because you don’t have the stresses of the real world yet,” Ruiz said. “It was very helpful in gaining confidence. Alright, we can do what we learned.

Latham agrees. His roles as assistant lighting designer on “Spelling Bee” and lighting designer on “Laramie Project” included everything from determining the specific shade of color with which to light a scene to the actual operation of wires and circuitry. .

The faculty, Latham said, were supportive, not telling him and other design and technical students what to do, but offering advice and suggestions and letting them find their own solutions.

“I definitely learned a lot about the process and how to do it,” he said. “I feel quite confident.”

About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined Sac State’s communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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