Behind the Scenes with the Technical Theater


As the house lights dim and the Overture for Seussical begins, stage manager Kira Kirby sits in an unusual seat; on a balcony ten feet above the audience, with eyes on every aspect of the show. As stage manager, Kirby leads the show, making sure that those behind the scenes all do their part to pull off a successful show. “I’m in charge of what happens on the stage during the actual run of the show. I sit up on the fly rail about ten feet above everyone else and I can see everything on the stage. I do something called, calling, which is [for] every time that there’s a cue for something that needs to be done, usually either for lights or for in this show, our slideshow presentation. I tell them when to do it.”

Wauwatosa West’s Trojan Players concluded their fall production of ‘Seussical the Musical’ on November 12th, 2022. Just like any production, a group of students hid in the shadows to make sure things went smoothly.

Camille Socol

Student leadership is the core aspect of tech crew at West. Students new to the crew are mentored by those who know the ins and outs of the theater. A process that constantly churns out new leaders every year. “You get to learn from people who have had the experience of a tech crew. A million problems can be thrown at you and you aren’t ever truly prepared for it. But by being able to learn from the people who’ve been through it, you can adapt more and you also build the relationships that you might not get from other ways of teaching,” said senior Abby Burgardt.

Many students remarked on the benefits of this style of learning. The teaching and learning method promotes a close bond between tech members, “[New crew members] get a sense of family with everyone. The moment you join the tech crew [you are] welcome. [Our technical director] is one of the nicest guys I know. He’s pretty supportive too. He helps you out with anything you need, as does everyone else in the tech crew, and it’s really fun. A lot of people who joined never have done any hands-on stuff until they started tech crew. A lot of people pick it up really quick and it’s fun.” said senior Dylan Heater.

“It’s not just team building, but it creates a sense of community and family, you get to know a lot of people. You also get to learn a lot about power tools, you get to build a bunch of stuff, and you get to know all the stuff that goes on in the theater and how there’s just so much more than just the cast and people who sing,” said sophomore, Lia Fuerst.

That community is vital to every show where each student is vital to the production, no matter how small their role. “I think it’s really great how involved it is. Everybody works really hard to get to the point so we have a show. It’s amazing how everybody does their part and in the end it all comes together,” said junior, and tech newcomer, Julie Hovhanessian.

A strong community also keeps students in the program year after year. Many students participated in technical theater in middle school and continued in high school. “I started in middle school. I did a bit of painting for ‘Lion King Jr.’ and even back then I loved painting. Going on into high school, a lot of my friends were doing it and that played a big part but also I love the design aspect and knowing that I had potential to improve things and make things cool and show my vision,” said senior, Lydia Cordova.

“It was actually my fifth grade art teacher who said that if I was really interested in art, I should do tech crew for the Whitman shows and now, I’ve been doing it ever since sixth grade,” said Fuerst.

The main reason many stay in the program is the people they connect with and the sense of accomplishment they feel from participating, “[Tech] is where all of my friends come from and that I just have so much fun every show. It’s really rewarding to see all of your hard work come together in an awesome production,” said Kirby.

Tosa West’s technical director, Dale Shively, who has been involved in theater since he was in high school himself, retired from running technical theater at MATC a few years ago but has been working with the Trojan Players for almost a decade and has always enjoyed working with students. “I like working with young energetic students and sharing what I know and hoping that they learn and take it and use it for the rest of their life.”

Many life skills are taught through tech such as how to use a drill gun, pneumatic staplers, and simply how to assemble room framing that goes into large set pieces. The logic of putting all of those pieces together comes together to make the shows come to life. Each student constantly uses what they’re learning on every production since practically everything is built by the crew. “The tech crew builds the entire set. We build anything that the actors are usually standing on or that they use or that [the audience] can see. We also hang those backdrops that you see. We also sometimes will make props or find props,” said Kirby.

There are no shortage of challenges when it comes to a production. The recent show ‘Seussical’ was no different. Unlike most shows, every aspect of Seussical was located on stage, including the audience. Positions such as the stage manager, sound technician, and lightboard operator that are normally placed at the top of the theater were now ten feet from the stage. For sound that meant setting up the microphones for an audience two feet away from the stage instead of thirty. “For me personally, some challenges for this show are getting the mics balanced out for the sound. That’s really any show actually, it’s just a bit more difficult for this one since we are backstage instead of up in the house. It’s also kind of nerve wracking [when] switching mics because you could turn someone’s mic on and they could be offstage, talking about something random and [everyone] hears that. You’d hear that on the stage as an audience member and you don’t want that. So it’s working around those things and learning the show [as well],” said Heater.

While ‘Seussical’ is considered a smaller show in the eyes of the tech crew, the Tosa West Trojan Player’s next two productions, ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s: Cinderella’ and Wisconsin’s first high school production of ‘Frozen’ require a large grou

p of motivated students to run the show. Tech crew relies on new, motivated students to keep the program running, being willing to learn from their peers so that big productions can be successful year after year.“ It’s really important that the upperclassmen learn their job and responsibility in tech crew to the best they can to teach those underclassmen because we’re not like a Broadway theater, we don’t have people staying for years and years so we have to train the new generation to learn what we know. And it’s that helps the theater program continue to grow. Each year I feel like we have more and more potential coming up from middle schoolers, who are now freshmen, who I’m excited to see carry on the future of the Tosa West Theater.”

While ‘Seussical’ has concluded, production for ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s: Cinderella’ will commence in January 2023.