As a theater major, Dan Frank said he has learned problem-solving skills and improved his communication and leadership styles by being involved in productions like “Wonderful Town” and “The Tempest.”
But audiences at Grand Valley productions aren’t likely to see Frank on stage; he and many other students work backstage performing critical tasks before, during and after the show to ensure theater patrons enjoy their experience.
It’s “theater magic,” according to Chris Mahlmann, technical director for the Louis Armstrong Theatre.
“There are almost as many, if not more, students involved in the technical side of theater as there are actors on stage,” Mahlmann said.
With tasks like building sets, learning to design lighting and sound for a show, creating and sewing costumes, or serving as stage manager, students who are majoring in theater learn an array of behind-the-scenes jobs.
The interdisciplinary approach helps graduates market themselves to theater companies, Mahlmann said.
“I always tell students to get as broad of a theater experience as they can, to learn a bunch of different skills. If someday you’re mopping the floors of a theater and the lead actor and understudy can’t make a performance, tell them you can step in,” he said.
Like many stage actors, Frank said his dream would be to work in New York City.
“I always say my long-term goal is to do lighting design for a Broadway show but short term I would like to do work with more local or educational theaters,” he said.
Stage crew jobs are not only for theater geeks. Lyndsie Calhoun is majoring in psychology and behavioral neuroscience and has been a student worker for the theater department since 2016.
“I have learned a lot from the job, ranging from basic carpentry to time management skills. We have specific deadlines to have our set pieces completed and that requires us to plan ahead,” Calhoun said. “There is definitely a sense of accomplishment that accompanies this job; I appreciate what I’ve learned and am proud of the projects I was able to build by myself.”