Most of the hard work that goes into making every McDaniel theatre production passes by without acknowledgement. Although many of the student actors dedicate a large portion of their time to each project, the techies—students who handle everything behind-the-scenes—often do not even receive applause from the audience but, rather, a name in the back of a program.
Their work and passion deserves to be recognized.
During a tech week (the week before the production’s opening), a techie can work an average of 41 hours. And some, especially light crew, put in their hours not during the day, but late at night.
Such a large amount of man hours might beg the question: Why are they not being paid or at least protected by a labor law? Athletes are protected in terms of amount of workouts. Why not techies as well?
After interviewing multiple techies, we found that the answer was simple. Techies were proud of the work they put into each and every production and could care less about what recognition or legal protection they get. Money has never been a concern for them. It is only about seeing their hard work come to conclusion on stage.
“We work until we are satisfied with what we have done because we know that there are people depending on us,” said senior sound designer Elizabeth Lucarelli. “Most of us love being proud of our work because if we can’t do it right, then there is no point in doing it at all.”
On top of finding satisfaction in seeing the final product, many techies point to the tight-knit community that one becomes a part of when participating in a theater production.
“Even after all of the times I have complained, I will not regret it in any way. The knowledge, skills, and friends I have gained outweigh all else,” said junior light crew member Logan Otremba.
Techies often also receive credits for their work in the theatre, considering most of it is part of a class. Putting in the extra work is simply a way to hone their skills.
“I think of it as their learning labs,” said Professor of Theatre Arts Elizabeth van den Berg. “It is just like actors in rehearsal. They are learning their craft.”
Lucarelli added, “We also use our real life experience on our resumes which show our skills in those areas.”
For those techies seeking to practice their craft with payment in return, there is an opportunity for work study under Professor Ira Domser and the possibility of working as a Teacher Assistant (TA) in any Theatre class.
Of course, being involved in tech would be easier for someone in the Theatre major as opposed to other academic pursuits.
Senior and President of Alpha Psi Omega Alexis Davis said, “Since I am a theatre major, a lot of my work in the theatre is included in the classes.”
But even non-theatre major techies feel the importance of showing up for their work on each theatre production, whether they’re receiving credit or not.
“If I wasn’t there then there wouldn’t be anybody else to do it,” said junior sound designer Dani Allen. “That’s why I’ve never missed a tech week rehearsal.”
However, with such heavy responsibility comes a large amount of pressure. To combat this high demand, the unwritten “Three Hour Rule” was implemented to let techies know it was okay to leave after three hours of work if they needed to.
While this has sometimes been effective in putting academic and health concerns first, in other situations it has left techies feeling guilty for having to leave “early” to get some shut eye.
“While I have been told time and time again that I can just stop and get my work done, there is always that sense of guilt one gains by not being there,” said Otremba. “It almost sometimes feels like a subtle way of guilt-tripping us into staying and working in the theatre when we should be doing school work. I don’t blame anyone in particular for that, though; working with my fellow technicians creates a certain kind of camaraderie between us.”
“The theater is so demanding because the show is going to happen,” said Allen. “There are no extensions like for a paper in a class. There’s a definite deadline. Whether everyone is prepared or not by show time depends on everyone handling their responsibilities.”
Even if techies feel pressured to work longer then they can afford to, there are solutions available to them.
Professor van den Berg said, “If we hear from someone who was overworked, then we will talk to the people in charge of the crew at the time to manage time better to get everyone out in a three hour time window.”
Does working these late hours affect techie’s grades? Benjamin Franklin coined the saying “early to bed, early to rise.” But techies aren’t necessarily getting this opportunity because of their late hours.
Research shows that eight hours (possibly even six) are needed to have an alert and healthy day. Techies would barely get six hours of sleep if they had a class at eight the next morning.
“At times it can affect grades very poorly,” said Lucarelli. “Especially if you are in a leadership role as a designer or Master electrician or any role that you are responsible if something is not working right.”
Otremba said, “I have most certainly noticed that my grades drop, especially near opening night of a show where the hours get insane.”
However, many point to time-management as being the main issue in causing a loss of sleep and a drop in grades. It sometimes just comes down to planning ahead.
“We all know when a production is going to occur,” said Lucarelli. “We can, for the most part, plan our lives around it by doing homework weeks in advance when possible so that everything due during the week before the production is finished ahead of time.”
A main reason, though, that techies are forced to work so late into the night (especially light crew) is because of the lack of facilities open for work during the day. The rooms that are used for work on theatre productions are also used as classrooms which prohibit any opportunity to come in during the daytime.
There are three rooms that are both used for classes and production work. There is the Green Room, the Understage, and the Main Stage.
A possible solution is the future renovations of the theatre which are predicted to finish by 2013. The theatre workshop will be turned into an acting studio after being moved to another building outside of the theatre, while the underlobby will become a light lab.
If circumstances allow, techies like light crew would have the opportunity to come in during the day and put some work done instead of coming in late at night. It is obvious to both faculty and students the great need for renovations to the theatre.
“The theater is a wonderful space that the students and staff have done a great deal with, but it is need of some love,” said Lucarelli.
It is easy to see how much techies have to work through, besides long and late hours. The McDaniel Theatre is in need of a major overhaul.
When asked what they would change about the theatre, many of the techies and faculty had a long list of possibilities.
“I honestly wish the department had a bigger budget,” said Alexis Davis. “Over the years, Ira and Elizabeth have had their visions cut because they don’t have the time or money for it.”
Professor van den Berg said, “I would build a brand new performing arts center on campus. It would have a gallery of fine art and classroom space for music, theatre, and dance. What we have here in Alumni Hall is all converted space which was never designed to be a theatre in the first place.”
“A major thing I would add would be classes on sound and sound design as well as the technology to support it. The only audio call offered at McDaniel is that in the communication department taught every spring. However, it only focuses on radio and television,” said Elizabeth Lucarelli.
“If I could change one thing in the theatre department,” said Logan Otremba, “It would be the safety hazards that pop up sometimes. I can think of several instances where even if I was paying complete attention to what I was doing, I still have almost fallen out of spaces and ladders that go up at least 18 feet to the ceiling where we hang lighting instruments.”
And under all of these circumstances, the techies and the theatre faculty still work and produce exceptional productions for the campus and Westminster community every year.
So next time you are about to go to sleep at night, just remember that while you are going to dreaming comfortably in your sheets, other students just like you are going to be working into the early morning.
And because of that, they aren’t just students. They’re McDaniel Techies.
Reporting was contributed by Ashley Day and Sang Lee.