Setting the stage: New technical theatre class teaches wide array of skills

Students of the St. Charles Parish Public Schools’ first year Technical Theatre Class.

Group builds set for Wizard of Oz production

For a major production on any stage, be it a play, television show or movie, those who are front and center —the actors — tend to earn the bulk of the public’s attention.

But even if they seek the spotlight, there’s somebody behind the scenes supplying just that, as well as the set, the audio, the costumes and much more to make those performances truly draw in the audience. While those setting the scene won’t see their name in lights, those in “showbiz” know just how valuable they are.

“We always say actors are a dime a dozen, but good technical theatre people are diamonds in the rough for sure,” quipped Samantha Eroche, instructor of St. Charles Parish Public Schools’ first-year technical theatre class.

Six St. Charles Parish High School students, five of them seniors, are taking the course, which covers just about everything that goes into putting on a theatre production beyond the on-stage performance: designing and building a set, working the lights and audio, and working on costumes, props and makeup.

The students had been working on those items for the October performances of The Wizard of Oz held at the Lafon Performing Arts Center, where they convene for their classes.

When they arrive at the center, they’ll check their to-do lists and create their plan to tackle the next objective in the site’s workshop. And while the toolsy layout of that room might reinforce notions that things like set construction and lighting tend to be male-dominated job areas, these students, all female, have no time for such stereotypes — and it shows in the high quality of their work. They’ve all bought in.

“I’m really excited to say that two of our five seniors in the class are making technical theatre their senior project, and my one junior wants to come back and take it again next year,” said Eroche. “We’re trying to offer a route for our students into those skills and professions that maybe they haven’t considered before. The things they’re learning can branch into other professions.”

Hahnville senior Alexis Olivier, for example, wants to go into carpentry — and she learned that about herself from the class. Olivier was initially interested in going into interior design, and looked into the technical theatre class because it covered aspects of that career path.

“And then I got into it, started set design, carpentry … my paw paw used to do carpentry, so I got interested in it. When we started building, my interest grew,” said Olivier, who now doubles as a paid student worker with the program after fulfilling her internship hours in training. “I really enjoy it. We’re always doing something different. It keeps me on my toes because it’s not just the same thing each day.”

Fellow Hahnville senior Claire Plaisance wants to ultimately be a special effects makeup artist.

“We always say actors are a dime a dozen, but good technical theatre people are diamonds in the rough for sure.” — Samantha Eroche

“I get to dabble in that here,” she said. “It’s a really exciting experience where we get to learn skills we hadn’t had much experience with before.”

The Wizard of Oz set the group put together is based on design of those who put the show together at Madison Square Garden in New York. That presents a starting point, as does the show director’s parameters of what he wants the set, costumes and other overall show aesthetics to look like.

“So, we present them with this and say by Friday, we should have this, this and this knocked out. And they take their own initiative with it. They come to us for guidance when needed, but otherwise, it’s all them,” said Mitch Conroy, Lafon Center Technical Director.

Added Eroche, “The director kind of only told them, ‘I want Munchkinland to look like Candyland’ … otherwise, they were in charge of ‘I want this color, I want this texture, I want the spiral on the roof to look this way.’ They had to work in parameters but also were able to come up with their own ideas, so they’ve been able to be both set designers as well as the builders.”

The Wizard of Oz is something of a trial by fire, but it’s the best way to learn.

“There are a lot of big, moving pieces and a lot of multitasking. It’s so scary, but also the best thing to train on,” Eroche said. “If the first couple of shows are one or two set pieces or one costume change, it’s not as rigorous or challenging. We want to get them ready to go into the field.”

Eroche said the idea going forward this year is for each student to narrow their focus to one or two specific aspects of the program for the spring semester, for example costumes and lighting. Beyond that, the hope is to expand the program by including more students and perhaps adding a morning class to go with the current afternoon offering.

“Technical theatre jobs are growing … an entry level position might be a spotlight operator, which pays $20 an hour, and that’s a very quick training I could teach in a day,” Eroche said. “Careers are there …. Costume lighting, sound designer, master electrician, hanging lights … and we can hire them after graduation to come back.”

 

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