by Maya Margolis

Last year during the annual Shakespeare play, current senior Claudia Hermano was backstage when she realized that a set of important lights hadn’t been plugged in. The show had already started, but in the spur of the moment she started army crawling across the stage, hoping not to get seen. She plugged in the lights and slowly returned while the cast laughed hysterically at her.

Hermano works as stage manager for many of the high school’s performances, helping to run and produce the shows. According to many “techies,” the backstage work is an essential part of creating a show. A huge part of doing the technical work is being prepared for things to go wrong.

Hermano started doing tech work her freshman year when she did not get to take a drama course. She helped out backstage for the musical, moving the set during transitions. Hermano said that she fell in love with it.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s one of my favorite things to do,” Hermano said. “I love being part of the process and I’ve done almost everything. It’s just kind of a nice feeling to see it come together and to know you play such a big and key role to it.”

Photo by Kendall McGowan The crew works together to build a new set.
Photo by Kendall McGowan
The crew works together to build a new set.

According to drama teacher Mark Vanderzee, students get involved in tech either from working directly in shows, like Hermano, or by taking his course, Backstage: Power Tools and Special Effects. The course supports many of the high school’s productions, such as drama, music and dance. Vanderzee said that his students learn how to build sets and do lighting, sound, costumes and stage management.

“A lot of what we do is problem-solving: figuring out how you achieve this vision for the piece, and kind of working within our resources to be able to do that,” Vanderzee said. “It’s intellectually stimulating and also physically stimulating.”

According to Vanderzee, tech can really help tell the story of the production.

“The playwright has written the text to tell the story, and then the director has taken that text and created a vision to help tell that story,” Vanderzee said. “And the actors have taken the directors’ vision and they’re creating characters and relationships and dynamics and situations that help tell the story. Tech is simply another way to do that. We have the ability to create mood. We have the ability to help tell story. I think it only enhances the audience experience.”

As stage manager, Hermano is usually in the sound and light booth in the back of the auditorium, calling cues for the light and sound operators and managing transitions. She said it can sometimes be terrifying, but that she loves the feeling when she knows everything is going to be okay.

“Seeing maybe the last 20 minutes of a show is such a relief,” Hermano said. “I get this kind of high off of it. You know you just put all this work into something and that it turned out right. It’s so amazing.”

Junior Katie Richardson said that she also understands the stress of being in the booth. As a sound designer and sound operator, she figures out where the right sounds should go in a scene and then operates it during the production.

According to Richardson, the sound and music in a show can really make the show come alive, but actually operating the sound can be stressful since she doesn’t know when something will go wrong.

“Then there’s technical difficulties,” Richardson said. “There’s things you can’t really prevent. Let’s say a speaker stops working in the middle of the show. You’re worried about messing up. You’re worried about accidentally hitting a button.”

Senior Katie Hong, who puts together costumes for the Shakespeare play, said she understands the hecticness of backstage. According to Hong, there was an actress last year who had to wear a dress with a train that kept on falling off. During one of the shows, Hong had to sew on the train while the actress was changing.

“That’s what really happens in backstage that people don’t really know about,” Hong said. “Things just go wrong and you have to go by it.”

According to Vanderzee, nothing ever goes perfectly, but it is the techies’ and actors’ responsibility to make sure the audience does not know about it.

“If you’re well prepared, then when things don’t go exactly as plan, you are able to handle them calmly and in a collected way,” Vanderzee said.

On the other hand, Hermano said she also has many experiences of things going right. During the Shakespeare play of her sophomore year, she was in charge of the sounds for a sequence in which a girl was being killed onstage and her neck was supposed to snap, she said.

She decided to scrunch a water bottle in the booth to make it sound like a neck snap.

“I had to play wolf noises and howling and have mics on, and then had to cut a mic out and scrunch a water bottle into a microphone to make it sound like a neck snap,” Hermano said. “It gets the best reaction out of the audience. I was always so terrified that I was going to mess up or that something bad was going to happen. But we never messed up. It was really amazing.”

Maya Margolis can be contacted at [email protected]