When people think of a theatre production, they tend to think first of the actors. But there’s a bigger story to tell behind the scenes.
Students in the CCSU Theatre Department’s B.F.A in Technology, Design & Production live and breathe their work, putting in 12-hour days as production managers, stage managers, and all the areas of design along with their support fields.
“We have people in the honors program and people who struggle to keep their GPAs up but are here every day because they‘re so passionate about theater,” says Theatre Department Chair Scott Bartley.
The job of a set designer, for instance, “depends on the actors’ ability to tell a story,” according to Bartley.
This interplay between actors and designers is evident in the Theatre Department’s upcoming production of “Sweeney Todd,” a tale about a wrongly imprisoned barber who seeks bloody vengeance first on the judge who convicted him, and then the whole world.
“The most important part of scenic design is the suspension of disbelief,” says Bartley. “We’re working on setting the story in an operating room theater in the mental hospital. Back in the 1800s, when they did brain surgery they did it in front of a school of med students, so we’re trying to recreate the scenic design as if we’re in the mental hospital.”
What’s expected and what’s possible
“We describe ourselves as a pre-professional program, which means that we are following the professional model but don’t have professionals working alongside the students,” says Bartley.
Technology, Design & Production students take on a rigorous schedule. In preparation for the last production, “Trolius and Cressida,” Tech Week began on a Monday.
“We start with a crew view, which is the last time we run this show before adding the technical aspects,” Bartley says. “We run this for the crew to observe the show and any final changes in blocking.”
The long hours continue as the week unfolds.
“There’s an additional rehearsal for the actors to get acquainted with the space. On Friday we work noon to 5 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m. This is the standard theatre schedule, like they would at Hartford Stage,” says Bartley.
Senior Erin Sagnelli ’19 manages to achieve everything required of her as a B.F.A Technical Theatre (Design Emphasis) student. She also works as prop master at Theater Works in Hartford.
“I’ve wanted to be a theatre professional since the seventh grade,” Sagnelli says. “That was the only thing I could see myself doing … so I jumped in head first at Central.”
Her work load reflects her passion for stagecraft, which has only grown through her work at CCSU.
“We’re in the shop four hours a day at a minimum,” Sagnelli says. “Most of the majors will stay after for two to four hours after lab ends. We have labs as a science class does. We use the time to work on the show. Even with the requirements, I think every single technician goes above and beyond their own will.”
Sagnelli has gone above and beyond since day one. She remembers her parents’ concern over whether a professional career in Theater was even possible.
“They wanted me to have financial stability in my future,” she explains. “Once I started working professionally, they were more convinced.”
Sagnelli has never needed convincing and advises other students with similar interests to give the program a try.
“Jump in, even if it’s a small thing or not the focus you think you want,” she says. “Get your feet wet immediately anyway.”
Stagecraft, or Theatre 111, is offered as a General Education course. Students in Construction Management and Technology Education often enroll in Stagecraft because they already know how to use a table saw and want to do some construction, according to Bartley.
“A lot of the advisors in the Construction Management and Technology Education departments point students toward this class,” Bartley says. “We’ve also seen cross-collaboration with Robotics students seeking out our Lighting courses.”
As members of the Stagecraft class, students have the opportunity to work on whatever production is running. The expertise the non-Theatre majors bring to class complements that of the BFA students.
“The Construction Management students have an understanding of what we’re doing because they can read blueprints,” he explains. “They look at drawings and can assimilate what we’ll be doing that day. The Tech Ed students are using power tools, just in a different way.”
Sagnelli and Bartley consider the world of Technology, Design & Production as a rarified experience.
“The students are go-getters. It’s a competitive but supportive environment,” Bartley says.
As for the 14- to 20-hour days, “It’s part of the gig,” Sagnelli says. “We’re all cheering each other on in what we’re doing. Central’s about having a rounded skill set. It turns into everyone being willing to help everyone else, and knowing how to.”
Central’s production of “Sweeney Todd” will run from May 1 to 5.