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After light designing just one show, Kelzie E. Beebe ’03 had shows beating down her door, asking her to work for them.
Beebe is a rare find on campus for student producers, who struggle each semester to find sufficient technical staff to run their shows.
“I get probably every semester 20 offers to do shows, from the biggest shows to the smallest shows,” Beebe says.
But a solution might come from an amendment passed last Friday at a sparsely-attended Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) open meeting.
The newly updated constitution of the HRDC reads, “The HRDC Board shall institute a mandatory technical theater requirement for actors in Loeb [Drama Center] shows.” The exact nature of the requirement is still to be determined.
HRDC Technical Liaison E. Peyton Sherwood ’04 says the amendment seeks to mitigate the chronic shortages of student technical staff in the Loeb, a problem that has existed for years.
Sherwood says it could also foster a stronger sense of connection between those on stage and those back stage, “bridging the actor-techie gap.”
And, board members say, the new requirements will improve the quality of shows. Requiring a larger group of people to fill technical roles, Sherwood says, will train potential directors in fully utilizing the technical capabilities of campus theater spaces.
The shortage of technical staff is hardly a new problem. Sherwood says graduates from the classes of 1996 and 1995 have told him stories of scrambling to find light and sound operators when they were first-years.
As far as why these positions go unfilled, Sherwood says he thinks many students have priorities in different places.
“My speculation is that Harvard students are concentrating more on academic and leadership-type things and less on the hands-on type things that are required for the technical theater jobs,” he says.
Lesley W. Ma ’03, who has produced four shows and had trouble finding technical staff each time, says the problem has to do with the nature of backstage work itself.
“These jobs are not as glamorous as acting or directing can be,” says Ma.
A further aggravating factor, she says, is that technical theater requires a sizeable time commitment.
And for technical directors taking on more than one show at a time, the work can be draining. Beebe light designed “four or five” shows last semester, and she says that though she enjoyed each experience, it was simply too much for one person to handle.
“By the end of the semester, I was like, ‘I never want to set foot in a theater again,” she remembers.
Ma says that she’s still looking for people to fill run crew positions for her upcoming show—which opens tomorrow.
Building the System
The actual requirements under the new amendment haven’t yet been hashed out.
HRDC President Benjamin D. Margo ’04-’05, who is also a Crimson editor, says he wants requirements written before next fall’s Common Casting, the process by which HRDC shows are cast, so potential actors will know exactly what will be asked of them.
He says the writing process will be open to input from members of the campus theater community, by way of at least one more open meeting.
“In some sense this is an experiment,” Margo says, “but it’s our job to figure out fair and enforceable rules.”
Though the amendment passed at the meeting by a wide margin, fewer than 30 HRDC members attended, making it difficult to gauge more widespread opinion. But there are strong opinions on both sides.
Hasty Pudding Theatricals Vice President of Tech Mathew J. Ferrante ’05, who has also served in several technical roles in the Loeb, says he expects the new amendment to result in difficulties at first—but that it will eventually ease the demand for technical staff and give actors another perspective on what it takes to put together a show.
“I think it’ll be a very positive thing for the HRDC,” Ferrante says. “It’ll take pressure off of some of the people who usually do [technical work], but it’ll also make actors that much more vested in the shows they’re working on. They’ll say, ‘I made this show happen in more ways than just by being in it.’”
But the amendment has its naysayers as well.
At the meeting, some HRDC members said they were worried that increased demands on actors’ time would discourage them from participating in theater and might make the community seem too exclusive.
HRDC member Matthew J. Corriel ’05 says he’s concerned by the flexibility of the requirements, since they are not explicitly outlined in the constitution. Though he says he has great confidence in the integrity of the HRDC board, he worries that future boards might take advantage of this fluidity.
“I would feel more comfortable if we wrote requirements that were very specific and we agreed that these specific things would be implemented and it wouldn’t change,” Corriel says.
He says he’s also concerned that the flexibility will mean that people will fail to fulfill their requirements or that future board members might make them unreasonable.
Corriel says in place of official requirements he would prefer what he calls a “tech environment,” where “everyone gets encouraged” to do technical work.
“In this community it’s expected of you by your peers that you branch out and do new things, that you light design, that you do stage crew, that you don’t just stick to what you do,” Corriel says.
Whatever the requirements eventually are, Sherwood will have the responsibility of enforcing and administering them. He says he will update an already-existing database of theater community members, adding a function that will allow directors to track who has fulfilled his or her requirements.
As far as the requirements themselves, Sherwood says he wants to combine an hours-based system—asking for a certain number of hours that can be filled in any way possible—and one that’s position-specific, where an actor might serve in a single technical role for the entire duration of a show.
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at email@example.com.
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