Tech Crew: The Unseen Heroes of the Stage

Sophia Hilger, Writer

When the curtain opened for the Friday night performance of Mary Poppins, no one anticipated just how much could go wrong.  

Only a few scenes before intermission, the scrim fell from the catwalk, where it had been hung.  The scrim, a black curtain used for lighting that could block out the back of the stage for scene changes, had much of the movement of the show relying on it. It was a disaster to everyone involved with the show.

However, when asked about the show, none of the audience members seemed to notice anything wrong. Not even family members who had already seen the show seemed to notice anything, thanks to the quick thinking and action of the tech crew.

“It was probably one of the most stressful moments of my life,” said stage manager Jane Hilger. “We only had a few minutes to figure out what to do, but we couldn’t fix the scrim while the scene was going on, so we had to improvise.”

The Wilde Lake tech crew managed to handle this as well as many other crises during previous shows, from a burnt out spotlight in Seussical to broken props in The Little Mermaid.  For years, the tech crew have been the unseen heroes of the stage.

        “Wilde Lake prides itself in a completely student run performance once the curtain opens,” said Hilger. “We have students communicating on headsets during the performances to make sure all of the lights and sounds are at the exact right spot, and to make sure the stage is ready for each scene.”

        Hilger was the stage manager for two of the shows at Wilde Lake, Blithe Spirit in the fall of 2017 and Mary Poppins in the spring of 2018. “My job is to connect what’s happening with the actors with what’s happening with tech.  I’m also the middleman between the director and tech crew, so if the director wants something to happen it’s my job to make sure it happens.  It’s a hard job, but it’s essential for the show to go right.”

        Tech crew at Wilde Lake includes nine crews: stage management, props, carpentry, scenic design, lights, sound, costumes, makeup, and production.  Each crew has its own skill set, but all of the crews involve leadership as well as teamwork in order to create a show.

        “For makeup crew, it’s more than just makeup,” said  four year tech crew member,Jenny Gloyd. “Yes, I did do a lot of the actors’ makeup, but I also learned problem solving. If we’re missing a wig for a certain scene, we have to be able to think fast to fix the situation.”

        Kate Giammalvo is in charge of the scenic design crew, which is tasked with designing and painting the set to fit the show.  “I’ve been on this crew for four years,” she said, “but tech is really interdepartmental, so I’ve been able to make friends with people from every crew.”

        Tech not only affects the people involved in the construction of the set and the programming of the lights, but the actors as well.  Carolyn Ingham, who played Miss Andrew in Wilde Lake’s Mary Poppins, worked very closely with the tech crew.  “Miss Andrew had a magical exit that really relied on the tech crew,” she said. “Tech was able to make it look like a giant birdcage captured me. They were able to make the scene absolutely magical,” said Ingham.

The experiences found in tech crew are something amazing. “I found a family within the Wilde Lake theatre department,” said Hilger. “I gained memories and experiences I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”