North Central College - Naperville, IL

Behind the scenes: Students key to staging events

Jared Grebner '11Jared Grebner ’11 (left) had been working with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra for weeks as the College’s advance contact for a performance in February. He had arranged for hotel rooms, a rehearsal schedule and catered meal. Everything was going smoothly until disaster struck: the orchestra ran out of spaghetti during the pre-show dinner. “I had to run over to Kaufman and find more pasta,” says Grebner. “Luckily they have it ready at every meal.”

Since the opening of the College’s new fine arts facilities in 2008, the campus now hosts more than 250 performances annually in Pfeiffer Hall, Wentz Concert Hall, Madden Theatre and Meiley-Swallow Hall. One result is that Grebner and scores of other North Central students are learning the ropes of fine arts management, box office operations and technical theatre. They’re taking on responsibilities like recruiting ushers, sorting out ticketing issues, setting lights, organizing concessions and providing hospitality to visiting performers. Students who are technical theatre employees are trained to set up meetings and handle small events on their own while also assisting with larger events.

“Our students are getting experiences that are the equivalent to fine arts internships and they’re getting a foot up on the competition,” says Brian Lynch, fine arts director. “We want our customers to have a good experience, from the time they purchase tickets through the time they leave the venue, and our students are crucial to that.”

Susan Evangelou ’10Several students have been part of the box office staff since the operation was moved from Pfeiffer Hall to Wentz Concert Hall in fall 2008. Susan Evangelou ’10  (right) started her job at Pfeiffer in 2007 and helped with the adjustment to the more complex system at Wentz. “We went from working in a closet to a modern box office,” says Evangelou, who now helps supervise and train new students.

An English major, Evangelou has also completed an internship in arts promotion. She writes and designs materials about upcoming performers that can be used for marketing, including the College’s website. “Originally the box office job was just a job, but now it’s become more directed toward my major,” she adds.

Overseeing box office operations is Myrle Bongiovanni, fine arts manager. “The opportunities for these students have grown tremendously,” she says. “They interact with people from all walks of life and deal with stressful situations. There might be 20 people waiting in line and they learn not to be frantic but to keep everything under control. And I let them handle as much as they can because customer service is a big part of the experience.”

Bongiovanni adds it was the students who “saved the day” during the fast-paced learning curve the fine arts staff experienced opening three new venues. “We were so overwhelmed last year and our students were lifesavers—and they continue to be.”

Among the most well-rounded students is Grebner, who has manned the box office, planned special events and scheduled ushers in addition to providing hospitality for performers. Grebner, along with Sal Garza ’12 and Adrian Rivera ’11, has made unplanned excursions to fill performers’ last-minute requests for Starbucks beverages, a birthday cake, sugar and manila envelopes—to name just a few.

“I’ve had a lot of fun backstage with some groups, like the Harlem Gospel Choir, while occasionally someone is more demanding,” says Grebner, who is majoring in theatre and business management for a career in fine arts management and development.

Lights, sound, action

About 40 students work in technical theatre under the supervision of Kyle Gettelman, technical director and scenic studio manager. With events going on simultaneously in different campus venues, seven days a week, morning through late evening, qualified student workers have become critical to smooth operations.

“Even though the technical department is a non-academic area, our goal is to educate students, provide professional experiences and draw on their abilities to assist us,” Gettelman says. “Our goal is to eventually have 25 to 30 highly skilled technicians. Whether they are theatre majors or not, these opportunities definitely allow students to build their résumés.”

Gettelman is overseeing a training program that requires students to become certified at increasingly more skilled levels. For example, the first level qualifies students to work alone setting up for small lectures, which includes handling sound, stage equipment and lighting. With enough training, students can become a manager, like Nicole LeDonne ’12, who is already student manager of staging and rigging.

“When a show comes to Pfeiffer, it’s my job to figure out how to hang the lighting on the rigging using the fly system,” says LeDonne, a theatre major who works as many as 25 to 30 hours a week at times. She wants to eventually travel with a professional theatre group to handle lighting. And she’s already designed the lighting for some North Central theatre productions, like “The Dixie Swim Club.”

With theatre experience dating back to her middle school years, LeDonne was accepted into DePaul University’s competitive stage management conservatory program but opted for North Central instead, and says the support for her talents has been extensive. She also wanted a more well-rounded liberal arts experience. “I love to travel and in a conservatory, you don’t do anything else but theatre. I’ve already been to Europe twice and I’m studying abroad in Australia next year.”

Heather Motz ’13 Theatre major Heather Motz ’13 (right) already knows she wants to pursue a career in sound design and is combining experiences with the technical crew and the College’s theatre productions to make that happen. Carin Silkaitis, assistant professor of theatre and theatre program coordinator, watched Motz demonstrate her skills at the New Student Showcase during winter term and then asked her to design the sound for her production of “Never the Sinner.”

“The sets are very minimal so I’m creating the environment with sounds, which takes a lot of time and effort to find or create the right effects,” explains Motz. “But this is why I’m here and this is what I’d love to do as a career.”

North Central NOW Spring 2010