Proper lighting, sound equipment and video work are all fundamental to a fine arts performance. That’s why Jeff Lovett, Southeast Missouri State University’s new technical director for the Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts, is essential to every department located at River Campus.
“I’m not sure how a performing arts campus would survive without a technical director,” Jeff said. “There is an immense amount of gear that must be maintained and operated. How that could happen without a technical director is beyond me.”
Jeff says he deals with anything involving the technical aspects of a performance, including sound, lighting, rigging and staging. He says a major part of his job is acting as coordinator between the various departments because he decides which equipment goes where and when. For example, lighting in the Robert F. and Gertrude L. Shuck Recital Hall is much different than the setup in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall. Since the array of gear is so vast, it is important for him to understand how each bit of equipment functions.
“If you start dealing with specifics, the list gets quite massive,” Jeff said. “I coordinate the gear that changes for each performance and make sure it happens in a timely manner. I need to be able to set up, run and maintain any and all equipment used in those fields.”
Not only does Jeff need quick access to his “back catalogue” of knowledge for equipment, he must be ready to complete any task at any moment of the day. He says there is only one predictable facet of his job: It is always changing. One day might be spent focused on an evening symphony concert; the next day, a touring theatrical show, only to reset the equipment for a dance concert the following evening. However, Jeff’s level of energy is a good match for the job’s fast-paced demands.
“There is no normal day at work. Every day is a constant change – not only in the type of equipment being used and style of show, but also in time requirements,” Jeff said. “On the clock, I’ve seen every hour of the day and every day of the year. I might begin at 5 a.m. and work until 2 a.m. the following morning. The next day I might not need to work until 3 p.m. and finish at 9 p.m. I have worked in this business for 13 years. There is constant pressure and constant change and I love every minute of it.”
As a technical director, having diplomatic attributes are a necessity. If the crew doesn’t get along or communicate well, the quality of the performance will suffer.
“Because of the many different personalities involved, an important quality to have as a technical director is flexibility,” he said. “I have to hire and train staff to help run the equipment because the touring shows can involve as many as 50 or 60 people. I need to accommodate each person, but I enjoy the diversity.”
Jeff received a master of fine arts degree in technical theatre from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., but he says a large part of training in the technical theatre area happens on the job. He has done everything – from installing lighting systems in new theatres and retro-fitted lighting in old theatres to working in concert tours as a sound engineer, master electrician, stagehand and rigger. He’s worked as a light and sound technician on a cruise ship and he toured as master electrician for the theatrical performance of “Hello, Dolly!” He’s presented light and sound seminars at high schools. He’s even worked as a salesman for lighting equipment in New York. He says his experience working a variety of jobs within technical theatre over the past decade gave him the knowledge he needs to be successful at his job today.
“Once I received my degree, I wanted to explore a lot of different aspects of the industry to learn as much as I could. I have been to 48 states and 35 countries so far. Each job I’ve had has increased my knowledge of the industry and made me very well-rounded, which is why this job suits me very well,” Jeff said.
That’s not the only reason the job suits Jeff – he says he studied theatre in school because he is inspired by live performances. He says they affect people the way no other medium of art can.
“When a performance is taking place and an audience member connects with what is happening, it is a moment of pure magic,” Jeff said. “To be involved on a regular basis in the creation of such moments is the most rewarding job I can imagine.”
He admits he was never an accomplished singer or painter, but his field of work is no less creative than that of a musician or artist. When he discovered the world of lighting design, he discovered his artistic release.
“I’ve always had artistic visions, so I fell in love with lighting for a few reasons,” Jeff said. “It involves a nice mix of physical and mental attributes. It involves careful decision in balancing the equipment to create the look I want. I have to physically place and focus each light. Having this artistic release is amazing.”
Jeff says he chose Southeast because it reminds him of his time spent as an undergraduate in Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., another small river community.
“Cape is a little larger than Tahlequah, but it has the same feel. The people are open and friendly, and the town has a lot to offer,” Jeff said. “I really enjoy the vibrancy and open-mindedness of arts students at the University level. I am so lucky to have found a job that is a perfect fit for me. Also, most of my family lives in Oklahoma, and an eight-hour drive is much more feasible than driving from New York or catching a last-minute flight from another country.”
Like everyone else, Jeff says he is looking forward to construction being completed at River Campus.
“When we raise the curtain on our first show, I will be ecstatic,” he said.