Most people are aware that there’s more to a theatre performance than what is on the stage, but they might not be aware of the organized chaos behind the curtain. The entire production can be compared to a piece of embroidery: beautiful and organized in presentation, abstract and (seemingly) disorganized in preparation. A few students of Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance first learned this during their experiences on campus, but now they are discovering its truth as professionals.
Sara Eaton, who will graduate in the spring of 2009, is working at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival as the assistant production manager; Sarah Moore, a 2004 graduate of Southeast, is on tour with “The Phantom of the Opera” as the assistant wardrobe manager; and Marissa Crozier, a 2008 graduate of Southeast, is working at Stages in St. Louis as a part of the wardrobe crew.
As the assistant production manager, Eaton said, at any point, she can be involved in the performances of five different companies. This can equal 17 shows a week. However, she is familiar with the grind, having worked at the festival as a production intern last summer.
“Every day is different, which is what I love most about this job,” said Eaton. “In the course of one day, I can build a deck, hang a sound system, install a few rigging points, do some paperwork, be on the run crew for a performance and do whatever else may be required of me that day.”
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is located in Becket, Mass., and runs for 10 weeks. With three theatres (two indoor and one outdoor), this summer The Pillow is presenting 151 performances by 45 companies. Eaton said this year’s program includes the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, Conny Jansen Danst, Maureen Fleming and a number of other fantastic groups. Eaton also said that this year, there is one company world debut, two U.S. company debuts, three world premieres and five U.S. company debuts.
Not only is Eaton required to multi-task, but she said her days can be quite lengthy. However, she works alongside some talented and inspiring people.
“The people are definitely the best thing about being here,” said Eaton. “I get to work with some amazingly talented individuals. I also get to meet some world-famous dancers and choreographers; the most recent being Garth Fagan, who choreographed “The Lion King.” Unfortunately, the hours can be long. It’s not unusual to start work at 9 a.m. and finish at 2 a.m.”
Eaton, a native of DeSoto, Mo., will graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree in the performing arts with an emphasis on design and technology. She said she would eventually like to attend graduate school, but she plans to work in theatre for a few years before making any decisions.
Sarah Moore, a Southeast alumna, is on tour with “The Phantom of the Opera.” She said she couldn’t be more pleased to work with the company.
“The job can be quite demanding, but everyone so far has been great to work with,” said Moore. “It’s very exciting to work with a company of this caliber.”
During their year on the road, the company will occupy theatres in Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Spokane, Wash.; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Hartford, Conn.; Minneapolis; Charlotte, N.C.; Dayton, OH; and Milwaukee. In addition to all this traveling, Moore said they’ll give around eight performances a week.
As the assistant wardrobe manager, Moore is one of four wardrobe workers who tour consistently with the show (they hire 14 dressers and 10 day workers in each city). Most of her job is spent perfecting details – checking women’s costumes for wear and tear, examining shoes for repairs in case the city has a good cobbler and repainting personal props. Her workday is split into two shifts; during the day she performs costume maintenance, and during the matinee and evening shifts she trains the new dressers.
“I’m in charge of the Women’s Ensemble, which means that I train and oversee the dressers for this group during rehearsals and shows, supervise the maintenance of the costumes and help direct the loading and unloading of the show in each city,” said Moore. “I also supervise the prep work for each show.”
Moore graduated from Southeast with a double major in theatre and English literature, and, in 2007, she graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., with a master of fine arts degree in costume design. Born in Paducah, Ky. and raised in Nokomis, Ill., Moore said she didn’t have any opportunity in her small town to work in theatre. Her first opportunity came when she enrolled in Southeast’s program, where she said she learned the fundamentals of theatrical design and professionalism. Moore had actually enrolled in Southeast’s bachelor of science program for education in English literature, but after a pivotal theatre course and some experience behind the scenes at Rose Theatre, she decided that costume design was more appropriate.
“When I started college, I found myself in Theatre Appreciation with Dr. Dillon. We spent two weeks talking about how theatre was symbiotically real and unreal at the same time, and I was hooked,” said Moore. “It didn’t occur to me that I could make theatrical costuming my profession, though, until Professor Rhonda Weller-Stilson suggested it. I was spending more time in the basement of Rose Theatre sewing costumes for the shows than in the English department, so I added the major and went to grad school.”
Marissa Crozier graduated from Southeast with a bachelor of fine arts degree in performance with an emphasis on dance. As a part of the wardrobe crew at Stages in St. Louis, she is on duty before, during and after each performance. She assists in quick costume changes, repairs, ironing and steaming, and inventory checks. Between the shows’ runs, she also works in the costume shop. While she said her passion is choreography, the experience working in a professional theatre is a source of pride.
“We are working on “Thoroughly Modern Millie” right now, and, during the opening number, we have 24 seconds to change an actress’ dress, wig and shoes,” said Crozier. “We have done it about a million times, but I still feel really proud of my work each time.”
During her time at Southeast, Crozier said she loved performing in and choreographing for the dance concerts.
“The dance concerts I have performed in and helped to choreograph have come a long way since I was a freshman, in terms of professionalism and quality,” said Crozier. “They were well-received and had a huge turnout, which is really encouraging.”
Last summer, Crozier sold tickets at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, where she said she was grateful to be working at a prestigious theatre.
“Getting that job helped solidify the fact that you can actually make it in theatre; there are jobs out there,” said Crozier. “It was a wonderful company to work for. I’d like to go back next summer and work behind the scenes.”
Both Moore and Crozier said they wouldn’t be where they are now without their experience at Southeast.
“The professors at the Department of Theatre and Dance were instrumental in my decision to work professionally in theatre,” said Moore. “They were incredibly supportive of me as a student, but demanding of me professionally.”
Crozier said, “From the very beginning of your freshman year, the faculty gives you the information you need to start making contacts and get summer work in your field. Without them, I think the theatre and dance students would be lost.”
While every career-oriented person needs to maintain his or her connections, this holds especially true for the theatre business. Crozier knows this, along with the importance of perseverance.
“Students should enjoy college while it lasts, but they should start applying for jobs or graduate schools as early as possible. Never stop sending your resume out to everyone and anyone, and never burn bridges!” said Crozier.
Both Moore and Crozier said they are avid readers, and as students, they found ways to enjoy what Cape Girardeau has to offer. Moore said that when she lived in Cape, she enjoyed visiting the river.
“I used to really like going out to Cape Rock Park to watch the sunset,” said Moore. “Some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen are in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, a favorite destination of mine.”
Crozier said she enjoyed eating out at El Acapulco with her close friends and going to the California Juice Club afterwards.
Both Moore and Crozier said they would love to travel. Moore said she hopes to visit Prague during the next Theatre Quadrennial, an international competitive exhibition of scenography and theatre architecture, and Crozier said she would like to travel to the northeast side of the United States.
Moore’s advice for current and future students is simple but important: “Don’t be
afraid to make mistakes.”