Workforce development: it’s as important in the theatre world as it is anywhere.
Actors? Sure. But for every actor on stage there are many hidden players off in the wings. They’re the ones working, literally, behind the scenes, doing myriad jobs from gathering props and sewing costumes to hanging lights, tweaking sound and, yes, building those very scenes they hide behind.
Theatre isn’t theatre without technical support.
Proctors Collaborative has become a genuine force not only in teching giant touring Broadway shows as they prepare for the road, but also in training Capital Region youth for lifelong careers in every aspect of theatre making.
In 2018, the TheatreTECH class at Proctors prepped “Young Dr. Jekyll” for New York Stage Originals. That show is now headed off-Broadway, and students’ names will be on the playbill, noting their contributions to the birth of the play.
This year, NYSO is back at The Addy at Proctors, where “Heart of Stone” will run June 1–9.
NYSO Producing Creative Director Lisa Hopkins says, “It’s really a wonderful time to be coming into the career. It’s the golden age of Broadway right now. There are more shows on Broadway, coming to Broadway or in line waiting to go there than ever before. There’s a lot more work than there ever was—I think the landscape is really wonderful for TheatreTECH students.”
Like “Jekyll,” “Heart” is based on classic material, referencing, obliquely, among other things, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.” Like “Jekyll,” Hopkins and NYSO Executive Director Philip David Stern, who composed the show, hope to take it further down the line, stacking success on success.
“Heart” is a world premiere, a credit that would look fine on any hopeful theatre journeyman’s resume.
“It’s exactly what we would want in a real professional experience for students,” says Proctors Collaborative Chief of Staff Jean Leonard. “They’re getting it straight from people who understand the technical theatre process.
Grace Janiszewski is creative workforce director with the School of the Performing Arts at Proctors. She administers the TheatreTECH program as well as assisting students—drawn from Schenectady High School—with life skills like resume writing, interviewing and on-the-job communications.
She works in partnership with Technical Theatre Instructor Carter Irwin. He’s the hands-on side of the equation, grounding students in “lighting, sound, stage carpentry, prop construction, projections” and more.
“Every single skill I’ve learned in theatre, I’ve used elsewhere,” Janiszewski says. “Whether soft skills, the social part of life or simply being prompt. How to not crack under pressure; when to make the right call; when to head to your supervisor…Our students can take these skills and go wherever they want with them.”
“I’m teaching industry standards,” Irwin chimes in. “Students come out of the program with essentially what they would have as a first-year college student. A lot of our curriculum is based on what I’ve seen in college-level programs. You may not always think a high school student will reach that level, but if you give them the work and you tell them that it’s possible, they will absolutely get there. They’ll learn the skills and excel.”
Hopkins is adjunct faculty at Pace University, in the Musical Theater and Commercial Dance programs. Beginning mid-May, her designers will work directly with TheatreTECH students in Schenectady.
“My goal as an educator,” she says, “is to get students to where it’s not just about, ‘Hey, can you hammer this?’ I want to get them into the right headspace so that they can really, truly, be part of the process and have an understanding what’s going on.”
TheatreTECH, says Janiszewski, offers to new ways to engage and often helps students with self-esteem and trauma issues, even lifting their grades at Schenectady High. The program is also rigorous, Irwin says. It’s a real job.
“There’s a saying in the theatre world,” Irwin stipulates. “If you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re late, you’re fired.”
Students are remunerated for out of class work hours, and those employed on “Heart of Stone” are even eligible for certain Proctors benefits.
The School of the Performing Arts at Proctors is nationally recognized for its in-depth, often pioneering work. TheatreTECH is something more, and graduates are moving directly into job placements in area venues as well as applying to college theatre programs. As TheatreTECH expands it will become invaluable not only to students seeking a unique, less-traveled path for expression and employment but for the industry itself, always in need of a new set of experienced hands. It will also remain a haven.
“The theatre crowd has always been a small crowd and we like it that way, ” says Janiszewski, “We’re a special group.”
By Michael Eck
Proctors publishes The Collaborative. All content featured in the Proctors Collaborative section is written by employees of the organization.