A Brief History Of Me
After graduating high school, I attended college at the State University of New York at Albany, where I was studying Physics. The plan was either to teach high school physics (I had also been accepted to SUNY Albany's secondary education school) or perhaps to go into engineering. Doing theatre was the furthest thing from my mind. It had been a fun way to spend my time in high school, but I didn't know that you could do it professionally. This began to change my sophomore year, when I took a course to fulfill a Humanities requirement, Introduction to Technical Theatre.
That intro class was kind of interesting and there was a lab component requiring work in the departments scene shop building and painting the scenery and hanging lights and setting up sound for the two productions that semester. From there I took some more technical classes. Drafting, Lighting, Technical Production to name a few. At the same time, I found out that I could get hired through the college work study program and make some extra money working in the scene shop. Anyway, before I knew it, I was well on my way to completing the Theatre major with a minor concentration in Technical Production. I was getting work downtown at the Capitol Repertory Theatre doing load-ins and load-outs. I got a couple of freelance lighting design gigs at a small club which occasionally produced small scale plays and I was spending my summers working for summer stock theatres (Shadowland, in Ellenville New York and The Capital Theatre, in Rome New York).
At some point I realized that this is what I want to be doing and the Physics plans were out the window. Of course now I was nearly complete with the Physics major and I thought it would be crazy not to finish. I had to stay an extra year to complete the Theatre degree anyway. Up until that final year at Albany, I thought I wanted to go into Lighting Design, but during that final year, I began to work more closely with the faculty technical director, Patrick Ferlo and I realized that that is where my strengths lie. Lighting is fun, but I didn't think I had the artistic sensibilities to excel in that field.
I applied to Graduate school and was accepted at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Yale University and the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA). After seeing the production facilities, meeting the faculty and learning about their extensive production schedule, I chose NCSA. It was here that my training was fine tuned and I learned what it meant to be "professional". I discovered that my study of physics wasn't useless after all when I took a class entitled "Advanced Theatre Technology". The class was a study in structural mechanics as related to building scenery. I was fascinated with the idea that there were mathematical reasons behind how and why we did things and it wasn't all just "trial and error". I served as the teaching assistant for the class for the next two years and wrote my thesis to serve as a text for the course.
It was also at NCSA where I met Jack Miller while working for him as his graduate assistant in the Electro-Mechanical lab and metal shop. It was Mr. Miller who introduced me to the idea of scenic automation, a field I am still engaged in.
Of course during the summers, I still wanted to get as much professional experience as I could, and it was a forgone conclusion at NCSA that you would work summer stocks. I spent a summer at The Monomoy theatre, in Cape Cod as their technical director and the following two summers at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, first as the master carpenter and later as the assistant technical director.
Upon graduation, with a little (o.k., a LOT ) of help from Jack Miller, I was offered a job with J.R. Clancy as a "Control's Associate. This was really a fancy term for "the guy that works for Larry Eschelbacher, the Manager of Controls Engineering. Larry is a great guy and I learned an enormous amount from him about designing computer control systems for theatre. I started out fixing wiring faults and setting limit switches at The Juilliard School, in New York City. It wasn't long before he had me drawing wiring schematics, designing systems and writing PLC software (all with his oversight, of course). While at J.R. Clancy, I had the opportunity to travel extensively, working on job sites all over the country, in Barcelona Spain, Venice Italy, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and on various cruise ships (Disney Magic and Wonder, Carnival Destiny and Triumph, Holland America Veendam and Rotterdam). However, being on the road 9 or 10 months out of the year wasn't all it was cracked up to be...
A friend of mine, who was working for Hudson Scenic Studios in New York had a friend who had knowledge that one of the people working in the motion control department at the Metropolitan Opera was leaving (that seems to be the way these things always work in this business...). I knew that I wouldn't be able to stay with Clancy for ever and this seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime. I sent a letter and my resume to the technical director and actually got an interview with the head of the electric department (the MET is odd in that automation and motion control fall under electrics rather than scenery). I was offered the job and began my career as a Local 1 IATSE member!
On one side, The MET was a wonderful place to work. Many of the guys I was working with were very nice and we got along well. There was always excitement. During the regular season, we would either be building and fine tuning shows which haven't opened yet or rehearsing shows soon to open. At 3:00 in the afternoon, the entire stage crew would strike the morning rehearsal and set-up the set and lights for that evenings performance. If the show had motion control in it, we would stay to run the show (almost everything we built was a custom, one of a kind "prototype" and we kind of had to keep a careful eye on it during the run to ensure it would continue to work, or make it work if it didn't). At the end of the show (usually around midnight) the entire set was struck by the "night gang" and the next morning's rehearsal set was loaded-in. The next day the process would repeat. This is known as a "rotating repertory" type season and is a real rush to be a part of when you are rotating 15 or more shows at one time!
The MET was fun, but I knew it wouldn't last as a career until I retired. I had never lost the desire to teach and when I stumbled across an opening in Suffolk County Community College's Theatre Department I had to apply. I was appointed as Instructor of Technical Theatre in August of 1999, one week before classes started! Never a dull moment.....