On Oct. 2, the much-anticipated “Heathers: The Musical” debuted at the Conant Performing Arts Center to a sold-out crowd. In this co-production of Oglethorpe University and Actor’s Express, a blend of student and professional actors take the stage to tell a story about a vicious high school hierarchy, ruled by the eponymous clique of petty mean girls. While the chaos of “Heathers” unfolds onstage, an efficient behind-the-scenes team of students and professionals are there to make sure everything from music cues to lighting changes goes off without a hitch.
In addition to the 12 students featured on-stage, an impressive 48 students have been working behind the scenes to help deliver this large-scale production. Guided by industry professionals, students have been involved in almost every aspect of technical theatre work: scenic fabrication, electrics, painting, wardrobe, following spot operators, board operation, run crew, props and stage management.
“I am proud of what our students brought to this experience. As a group, they stepped up and made this show possible,” says Jonathan Rollins, Conant’s technical director.
During performances, the run crew executes quick scene changes and tracks props that actors hurriedly swap out in the wings. Students in wardrobe prepare quick changes with the actors and maintain the costumes. The assistant stage managers help coordinate the complicated flow of traffic backstage. The board operators ensure the lights are working, the special effects are firing, and that the cues are ready to go.
Ensuring everything goes according to plan is a balancing act — one that second-year theatre major Caroline Steinberg ’24 is helping to maintain as the assistant stage manager for the production.
During rehearsals, Steinberg was responsible for writing down all the blocking and stage placement for every actor, set pieces and props in the show. On show nights, her responsibilities expand to fixing broken set pieces, moving and sanitizing props and staying in constant communication with all of the teams backstage.
“This is not only more duties than I’ve ever had before, but on an absolutely massive production,” says Steinberg, “It is definitely the biggest job I’ve had on a school production and my first with any sort of professional theatre.”
Steinberg adds that working closely with professionals has helped her learn a lot about being a stage manager and an effective collaborator. With a large amount of props, set changes and actors to wrangle, the challenge of “Heathers: the Musical,” has helped her grow as a future theatre professional.
Another student working hard behind the scenes is theatre major Justin Martin ’22. Closely shadowing accomplished Atlanta lighting designer D. Connor McVey, Martin helped hang cable and focus lights during construction of the massive set. During the show, he and fellow student Emily Scoular flank McVey at the light board, assisting him with lighting cues and learning more about theatre tech along the way.
“I’ve always loved being in the casts and hanging lights, but this show got even more fascinating once I got behind the light board and really [got] to see the collaborative process firsthand that goes on between designers and the director, Freddie Ashley,” says Martin.
Producing any kind of live show requires a well-coordinated effort from the people both on and off the stage. Certainly, a large-scale, professional production like “Heathers” is no different. Though this production has been an invaluable learning experience for Oglethorpe students, each of them has stepped up to deliver professional-quality technical work, understanding the focus and coordination required of live theatre — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After helping to bring this musical to life, these students can look forward to putting these honed skills to use after graduation.
“Heathers: the Musical” finishes out its run this week at Oglethorpe University. With only five shows left, be sure to grab tickets now to see the bombastic high school comedy musical that has Atlanta buzzing.