Faces of STC
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s artistic endeavors are made possible by your partnership with the best directors, the most brilliant costumes and scenery, and a company of superb actors. You are part of an exceptional family that includes 40 full-time scenic, costume, and properties artisans. Countless musicians, electricians, carpenters, lighting technicians, and other essential Company members work to ensure the professionalism and excellence of everything we do.
Below you will find information highlighting three such professionals, who you may never see on our stages, but who ensure the artistry of our productions and programs.
“Here is what makes a good assistant: I’m watching the things that other people aren’t necessarily watching…that’s the biggest thing I can do to support the production, to watch and fill the cracks while we’re still building the show.”
Chris, a Production Assistant, first came to STC in 2011. He begins preparing for a show before rehearsals even begin by anticipating what the incoming actors will need (like notebooks and bound scripts), and taping the layout of the stage on the floor of the rehearsal room, a process that can take up to six hours. Once rehearsals begin, Chris watches attentively as the actors craft their scenes, and takes notes on everything they do so that they may recreate their movements. “The audience may not realize that everything they see on stage is intentional, down to the angle of the teacup handles,” Chris says, “It’s about being diligent about the details.”
Chris enjoys being able to problem-solve in the moment. During rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest actor Gregory Woodell, playing Jack Worthing, reads a list of names from a book. In the frenzied scene, Woodell requested actually having the names in front of him. Chris immediately ripped the list from his script, taped it in the prop, and the scene was able to carry on with minimal interruption.
Each night Chris arrives at the theatre two hours before show time and performs a comprehensive check of everything on and backstage. This ranges from water stations for the actors, to the prop tables that house each and every item that is brought on stage during the show, a checklist of up to 22 pages. Just before the curtain rises Chris does a last-minute “paranoia check” to be sure that the carefully choreographed progression of each show will run smoothly and flawlessly each night. “That’s why the actors perform and that’s why we support them,” he says. “We want to give people that great time at the theatre.”
Of the six shows Chris has worked on, his favorite is a tie between Measure for Measure and The Importance of Being Earnest.
“The best part of teaching is students taking ownership of the text – when they say, ‘This is mine. I understand it.’ There’s a stigma that Shakespeare isn’t for everyone and I work every day to break that down. Shakespeare wrote for the common people too.”
Nafeesa started working behind the scenes in theatre at the age of nine and quickly moved to performing. She went on to receive a Master’s degree from STC’s Academy for Classical Acting at GWU. Soon after, she joined STC as an Affiliated Teaching Artist and shares her love of Shakespeare with students across the DC area. Nafeesa is also a poet, martial artist, former NASA fellow and mathematician. She explains that teaching and acting both tie into mathematics, with certain logic, analysis and processes guiding each.
“STC really demonstrates their high respect for the teaching artists,” Nafeesa says. “It’s very clear that the teaching artist is a really important part of STC’s mission—not only in DC, but in the country—and therefore we are paid a living wage.” Nafeesa is thrilled to have been able to make teaching her livelihood, while also being a working actress. She loves the value STC places in its affiliates being both teachers and artists, which empowers her multiple skills to bloom.
One of her favorite lessons is about the poetry and rhythm of Shakespeare’s text. When she relates it to other types of poetry, including modern iterations such as rap, her students are often able to relate to the words and understand their structure. She is also proud of the fact that the in-class programs, like Text Alive!, are professional development opportunities for the teachers, so that they may grow as teachers of Shakespeare.
A moment she considers a great point of pride in her teaching took place when two seventh grade boys, too shy to perform alone, worked perfectly together. She describes how, during their performance of Macbeth, one boy blanked on his lines, and the other was able to seamlessly and calmly cover the gap, something she describes as an impressive feat for any performer. She was so proud of their ability to work together, and relate to words well enough to accomplish the feat.
“The productions we put on are bigger and more impressive than a lot of other theatres that I’ve seen. It’s great having the equipment to do interesting effects. I love what we end up with once we get to opening night.”
Lauren, the Assistant Master Electrician, has been with STC since 2007. She has a BA in Theatre from Michigan State University, with a specialization in lighting design. At STC, she is part of the team that oversees all of the lighting equipment and execution in both theatres. Most people probably don’t realize just how much is involved in bringing light to the stage each night. For an average show there are anywhere from 300 to 500 lights and each one is checked daily by a member of the Electrics Department to make sure it is working correctly.
Lauren describes the process as a logic puzzle, as it is her job to come up with the plan to get all the necessary cables and lights to the correct places and to convey that information to the crew. It takes many hours to plan for a show and many more to install the lights into the theater. Every show is a new challenge with a whole new set of puzzles for her to solve.
Two important aspects of Lauren’s job are safety and maintenance. Lauren credits common sense as her most useful safety tool, but says proper equipment like a harness, hard hat and insulated gloves are a must as well. For annual maintenance, it takes a ten-person crew about three weeks to fully disassemble, thoroughly clean and manually refocus each of STC’s 1,700 lights. All of this ensures that each show has what it needs for that signature “wow” moment. “When the lights go up and everyone applauds, it’s a wonderful moment. I love seeing audiences enjoying it.”
Lauren definitely comes by her interest in theatre honestly; her parents first met while acting in a community theatre production in Michigan. At the age of 11, having no interest to be on stage, she began tagging along with her father when he was building sets. This sparked in interest in technical theatre, and when the need came for someone to run the lights she took up the task. She continued it all through high school and college, and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.