Most people who see a theater production focus on what unfolds in front of them, the sights and sounds on stage.
Abby Swenor wants people to look closer.
She and some of her Central York High School classmates suggest theater-goers consider what happens backstage, ponder everything you can’t see that brings the stage to life. That behind-the-scenes realm is where Swenor, 16, a sophomore at Central, and her cohorts do their work as theater technicians, or techies as they call themselves.
“We’re like the magic of theater,” Swenor said. “The actors on stage, they’re the face of the show. But we create everything around them to make the show possible.”
Techies handle everything from props to sound to lighting.
Their role during Encore, the annual showcase of York County high school theater programs on April 24, is not as involved as it is during the school’s theater productions throughout the year. That’s mainly because Encore is really a scaled down snapshot of each high school’s performances wrapped into one night of entertainment, and no elaborate props are used. For that reason, only Central students work on tech for the finale production.
Still, Encore is a challenge taken seriously by all involved.
That attention to detail and dedication to precision is what techies strive for, they say, even if the audience can’t see them.
“Tech is very exact,” Swenor said. It has to be since so many elements of a production rely on one another. For example, set pieces need to placed precisely because they signal to the actors where they need to be, which affects where spotlights need to be, etc. “I like the exactness of it,” Swenor said. “I feel I do well under pressure. It motivates me to have it exactly the way it needs to be.”
Sydney Little, 17, a junior at Central, said that goal of precision makes tech “so much more work than you would think."
Little, who joined tech as a freshman, said that the pressure of tech helps her to manage her anxiety.
“You cannot hover and hang on to that feeling” when something doesn’t go as planned, she said. You need to let go, move on, and think on your feet so the show can continue.
Robert Coppersmith, 15, a sophomore at Central, said his foray into theater came years ago when his older sister was involved in high school theater productions and he helped his mom with costuming. A few years ago, when he was a munchkin in a production of “The Wizard of Oz,” Coppersmith helped someone working on the lighting when he realized he’d like to try that aspect of theater.
“I just enjoy that you may be a shy person, and you can show people that even if you’re shy, you can put your two cents in there without being pushed aside,” Coppersmith said.
He said it’s challenging and rewarding making sure things happen seamlessly backstage, juggling the variety of tasks that need to be done to bring a production together.
Coppersmith, Swenor and Little said they haven’t worked on any productions to date where everything has gone smoothly backstage.
“There’s always something you can improve on,” Coppersmith said. “Somethings may be small - a tweak here, a tweak there… You always have to look to the future, not to the past.”
So, Little said, if you come out to watch Encore to attend a theater performance in the future, think about everything that came together to make the production happen, both the things you can see as well as the things you can’t.
“Think about how big of a thing this (production) is, and how many people are involved in it,” Little said. “And think how there’s so much more that goes on than what’s on stage.”
Shout outs for York County high school theater programs
Before York County high school theater programs take the stage for Encore on April 24, leaders of those programs were invited to give a shout out to those who've made their productions possible. Here's what several of them had to say.
"We directors were so impressed with the professional performances that our students delivered for 'Mary Poppins.' Many audience members told us that the singing was outstanding, the production numbers electrifying, and the special effects thrilling. We all feel very proud and happy to have worked so hard to give the community and our students such a memorable show."
- Amy Anderson and Jennifer McClear, Dallastown High School
"I am so proud of the outstanding and professional work that our students, parents, and staff did on this year's show, Mary Poppins. Through all of their hard work, we had a fantastic show that brought in our best attendance yet. In addition, this was the first year that all of our shows had a consistent energy from beginning to end, and we didn't have one night better than another night."
- James R. Craley, Kennard-Dale High School
"Congratulations to the cast, crew, and pit on an awesome production of Bye Bye Birdie at York Catholic. Thank you to the production team for making the show possible. A special shout out to our seniors, we will miss you next year!
- Carlo Stebbings, York Catholic High School
"I’ve never had a cast work as hard as the cast for MARY POPPINS did. The show was very emotional for me since after 27 years of directing at Dover, it was my last one. These kids made it very special and I’m anxious for the community to see a snippet of our show."
- Jacklyn Keagy, Dover Area High School
“We’re very proud of the hard work and collaborative efforts all of our students put forth and the success they had with the THE LITTLE MERMAID."
- Mark Zortman, Central York High School
"West York's musical theater program has been growing each year since its onset . This year over 100 students were involved in some capacity with the musical. We hope to carry on the tradition for many years to come."
- Debra Fauth, West York High School
"Congratulations to the Cast, Crew, Pit and Staff of Susquehannock High School's 2015-2016 productions of The Crucible and Pippin! Everyone handled the big issues in these plays with maturity beyond their years, and made this theatre season one of the most thrilling I've witnessed. Special thanks to those seniors that have led the way the past four years!"
- Will Jenkins, Susquehannock High School
"York Suburban "break a leg " at Encore."
- Myra Schaszberger, York Suburban High School
If you go:
What: Encore, the York County high schools musical theater showcase.
When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday, April 24.
Where: Central York High School, 601 Mundis Mill Road, York, PA 17406.
Ticket information: Tickets are sold out.