Backstage pass

Backstage pass

The plot: Students must transform Miller theater into the French Riviera during the Roaring ’20s. To increase the dramatic tension, they’ve got only one month to make it happen. That’s showbiz. Or, at Messiah College, that’s J-term.

In January, the Department of Theatre and Dance produced the musical comedy “The Boy Friend” in a matter of weeks. Receiving class credit, students spent hours working to build the show from the

ground up.Backstage pass 1 story

“When the curtain rises, everyone’s in awe, wondering how the stage could transform in such a short amount of time,” said Brooklyn Duttweiler ’20, the show’s assistant stage manager. “Just thinking about it makes me smile, because I know how it happened.” 


The show must go on, that’s true. But it takes a backstage crew—responsible for costumes, sets, lights, sound, music and choreography—to get a show started.

“Backstage departments are the unsung heroes,” said Tymberley Whitesel, chair and professor of theatre at Messiah, who worked as the scenery and lighting designer for this show. “Without their work, audiences would pay to see a bunch of people walking around a dark, empty stage for a couple hours.”

Messiah’s Associate Professor of Theatre Daniel Inouye, who directed “The Boy Friend,” says he has two primary responsibilities during any production: 1) interpreting the playwright’s text and 2) managing all the people and pieces involved. During J-term, his duties speed up.

“We rehearse and work on the production from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. with the students and production staff working on various elements throughout the day,” he said. “A typical day includes working on songs in the morning; staging scenes in rehearsal; building and painting the set or creating costumes in the afternoon; and then more rehearsals on stage in the evening.”

Sets and costumes

Backstage pass, behind the scenes

Before anyone grabs a power tool, Whitesel and Melissa Mendez, the technical director, set up the show on paper first.

“Every time a set piece goes up,” said Whitesel, “I think, ‘This was in my head a month ago, and here it is in real life.’ Everything starts working out as you envisioned it, and that’s one of the most rewarding experiences of set design.”

Whitesel also created 3D models of scenery for each act in Miller Theater to help everyone envision the space.

“Once I get the final design from Tymberley, I figure out the best way to construct the different elements so that they can do what the set designer and director are envisioning while also being manageable for the run crew to handle during the set changes,” said Mendez.

That’s when crew member T.J. Quintilian ’20 began building the set in the scene shop. “The community in the shop is my favorite thing about the entire experience,” said Quintilian. “We joke around and have a good time—while getting work done, of course.”

Next to the scene shop, Elizabeth Angelozzi, an adjunct professor, trained students in the costume shop. For a period piece, costumes must appear seamless, literally and figuratively. “We can’t just go to Walmart and purchase a 1920s bathing suit,” explained Angelozzi, “but that’s where the beauty of costume design comes in.”

Paige Waldron ’18 has doubled as an actress and seamstress since her freshman year. When not in rehearsal for her role as Madame Dubonnet, she sewed costumes for fellow cast members. “Yes, the actors tell the story with the music and the script, but I get to use costumes to enhance the story, to bring it to life,” said Waldron.

Unsung employees

Besides J-term productions, the College also hosts a variety of other performances that require more unsung heroes—in the form of employees. Brittany (Taylor) Ranck ’15 works as Messiah’s performing arts coordinator, researching, booking and meeting the needs of artists in the Performing Arts Series, a combination of six annual campus events.

“It’s an invigorating feeling to know that all the work, stress and time I put into a performance is appreciated by so many,” said Ranck. “The most rewarding part of my job is seeing venues filled with people attending a performance that I set up.”

When she’s not working with the performing arts series, she manages Messiah College Seven, a praise and worship band that travels throughout the summer months. 

The right note

Linda L. Tedford, director of choral activities for the Department of Music, conducts the Concert Choir, the Chamber Singers and the Messiah College Choral Arts Society. She also serves as the founder, artistic director and conductor of the Susquehanna Chorale, Messiah’s ensemble-in-residence. 

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Along with the chorale, Tedford brings her Messiah choirs together to perform with the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. Preparations for these kinds of concerts begin at least a year in advance.

 “One of our biggest challenges in preparation is the difficulty of the repertoire and the length of the program,” said Tedford.

An essential element of these performances includes sound and lighting. Jonathan Bert ’09 has worked behind the scenes of Messiah events for nine years as the sound, lighting and event coordinator. As a student, he also spent four years on the College’s tech crew. He easily remembers his toughest day at work. 

“We had a huge concert when the High Center opened with Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a gospel choir,” recalled Bert. “They had their own sound engineer from Lincoln Center, and he was very demanding. We connected between 42 and 46 channels of audio for that show. I tried to convince him we really did not need to amplify the jazz orchestra in Parmer Hall, but he insisted on it.”

Bert spent hours prepping the stage, setting each microphone and taping down cables. Once the concert started, though, the engineer muted all but a few microphones.

“Then at intermission he asked me to tear down all of the extra microphones and cables,” said Bert. “However, at the end of the night, the engineer was extremely appreciative and told me to stop to visit him at Lincoln Center anytime. To this day, that stands out as one of my most frustrating days in this job. I can also say that it was one of the most incredible concerts I have ever heard.”

Taking a bow

Without a behind-the-scenes crew, a production falls apart. Thanks to the unsung heroes offstage, however, the curtain rises, the music swells, the lights come up and the audience settles in to enjoy the show.

Jake Miaczynski '20

Working offstage

Working offstage at sight and sound story

An entire staff works offstage at Sight & Sound Theatres to ensure guests have a positive live Christian theatre experience. Tiffany (Billings) Murphy ’17, a public relations major who minored in theatre, works at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, venue as a guest services retail lead.

Guests who arrive for a show also shop for souvenirs and buy snacks. That’s where Murphy comes in, starting each work day by leading her retail team in prayer.

“After the meeting, the team will go to their registers and prepare to serve guests,” she said. “I float around the lobby to greet guests, problem-solve, encourage my team and assist in serving guests their concessions items.”

Serving on the Student Activities Board, Murphy found her passion for customer service at Messiah. “Knowing that my hard work put smiles on peoples’ faces was so rewarding,” she said.

After graduation, she applied at Sight & Sound. “When I read the responsibilities for this position, there was a large focus on shepherding and guiding the retail team, as well as leading the team in customer service,” she said. “I knew this would be a good fit.”

Each day, Murphy steps out of her comfort zone to provide conflict resolution. “I’ve never been one to approach conflict with people,” she said. “In this role, it is my responsibility to engage in conflict all the time.”

If a team member slacks off, she addresses it. Those tough conversations are necessary to keep things running smoothly for the guests.

When a guest approaches her with a problem, she says a quick prayer, puts on a smile and listens. “I ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment as I problem-solve, trusting He will give me the wisdom I need to love and serve people in a way that would represent Christ well,” she said.

Thriving in a culture of servant leadership in her work, Murphy lives out her calling as she interacts with hundreds of people.

“I feel so much purpose in what I do every day,” she said.

—Anna Seip