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The Magic Behind the Curtain

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a Bloomfield Hills High School Theater production, you were likely wowed by the talent on the stage.  But did you know that it is BHHS students behind the scenes, making the productions run smoothly?  From the technical direction, to the lighting and sound, to the costume design, BHHS students help to make the magic happen behind the scenes.

Chris Mulville, BHHS 12th grader, is the Lighting Designer on the technical crew.  Mulville explains the role: "As the Lighting Designer in the theater, it is my job to work with the creative team not only for large-scale productions, but also for concerts, district events, and rental groups that utilize the theater. For A Midsummer Night's Dream, I was tasked with using lighting to convey different elements of the show, such as many of the magical moments and effects that take place in the forest scenes. My process began by meeting with Mary Bogrette (the theater director and BHHS drama teacher) to analyze the script and discuss any preliminary requirements for the lighting design. From there, I led a team of other students to install, focus, and program more than 150 different lighting fixtures, including LED fixtures, UV black lights, and even a disco ball! My job is very fun and interesting, in that it allows me to lead and collaborate with a group of younger students. Scot Cleaveland, our wonderful technical director, really emphasizes the importance of collaboration and working as a team, which is a crucial element in the success of our productions.  My favorite part about working in the theater department is being around such a strong and dedicated group of people, performers and technicians alike. We're all so dedicated not only to ourselves and our positions, but to each other as well. As I have progressed through high school, it was really interesting to see the progression of the program."  For Mulville's impressive work, he was recently awarded thousands of dollars in scholarship money for lighting design.

Lauren Spiegel, an 11th grade BHHS student, is the Co-Student Technical Director and Lighting Engineer.  Spiegel explains, "the role of the Student Technical Directors is to oversee all the jobs that can not be overseen by the Technical Director, Scot Cleaveland.  And as the Lighting Engineer, I run the lighting board during the actual show.  At the same time, I was mentored by Chris Mulville to further my knowledge of designing and programming lights.  Some highlights of working backstage is seeing how the whole thing comes together.  I love seeing the process of how it goes from simple thumbnail sketches on paper, to a full blown set with sound and lights by opening night.  It is absolutely amazing.  In every single production, there have always been little kinks, whether microphones cut out, or certain lights burn out, or the effect was not what we intended, or part of the set is not stable.  However, the tech team always finds a way to fix the problem or innovate a new idea to improve it.  Working this job and being in the theater has been the best experience of my life.  I love the creativity we as students are given, all the collaboration, and all the people: our amazing music directors in Scott Wolf, Jessica Riley, and Alan Posner; and the theater director, Mary Bogrette, and tech director, Scot Cleaveland, that are all involved. The theater department is an incredible place, and has an amazing group of people working together to create something they love.  If you ever have the chance to explore theater, I highly encourage you to take that opportunity - you won't regret it!"

Along with Spiegel, 11th grader Jonathan Margosian is the other Co-Student Technical Director, as well as the Sound Engineer for BHHS theater.  "As a Sound Engineer, I was in charge of all the microphones, while also making sure that the mix, or balance, of all the pre-recorded cues and live microphones, are balanced with each other, so one doesn't overpower the other.  One of the highlights for me of the show, was the final product - everything fell into place! One of the biggest challenges that we overcame was the challenge of bringing all the wood down into the orchestra pit and building two sets of exits and entrances. That was very difficult because the wood we used was already made into platforms, which can be as heavy as 200-250 pounds each. Bringing each part down, repositioning them, putting them together and making it safe to use was a very difficult task with the time we had. One of the exciting parts of my job is that I felt I had a place and could actually do something important with my skills. I got to have a team instead of being on the team. I had a sense of power and that was a thrilling opportunity. My favorite part about working in the theater department is that I get to meet new people every year that want to learn and want to help. The community itself is just amazing and I love that. It would not be the community I know and love if we didn't have the great teachers that run the theater department. Special thanks to Scot Cleaveland, Mary Bogrette, Tina Greenlee, Jessica Riley, Scott Wolf, and Alan Posner as they have helped me have the opportunity to be in this department!"

11th grade student Kathryn West, Head of the Costume Department, has another large role.  West's job is to "organize all the costumes for a show and delegate what tasks are left for a show. We inventory and design all the costumes, hair pieces, makeup, and some of the props. I work with the rest of the costume crew to find and create an outfit for every actor and actress in the show. We work with the directors to make sure everyone on stage looks proper and in place for every show. We alter patterns to create original pieces for actors, as well as pull and alter pieces. Along with creating costumes, we often help with set pieces, draping fabric and working with soft goods.  For some shows, we work with a mentor, but the last two shows we have put on were not with a mentor, and we as students were given lots of creative control to design the costumes the way we wanted to. Being able to work on and be in charge of something so important has been such an amazing experience. I first joined the Broken Leg Theater (Bloomfield Hills High School's theater company name) as a standard technician, and worked in the scene shop building sets, but when I heard about costuming I started primarily working there. I am able to learn in every department, and have experienced so much through my year in tech at BHHS. I have been given amazing opportunities to both learn from and lead my peers. Although I may not get a bow during every show and I can't always say exactly which pieces were mine, knowing I was able to contribute to the overall design of the set, learn new things, and work with other techies, makes everything worth it.  Every day there are new things to do, and although we stay after school for an extra four to five hours a day, there is nowhere else I would want to spend my time. I am so thankful for Mary and Scot, and every opportunity they have given me.  I do not know where I would be without them."

West continues, "As a new student at Bloomfield this year, I was worried about being too shy and not knowing exactly where I fit in, yet theater has given me a place to showcase my talents and learn many new things. During orientation, Mary specifically pulled me to the side and introduced me to Scot, making sure I knew that if I ever needed anything, I could go to them and I would have a safe space. I do not know where I would be without the Broken Leg Theater, Mary, Scot, Mrs. Riley, Mr. Posner, Mr. Wolfe, the ITS board, the cast, and my fellow techies."

Even students as young as 9th grade can be instrumental members of the tech crew.  9th grader and assistant costume designer Lucy Knas helped to "design, fit, alter and make many of the costumes for our shows. Most of the costumes pieces we use are either from storage or ordered online, but we still have to put them together to make a cohesive outfit that will fit the character's design and the actor's body. Sometimes, depending on the nature of the show, for example Cinderella, we end up building some of the costumes for the leads. Even designing the costume for an ensemble member, but especially for the costume of a major character, requires us to know the show.  We also have to keep track of costumes we have and need. It's really important for us to try to keep things organized, especially in bigger, costume heavy productions, so we usually end up making several lists, spreadsheets and inventories leading up to opening night. Being able to watch a dress rehearsal is always a must, because it lets us take notes on what we still need to do, things to tell the actors, and questions we still have. There's always a mad rush to get everything done as the show gets closer, but we always manage to get it all done in the end, which is really rewarding.  My favorite part of being in theater is all of the amazing people I've met and all of the skills I've been able to learn. Theater has allowed me to expand my sewing/costuming knowledge as well as learn in other areas of tech. On costumes, especially, we get to be a part of the crew, but we also work closely with the cast. I've gotten to know so many of the cast and crew members from our shows this past year. The theater community at our school is so supportive, and my closest friends are all people I've been with through our recent productions. Having such a wonderful group to be a part of has been by far the best part of high school!"

Phenomenal theater facilities and instructors support the work of students on and off the stage.  BHHS teacher and technical director Scot Cleveland notes that Bloomfield Hills High School has "one of the largest and best outfitted theaters in the Metro Detroit area, not just at the high school level, but for professional theaters as well."  During the construction of Bloomfield Hills High School, architects worked with a company to install acoustical walls and ceilings to make the auditorium state of the art in its design and sound.  Riggings on the stage enable students to fly.   Cleaveland manages the rigging, set construction and lighting design.  Meanwhile, Mary Bogrette, who is new to BHHS this year, but long-time Bloomfield Hills Middle and West Hills Middle Schools' drama instructor, is in charge of selecting, casting and staging the show for performances. It is a team effort between staff and students, and each year the BHHS theater department continues to amaze and impress audiences.  As West puts it, "When you watch a show here at BHHS, applaud every actor for their hard work, but clap extra loudly for the techies sitting up in the spot booth, in the costume workshop, and backstage!"
 


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