Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Both sides of the footlights

February 28, 2018

Samuel Martin of Hot Springs, S.D., works on the lighting setup for the production of "The Vagina Monologues" at Chadron State College. (Photo by Daniel Binkard/Chadron State College)
Samuel Martin of Hot Springs, S.D., works on the lighting setup for the production of "The Vagina Monologues" at Chadron State College. (Photo by Daniel Binkard/Chadron State College)

CHADRON – Opportunities for Chadron State College Theatre students aren’t limited to acting on stage. In fact, some of the opportunities behind the scenes aren’t even intended to be perceived by the casual theatregoer.

Sam Martin, a veteran of the CSC Theatre department who has acted in 14 productions, admits he doesn’t want to be noticed as the light designer for the upcoming Chadron State College theatre production of “Steel Magnolias.” That’s because Martin, a senior Theatre major from Hot Springs, South Dakota, believes technical aspects of theatre are only noticed when things go awry.

“In the technical side of things, the main goal is to have the audience never think about you. If you notice something about the lights or set, it’s probably a bad thing,” Martin said. “[Light design] is very nerve-wracking, but it’s a different kind of nervous. If you’re bad on stage, you look bad and it doesn’t necessarily affect the rest of the show. As a designer, you’re responsible for a large chunk of the audience experience. It’s a large amount of stress. On the flipside, however, you don’t have to face any of those people, so there’s a certain amount of freedom.”

Martin, who made his CSC acting debut in “Big River” in 2014 as a freshman, takes his new role seriously.

“Lighting design requires a lot of focus,” said Martin, who is using the set design and working with the light grid for the upcoming show in the Black Box Theatre. “I have to figure out the areas in which people will be acting and where they’ll go. I position the lights, figure out the colors by finding gels and using some LED fixtures. I’m also in charge of getting everything set up and having the lights patched into the board. The nice thing about lighting is that everything is the way you did it. When you direct a play, actors can make choices that don’t involve you, but with lights to a certain degree you have the most control. Everything is the way you’ve made it to be. If it’s not good, it’s all your fault.”

As Martin mentioned, set design is an integral component to the lights. The two technical elements must work together to provide theatre goers a memorable experience. Leo Haselhorst, another senior in the Theatre program, is designing the set of “Steel Magnolias.”

Haselhorst is tasked with recreating a 1980s Louisiana beauty and hair parlor for “Steel Magnolias.” Even though the show doesn’t open until April 19, Theatre Professor Roger Mays said Haselhorst has been hard at work.

“[Leo’s] come in to show me floor plans, wallpaper designs, furniture, and he’s trying to create a practical working sink,” Mays said. “A lot of this stuff happens outside the classroom. Leo and I meet all the time. The myriad of details to do any show is immense and both Leo and Sam are working overtime to make sure the details are correct.”

One of the ways for students to buy into the Theatre program, Mays said, is to give them opportunities. He estimates at least 20 students have been responsible for at least one technical component for a play during the time he and Associate Professor Scott Cavin have been at CSC. Those technical duties include directing, light design, sound design, set design, and costume design. Mays said the opportunities are granted to the department’s best and brightest students, but they also must have the proper prerequisites, including stage directing, or light and set design.

“These opportunities are great items for a student’s portfolio and for an undergraduate to say he or she did a major set design or lighting design, that’s a big deal,” Mays said. “If we were a bigger college, graduate students would get to do what Sam and Leo are doing this year. But in our program these seniors get that opportunity. You have to be exceptional to be given this opportunity and our students earn it. We don’t owe these opportunities to the students but Scott and I are glad to grant it to them.”

After four years of working in the Theatre department’s scene shop and several productions at CSC, Martin has earned his opportunity. A former home schooled student, Martin participated in two years of high school drama before embarking on his first performance – a community production of “Cinderella” set in the jungles of New Guinea.

“I moved to Papua, New Guinea because my parents were missionaries. From my first production, I just felt a connection to theatre,” he said. “I loved it so much I was in every production at the high school that I could get into. I knew at that point I wanted to go into theatre and made it my major.”

While the confines of Memorial Hall are far away from New Guinea, Martin has been able to continue his passion. Off the stage, Martin and Haselhorst have both worked in the department’s scene shop for four years and have been involved with building sets, rigging lights and other technical aspects for a handful of productions.

“There is a lot of opportunity here for exploration. It’s an educational environment, so the pressure isn’t as much as in professional environments and there’s time to prepare,” said Martin, who has also worked two seasons as an actor and tech crew member for the Post Playhouse. “You have time to learn new things with every show. I love being involved in every part of the productions. If I’m in a show and I’m working in the [tech] shop, there’s very little I don’t know about the show. It’s cool to see it from just about every angle.”

Martin, who will graduate in May, said he plans to try to stay involved with theatre and would like to eventually work on movie sets. He said one of the things that will help him in his pursuits is the broad-based training in all aspects of theatre that he received at CSC.

“I’m glad I came to a smaller school to do theatre. In big schools, people who major in performance or in technical parts barely touch the parts they’re not focused on because there are so many people trying to get into every part of it. At CSC, you do everything. You build the productions from the ground up and it gives you skills in all the areas,” he said.

—Alex Helmbrecht, Director of College Relations