I never considered myself a visual artist. Drawing was never my strong suit (no, really, I couldn’t draw anything), and coloring inside the lines always proved challenging. Growing up as a performer, I never considered that technical theatre might be something I was good at, or even interested in. It was not until I worked on my first tech crew in high school that I started to explore and develop my skills as a visual artist. I will never forget how I felt after finishing the first thing I ever built: it was a set of bushes cut out of plywood for a high school play. I had never used a jigsaw before, I had barely worked in a scene shop, and yet, in front of me, stood a set piece that I had built myself.
I have the privilege of working with our tech campers at Acting Manitou. These campers, of any and all skill level, choose to spend their summer working in the theater with our designers and technical staff on all of our festival shows. Some focus on scenic construction, some on costumes, some on lights, but all have the opportunity to dip their toes in each department. These campers work on a variety of projects with the tech crew and are so instrumental to the production process at Acting Manitou. Acting Manitou is an incredibly collaborative place, and in production our tech campers are vital to this collaboration. We work together, brainstorm ideas, and problem solve as a group. As the session goes on and we move into tech week, these campers watch their creations come into full view, and they see the worlds they have helped build be brought to life.
But our tech curriculum extends beyond the production of our shows. The skills one learns working in production extend beyond the stage, and have deeply practical applications. Early in the session, our costume designer led our tech campers in a sewing workshop. At the end of the class, each camper had a small bag that they had made by hand. Last week I taught a masterclass in carpentry. At the end of 80 minutes each camper had a small bench to take home. I watched a camper’s face light up as she put the final screws into her bench and realized she had just constructed a piece of furniture. Even our more experienced tech campers were elated upon the completion of this project. Seeing their reactions reminded me of my younger self and of one of the main reasons I love working in scenic construction: the moment when you realize you have created something — something physical, concrete, functional — out of nothing.
I always knew I was a performer, but after five years of working in the scene shop at Acting Manitou I now consider myself a technician and a visual artist as well. Every summer I return I learn more — from our production staff and our tech campers alike. These young technicians and artists expand my creativity in ways I couldn’t imagine, and many go on to work in technical theatre throughout high school and college. Some even come back to Acting Manitou as staff members to work with our production team — one of my campers from my first summer as a counselor in 2015 is now a carpenter with me in the scene shop. Our designers, technicians, and tech campers are some of the most creative, dedicated, excited people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. Strong theatre communities are built on on the passion, love, dedication, and artistry of every department, and Acting Manitou is one of the strongest theatre communities I know.