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Before the curtains part to reveal the opening act of SA HSLA’s production of In the Heights, a huddle of scholars are quietly dimming the lights, troubleshooting the sound, and pulling aside lead actors, reminding them to project their lines. They are the tech crew, and they are the behind-the-scenes hands and hearts of SA HSLA’s plays and musicals. For months, they have been working tirelessly to create a production that would make Lin-Manuel Miranda (the visionary writer, composer, and lead actor behind the original Broadway production) proud.
While SA’s theatre tech crew may not physically be in the spotlight, their hard work is center stage. Under the guidance of their theatre tech teachers, Mr. Omar Jaslin and Ms. Courtney Edwards, they design and build sets, create costumes, run the lighting and sound design, and manage the stage.
While SA’s theatre tech crew may not physically be in the spotlight, their hard work is center stage.
Senior Joseph Phaire, a veteran of HSLA’s theatre program, is passionate about the work: “Theatre tech has shaped my high school goals,” he says. One of the most reliable members of the crew and the lighting technician for In the Heights, Joseph has been part of the tech team since his freshman year and loves nearly every aspect of theatre (“save running the cables and breaking down the set,” Joseph explains with a laugh. “That can be pretty tedious!”). From the moment he dove into the theatre tech world, Joseph has had a “learn as you go” approach. He says that there’s no way to understand how gratifying the full experience is until you’ve immersed yourself in it. Over the years, he’s taken his skills outside the classroom. Thanks to Mr. Jaslin’s support and connections, Joseph has had the opportunity to spend summers interning with various theatre groups and doing tech for small performances. His time in theatre won’t end when he crosses the stage in cap and gown this June; he plans to pursue theatre in college.
Joseph isn’t alone in his passion for theatre tech. Fellow senior Ananda Hoggard-Shannon has also been involved in theatre tech program since her freshman year and plans to continue theatre in college. She gently corrects me when I ask if she was the stage manager.
“Assistant Director, actually,” Ananda says.
Ananda certainly has the gravitas of a director. She easily commands a room, a necessary skill when keeping tabs on the large cast and crew. According to Ms. Edwards, Ananda is a highly capable director, but Ananda credits her success to her coworkers and cast members.
“The cast and crew take theatre very seriously,” she says. “They’re professionals.”
The skills she’s gained from theatre have influenced her inside and outside the classroom. She’s exceptionally organized, and has ventured into the short film world, directing and editing movies during the summer. It’s clear that Ananda draws inspiration from Ms. Edwards, whose high energy pumps up both the performers and crew during rehearsal. While Ananda has been involved in all aspects of HSLA’s theatre productions — she has both acted and dabbled in various aspects of tech, including wardrobe design — her favorite spot is in the director’s chair. Her commitment to this role has earned her the respect and admiration of her teachers: she has proved her talent time and time again. For the In the Heights production, she even took sole charge of choreographing the song “Alabanza.”
Ananda’s younger sister, sophomore Alaisia Hoggard-Shannon, is also deeply involved in theatre tech. She recalls attending her sister’s theatre performances when she was younger, which inspired her to pursue theatre when she got to HSLA. Like Joseph, Alaisia’s love for theatre tech was accelerated by working with Mr. Jaslin: “He’s like family,” she says. She is drawn to the more technical aspects of theatre, the lighting and sound. Her work on productions has taught her to be quick on her feet and respond fast when things go awry. She has big plans for the future.
“Theatre tech is liberating. In the future, I want to travel the world and do tech for concerts.”
Many of the theatre tech crew are pioneers: they threw themselves into the HSLA’s theater program when it was just starting out. Over the years, they have watched audition attendance grow from 30 to 100! Today the program is thriving and provides SA high schoolers with a unique atmosphere of of excitement, camaraderie, and professionalism. Whether on stage or off, these scholars have found their passion and their home.