So Much Happens Backstage – Technical Theater Classes Kindle Teamwork and Craft

As an Equity in Arts Education District, CCUSD offers multiple opportunities at every grade level for students to learn through the arts: visual arts, dance, film, theatre and music.

Theatre has the unique ability to encourage students to be brave, daring and expressive by using their bodies, faces and all five senses. Theatre enhances both verbal and non-verbal communication, boosts self-esteem, fuels collaboration, creates empathy and respect, and offers leadership opportunities. Furthermore, theatre goes beyond performing to offer a wide spectrum of artistic opportunities, from storytelling, music and dance to writing, set design/visual arts and production.

But what you see on stage is a fraction of what goes into a production. For every actor, there are five to 10 people behind the scenes who help that actor tell the story – be seen with the proper lighting, get into character with the best costuming, be able to do their scene with a prop, a sound, a stage direction.

Those behind-the-scenes players are known as the technical crew.

“The technical parts of the theatre are as much about telling a story as are the script and the actors,” said CCUSD’s Technical Theatre teacher Howard Behnken. “Lights tell a story, sound tells a story, wardrobe and props tell a story. They are as critical to a production as the actors themselves. Let’s say the script calls for rain. Does the actor get an umbrella, a newspaper to hold over his head or a raincoat – each piece adds a different element and tells a slightly different story.”

Culver City High School offers Technical Production and Stagecraft as part of CCUSD’s Career & Technical Education (CTE) Program. CTE provides a variety of excellent career and technical training for high school students. The goal is to determine and meet both the career exploration and training objectives of students and the labor market needs in Los Angeles County. For more information about arts and CTEs, check out Create CA’s website.

Behnken has seen technical theatre help students find a direction and a purpose.

“I know of several students who finally found their niche,” he said. “Somehow they stumbled into the arts, and specifically our technical theatre program. Theatre has changed their lives and opened their eyes to future possibilities they didn’t know existed.”

Behnken teaches both Technical Production for Theatre and Stagecraft during the regular school day, and after school. He is one of two technical theatre artists on staff. J.D. Sargent is the Technical Director for the Robert Frost Auditorium, and assists in all of the technical classes.

“Mr. Sargent is a phenomenal resource,” said Behnken. “In this business, there aren’t many people in theatre who know how to do it all – music, sound, lights, direct. Mr. Sargent does and is an amazing library that we all get to check into and pull out information. In addition, he’s taught middle school, high school and college and we are lucky to have him here in CCUSD.”

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