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Fest Spotlight Shines on Off-Stage Stars

Theatre tech crew

Hannah Donovan, Kristofer Eitrheim,  Amanda Zweibohmer, Allie Stecklein and Jackson Green

February 2016 | by Craig DeVrieze


Tech Team Showdown opponents might say "Break up the Bees," but there's a pretty good chance the St. Ambrose Theatre Department's dynastic crew of backstage technicians quickly would put it all back together again anyway.

An SAU crew claimed the Showdown's coveted Golden Wrench for the fourth time in a decade at the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Burnsville, Minn., in January.

The 2016 regional festival's spotlight shone bright on the offstage talent within the SAU Theatre Department, as senior Shannon Rourke won the Stage Management competition and earned the right to compete for a national award in April at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the offstage success at the regional event, four SAU actors  — recent graduate Brooke Schelly '15 and current students Kayla Lansing, Jordan McGinnis and Sam Jones — were among just 16 actors from an original group of 330 from schools throughout Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and North and South Dakota to advance to the semifinal round of the Irene Ryan Acting competition. McGinnis, a senior from Davenport, reached the finals with his partner, Rourke.

Nick Pearce also received an honorable mention in the critic's event for theatre journalism, and faculty members Cory Johnson, PhD, and Daniel Rairdin-Hale '04, MFA, and staff member Dianne Dye each received commendations for their work over the past year.

"We are so proud of all of our students," said Rairdin-Hale, the department chair. "They represented our school very well."

Rourke's win was owed in part to a 2015 body of work that included serving as stage manager for the fall main-stage performance of Parade as well as December's children's play, Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.

Rourke's trip to the KCACTF National Festival in the nation's capital April 15-19 will cap a big year for the theatre and history major from Skokie, Ill. She also will play the lead role in Hedda Gabler Feb. 19-21 at the Allaert Auditorium in Galvin Fine Arts Center.

A daughter of two lighting design veterans on the Chicago professional theatre scene, Rourke came to St. Ambrose intent on building an acting career. Instead, said the do-it-all, hands-on nature of the SAU Theatre Department helped ignite a passion and affinity for stage management. She is the first St. Ambrose competitor to win a KCACTF first-place award for stage management, an unsung but essential role in a theatre production that involves working with the director, actors, set design crews, technicians and musicians to coordinate and facilitate virtually anything and everything that happens on stage, starting with the opening rehearsal and ending with the final curtain.

"Here, you have to do everything," she said about St. Ambrose's small but mighty Theatre Department, "and for stage managing that is huge. I don't think I could have won this award if I hadn't come here."

Members of the winning Tech Team included Amanda Zweibohmer, Jackson Green, Allie Stecklein and Hannah Donovan. It was Zweibohmer's second chance to hoist a Golden Wrench, as she also was a member of the last SAU group to win the award as a first-year student in 2013.

Kristofer Eitrheim, a professor in his 25th year in the Galvin technical department, said courses in stagecraft, lighting design, costume design and scene design provide SAU theatre majors a firm grounding in the backstage arts. Three main-stage student plays and several smaller-stage productions each year provide "a great lab for some of the things we talk about in classes but don't have the opportunity to do," he said.

Still, he deferred any credit for SAU tech crews' multiple successes in KCACTF regional competitions to a work ethic that has been passed down from class to class and student to student.

Tech Team Showdowns feature timed competitions in changing props, tying curtains, hanging lights and facilitating costume changes. "The judges get very picky about how you do things, and there is no running," he said.

To prepare for festival, this year's group practiced from November through January under the coaching of Matthew Elliott, assistant technical director at Galvin. "These students take it very seriously," Eitrheim said.  "They work at it. And they do like the Wrench. They are very proud of it."

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