At any time of day in Kris Eitrheim's office, you'll most likely find at least one student; a different student's bookbag; an assortment of tools and coffee cups; and a very large portrait of General Field Marshal Albrecht Von Roon.
The 19th-century Prussian general's likeness was used as a photo of Hedda Gabler's father in a 2017 SAU Theatre production. Along with many other memories of past productions that somehow ended up in Eitrheim's office – usually as part of an inside joke between himself and SAU theatre student – General Von Roon is part of the life of one of St. Ambrose's biggest Theatre icons.
They Call Him Redbeard
Ok, so the beard isn't red anymore, but the greying chin is proof of how long Eitrheim has been at St. Ambrose. Since 1991, he has taught scores of SAU theatre students in scene and lighting design, as well as stagecraft. Toward that end, he occupies a large share of the Galvin basement where students learn machinery, carpentry, painting, and any other jack-of-all-trades skill required for backstage work.
There's also an impressively organized tool room where Eitrheim demonstrates 54 tools to stagecraft students in a 50-minute class period (roughly one tool per minute, if you're calculating).
About That Fancy Golden Wrench
The SAU Tech Team has won the Golden C-Wrench six times, the most recent being in January at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for the Central Midwest Region. It's awarded annually to the fastest and most proficient technical crew. The winners learn their skills from Eitrheim. And they love him for it.
"We get to spend free time together," he says of his close relationship with students. They practice the craft of theatre not for a major, necessarily, but because they love it. "This is something we're all passionate about, and when we're working on a show, we get to share with each other what we love."
What About Your Work Makes It Fun?
The backstage of Allaert Auditorium is basically a giant playground for people with all kinds of interests, which is what makes it a great place for college students. The collaboration between students and faculty on a production-whether for the intimate, 50-seat Studio Theatre or the 1,200-seat auditorium-is what makes work synonymous with fun.
"They are active participants in an art form," Eitrheim says of his students. "For people trying to find their place in the world, giving them that power of directing or designing a set is something really cool."
SAU Theatre Department in 10 years?
If everything stayed the same, then nothing would change. And for all the talented, successful, and award-winning students the department has churned out over the years, one would think not a lot should change.
"In certain ways, it will still be the same in 10 years," Eitrheim says. "It will still be a family-like place. It will still be a place of opportunity for artists and technicians with skills to learn. People will come and go, and facilities will change, but I hope the flavor and spirit of this department will stay the same."