Wichita State News
Photo: Shae West
Senior Brandon Holmes runs through practice cues with the cast and crew of "Medea."

Technical theater major chose to work backstage rather than perform

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brandon Holmes spent his summer backstage at Music Theatre of Wichita managing the stage for the company’s productions.

Holmes performed in musicals and theater in high school and his community, but at Wichita State University he chose a different path.

“I knew that I wanted to stick with theater because that is what I knew a great deal about,” he said. “But I didn’t want to perform anymore.”

Instead, Holmes chose a field with “great demand for people and great opportunities to do amazing things.”

Holmes is a senior in technical theater and design at WSU’s College of Fine Arts.

Most of his career at WSU has been influenced by stage management, which is what he wants to do when he graduates. But he can also be seen working on the set.

Holmes said he enjoys seeing a show be built from its feet upward.

“You literally get to see the building blocks of the show and, when all the elements come together, it is such a rewarding feeling,” he said.

Holmes spends hours every day working on a show, whether it’s paperwork, organizing or being onstage.

“My major (has) a lot of hands-on work,” he said. “You have to design something that fits with all elements of theater: costume, lighting, set, props, whatever. You have to find some way to tell the audience about the story from your side without confusing them.”

But there are drawbacks to working behind the scenes instead of on center stage.

Holmes grew up as a performer, and the audience was able to see him after the show or at curtain call to applaud his performance.

“But being backstage, no one in the audience knows who you are or the work that you have done for this show to run so well,” he said. “But it is still a great feeling to see the audience standing at the end of a show that you have helped put together.”

Holmes’ management experience started in high school at Shawnee Mission South, but most of his knowledge comes from WSU.

A stage manager keeps the cast and design team informed about the show so once technical rehearsals and performances are under way, everyone is on the same page, he said.

Stage managers call light cues, sound cues and scene shifts. They also make sure everything happens in the way it needs to happen.

David Neville, assistant professor and scenic light designer for WSU’s College of Fine Arts, said Holmes was not a bossy stage manager, but he also wasn’t a pushover.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Neville said. “He’s organized. He’s smart.”

Holmes was assistant stage manager for “The Wild Party” and stage manager for “Medea,” “Greater Tuna,” “Lady, Be Good!” and “Waltzing in Heaven.”

He began working at Music Theatre of Wichita in the summer of 2008. He worked there again last summer.

“It is a summer employment kind of situation, so you don’t really know if you will be there until the next year,” he said.

He was responsible for taking care and keeping track of props, organizing prop placement and completing theater paperwork. He also made sure scene changes occurred correctly.

He was assistant stage manager for many shows at MTW including “My Fair Lady,” “Miss Saigon” and “The Producers.”

“’Producers’ was fun just because it was a very large show with a lot of fun elements,” he said, including the dancing Nazi puppets.

In “Miss Saigon,” a Cadillac and a helicopter made stage appearances.

MTW does Broadway-quality shows with real professionals, Holmes said.

“A lot of the people you see in the shows there have been seen and will be seen on Broadway,” he said.

As soon as he graduates, Holmes wants to join a touring company of a show.

“I want to be a stage manager because I like to be in charge and physically involved in the running of a show,” he said.

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Created on Thursday, November 12, 2009; Last modified on Monday, November 16, 2009