LONGMONT — The show at Vance Brand Civic Auditorium would not be able to go on without the help of students in the Career Development Center’s stage technology classes.
Students from all the district’s high schools meet at Skyline High School every day to learn the basics of lighting, sound and stagecraft.
During the holidays, the students spend nearly every night at “work,” designing lights and sound, setting up and taking down sets, running concessions and taking tickets.
The CDC program is one of the most thorough in the state for stagecraft, said John Benton, Vance Brand’s facility manager and the St. Vrain Valley School District’s stage technology instructor.
His students come to him as juniors, for the most part, but a few sophomores and freshmen have been allowed to participate over the years, he said.
Most events at the auditorium take place at night or on weekends.
Benton’s students change out the lights and put up the sets during their class periods. They also volunteer to work various functions in the auditorium.
Many of his students have been surprised by how physical the work is backstage, he said.
“It is a job. That is the biggest thing people have to learn,” Benton said. “It’s a lot of work. A common misconception is that you push buttons and turn knobs, but 95 percent is putting together/taking apart and 5 percent is pushing buttons and turning knobs.”
Each student spends about eight hours backstage for every one hour onstage, Benton said.
As part of their coursework, students have to spend a certain number of hours operating various pieces of equipment. Beginning students learn how to operate follow spotlights, the fly system and the sound and lighting systems, Benton said. They also need to know how to be ushers and be aware of safety procedures in the auditorium.
In the intermediate courses, students can begin specializing in building sets or designing lights or sound.
Students are tested on what they learn, but much of their grade has to do with the shows they work and the experience they gain.
If a student signs up to work a band concert and then fails to show up, he will get an F on the assignment, Benton said.
“Your payment is your grade,” he said.
During the last week of school before the winter break, Benton’s students are particularly stressed out: They have to handle a different production every night of the week.
“The holiday season is just rushed,” said 17-year-old Brandon Coon, a Skyline junior who has been in the program since he was a sophomore. “We have no control. There are a bunch of users coming in, and we have to make everyone happy.
“We’re Longmont’s little elves,” Coon added with a laugh.
The upside of the season is that “we sell a sizable amount of concessions, and we get some interesting shows and users,” Coon said. “Audiences love Christmas stuff, and they leave happy.”
There is “stress with every show; you’ve just got to make it work. That was the real lesson of the holiday season,” Coon said.
Matt Parker, 15, a junior at Skyline, said he thinks the stage technology program is “awesome.”
“It is a great way to get ready for work as soon as you leave school,” he said. “It gives you the knowledge and responsibility.”
And although the holidays have been crazy, they have been fun, Parker said.
Justin Marshall, a sophomore at Skyline, said he heard about the stage technology class through his older sister, who took it when he was in middle school.
His favorite part about the class is that the “people and the instructors treat us as equals,” he said.
In the past few weeks, the stage technology students have worked on “The Nutcracker,” with the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, with the Air Force Band, and on numerous school and holiday band and choir concerts. They also handle all of Skyline High School’s plays and musicals.
And just because they graduate doesn’t mean they can’t remain involved in the program. Many of Benton’s students stay on as paid technicians, even after they leave for college.
Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at email@example.com.