March 7, 2019
Every September, I receive lots of advice from Martin Dallago. He'll tell me to straighten my shoulders as I walk or to project my voice to the back of the room. He's even been known to remove lint from my suit.
Dallago, an assistant theatre professor and production manager, volunteers his time to support Welcome Back to WCU, the annual campus celebration held at the start of the fall semester. The small team inside and outside my office who produce this event rely on Dallago to design the set, tell me and others when to go on stage and where to stand when we get out there, and, most importantly, ensures that everything we do upholds our shared vision for Welcome Back to WCU.
Dallago essentially serves as the event's stage manager (with a few other random duties thrown in) but I know his actual job as a professor and WCU's sole theatrical production manager involves a whole lot more. Recently, I shadowed Dallago as he worked and was able to witness his behind-the-scenes magic for WCU's production of Local Girls, a play by Emma Goidel about high school students in a heavy metal band.
We started our day at a production meeting in the EO Bull Center's Costume Studio, surrounded by sewing machines, dress mannequins, and boxes of fabric remnants stacked to the ceiling. It was one day after the first full dress rehearsal of Local Girls and a mere three days before the first performance. Dallago's job was to keep everyone on task as we reviewed what was learned at the dress rehearsal — in this case, specific to costumes.
In attendance was Leonard Kelly, an associate professor of theatre and the director of Local Girls, Constance Case, an associate professor of theatre who teaches costume design, and several students who worked on costumes for the show, under the direction of student costume designer Samantha Funk.
"I am a terrible time manager and Martin keeps all of us schedule," said Kelly. "He ensures that we are all doing what's needed to keep things moving forward. He's involved in every aspect of the production, from blocking out the show on the calendar more than a year ago to checking on ticket sales now, as opening day draws near."
As the meeting opened, Case pointed out that the character named Riley didn't look edgy enough so, on the spot, we decided to add more metal studs to Riley's jean jacket. I'm not sure if Dallago ever helps with this task, but Funk let me sew a stud onto the jacket. (It's harder than it looks.)
Dallago kept the meeting moving quickly and efficiently but also let the students do most of the talking. "I've worked in professional theatres and on cruise lines – two tours on ships and a number of years in shipyards as the ships and their stages were being built," said Dallago.
"I approach my work at WCU differently than I did in the entertainment industry," he added. "The goal is different – the objective here is to see that our students are fully engaged in the creative process and do as much of the work as possible. I want them do the best job they can, and I give them a lot of freedom to try new things. And when things don't go as they planned, they know there is someone who has their back."
Rachel Borczuch, a junior who is serving as assistant director of Local Girls, concurs. "Professor Dallago is not afraid to step in and help his students while also giving them the independence to learn from their successes and challenges," she said.
After Dallago determined the costume issues were under control, we headed to the MainStage Theatre, which was buzzing with activity. Students were touching up the paint on the floor while student lighting designer Myles Martin supervised a light check. Several gels on the intricate grid of lights overhead needed to be replaced, so Dallago, student Becca Smith and I set off to fix them. Gels, also known as color filters, are thin sheets of fire-resistant, transparent plastic that come in hundreds of colors and hues. In the hands of the right lighting designer, they can contribute much to a performance.
Which I discovered for myself at the Sunday, March 3 performance of the show. The lighting effects were dazzling, and so, too, was everything else about this production. The sound effects were beautifully engineered and the live music and acting was first-rate. As I sat in the audience, I took quiet pride in the fact that the very last light in the first row was glowing in just-the-right-shade of purple. My contribution, of course, was minute, but a few seats away, Dallago sat with a similar look of pride on his face. Ever since Local Girls was added to WCU's performance schedule 18 months ago, Dallago has been working diligently behind the scenes to make this student production a success.