Making a NU Stage show: A multimedia story

There are two types of people in this world: the ones that get seen and the ones that don’t.

When NU Stage, Northeastern University’s student-run musical theater club, performs its production of “Godspell,” the people dancing on stage will get all the attention.

But there’s a secret group, pulling strings, that no one will notice.

Emma Soucy, a recent Northeastern graduate, is one of those silent but vital players in the show. Soucy is a technician for Northeastern’s event management department, a role she started as a work-study student during her undergraduate years. She joined as an usher and learned lighting simply because there was a need for it.

She’s since become a master of the lights, or, in her more humble words, “kind of the most experienced lighting tech on staff right now in terms of programming.”

For “Godspell,” the club’s lighting designer will bring Soucy her designs, which could include anything from funky colors to flashing lights. Entrusted with the artist’s vision, she’ll get to work programming it into existence. When “Godspell” opens, she’ll just sit in the auditorium and press a “go” button for each cue, but there’s a long road to travel before that happens.

“The hard part of lighting is the programming,” she said.

Her programming baby is an ETC Ion, a pricey light board with well over thirty keys, plus knobs and dials. Press certain keys together and you’ll get even more commands. There’s a learning curve that she compares to typing.

After five years, Soucy can do it without looking.

Still, she estimates it will take her 2 and a half to 4 hours to program the initial cues for “Godspell,” and that’s before the inevitable tweaks from the designer.

“You’re programming and making edits to your work probably up until the show starts,” Soucy said.

Only event management employees are allowed to run the board, so it’s usually up to her to sit there during the NU Stage shows, but there are a few exceptions.

Blair Childs-Biscoe is one of those exceptions. As both co-lighting designer for NU Stage’s performance of “The Drowsy Chaperone” last spring and an employee of the event management department, she was authorized to touch the board. That meant she could have her cake and eat it, too, or, more specifically, design it and program it.

She started by annotating the script with ideas and working with the show’s other production staff members to bring it all together. She described the last month of the process as a crunch.

“Hopefully by the final dress [rehearsal] everything is together the way you’d like to see it, and so you can just make some final little touch edits,” she said. “But a lot of the time that’s not actually what happens…as does happen in technical theater, something goes wrong or you go behind for some reason.”

Her favorite parts were working with the production staff and seeing the payoff of her work.

“There’s a couple of numbers that I remember in particular that was like, ‘Aw man, you did a good job! Good job, Blair!” she said.

NU Stage is a consistent two-timer in Northeastern’s Blackman Auditorium each semester with a revue and a main stage musical, but there’s a nonstop flow of additional events through Blackman and the university’s other event spaces for the staff to manage. The department even has its own co-op to help.

Dante Marino, a third-year music industry major who currently has the role, took it because of his interest in music. His favorite part of the job is being exposed to events he wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

“You see what people are doing,” he said. “You see all kinds of different art forms.”

His most memorable shift was during the Chinese Students and Scholars Association Gala, which had about ten acts, ranging from dramatic performers to a 20-plus-piece band (this clip is from the 2015 gala hosted by MIT).

“It was like four days like 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., just working, trying to get the show perfect and figuring everything out, and there were just like a hundred people running around, trying to make it happen,” Marino said.

Soucy, now in post-grad life, has been able to transition her backstage experience into a career. She does freelance lighting work for audio visual, or AV, companies, and is a desk electrician on the Huntington Theater’s new play,  “Tiger Style!” Her job focuses on run crew duties.

According to Soucy, the most fulfilling part of lighting is when you “see the transitions happening perfectly, working well with the music, working well with the acting, and you actually see it in real time.”

Check out my photo series from the NU Stage “Godspell” rehearsal room:

To round out the NU Stage story, watch my behind-the-scenes feature video on “Godspell” ensemble member Carol Hicks:


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