- Sponsorship -

High School Students Have Backstage Pass to Learning Technical Side of Theater

What Josh Hess loves about theater is the backstage magic: working the lights and bringing all the technical parts of the show together just right. “This is definitely my passion,” said Josh, who is in his second year of the Kent Career Technical Center’s Regional Theater Technology Program housed at the Van Singel Fine Arts Center at Byron Center High School.

The Kenowa Hills High School senior said he’s become so well-versed in backstage work that he’s used lighting design ideas learned from professional technicians at his school’s plays and musicals. He also shares his knowledge with the class’s first-year students.Senior Josh Hess works backstage during class

“All this stuff, I really don’t even think about,” he said. “It’s second nature to me I love it so much.”

Six girls and six boys are enrolled in the class, which teaches all things theater except performance. The class covers lighting, sound, rigging, set design, costume and makeup. With capacity for 25 in the program, administrators hope to increase interest. Students can attend for one or two years.

The class started in 1998 at Van Singel, one of the first venues of its kind in the region serving high schools and presenting high-quality shows and entertainment.

Working Alongside Professionals

Juniors and seniors come from all over the county for the two-hour Monday through Friday class. They work on at least six productions a year, including large-scale professional performances presented at Van Singel. They join professional technicians and designers for big-time shows, like Broadway’s “Rox” and “Ring of Fire” this fall.

While tinkering with backstage lighting during class, Hess said working the shows is the best part and often requires a morning-to-night schedule. During last year’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” he worked the lighting and rail, which involves “all the stuff that moves up and down” like lighting fixtures, theatrical scenery and curtains. Hess said his dream job is to become a technical director or master electrician.

Senior Parker Brauntz takes measurements on stageCollege-caliber Learning

Students cover everything taught in an introductory level college course. Many are ready for careers in theater and entertainment, said Amber Schrier, Van Singel technical director and class instructor. Students can earn two Grand Rapids Community College credits and up to 12 Davenport University credits by completing two years of the program. Schrier said skills developed also translate to careers as wide-ranging as electronics and makeup.

Students said their interest in the class comes from a love of theater or an affinity for the technical side of things. “I like to be backstage when it all comes together, and it looks really great,” said Kaitlyn Liptrot, an East Kentwood senior.

Schrier attended the program in 1999 as a Byron Center High School student and went on to graduate from Michigan State University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Arts and Humanities. She was hired as the course instructor and Van Singel technical director in 2007. “I brought it full circle,” she said.Senior Shauna Current

While at MSU, Schrier discovered she knew all the material in the introductory theater courses because of the KCTC class. Professors took notice and allowed her to test out of courses. “As a sophomore in college, I was taking graduate level courses,” she said.


Fine Arts Byron Center Public Schools

Van Singel Fine Arts Center schedule

Kent Career Technical Center Regional Theatre Technology course

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


District welcomes new administrators, ready to ‘lead through uncharted waters’

New administrators share their thoughts on starting their posts during a pandemic...

Teacher and coach applies lessons in classroom and on field

New Kelloggsville head football coach Brandon Branch also teaches science and math at the high school and looks to bring academics and athletics together whenever he can...

Two high schools, newly renovated, await return of students

Two major renovation projects at Ottawa Hills and Union high schools are part of a 30-year, $175 million school improvement bond approved November 2015 with the majority, $155 million, earmarked for construction...

Avid reader, Petoskey-stone hunter, lover of great outdoors

Melanie Hoeksema is the new Ada Elementary principal. SNN gets to know her in this edition of Meet Your Principal...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Kent ISD offers a mix of in-person, virtual instruction

Districts and Kent ISD staff have worked to get schools and programs ready for the 2020-2021 school year, while also adjusting to changing guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic...

Districts ponder how to keep students learning, engaged

Teachers are challenged to keep their style of instruction intact with students who are socially distanced and, often, not in the building at all...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU