Meet Phoebe Sweatman, a BFA Technical Theatre and Design major at the University of North Georgia. Technical theatre is an important part of theatre. Technicians and designers are responsible for what the show looks like and for making what you see happen onstage feel magical. At GTA, technical theatre students learn lighting, costumes, scenic design and carpentry, sound, technical direction, and stage management. GTA faculty and staff not only teach students how things work, but they provide opportunities for students to find out what they are passionate about. Phoebe tells us why she chose to major in technical theatre, what inspires her, how to build a portfolio, and why she’s so proud to be at Gainesville Theatre Alliance.
What is your year and major?
I am a third year senior set to graduate early this fall! My focus is in Stage Management, I’m a B. F. A. Design & Technology major.
What are you working on currently?
Currently, I am the stage manager for one of our Spring Rep productions, The Tempest!
As a technician, what has been your favorite tech role at GTA?
Honestly, this is a bit of a hard question for me. A lot of the productions I have had the chance to work on have been so fulfilling and rewarding because I’ve learned something valuable from each opportunity. For sentimental reasons however, I would have to say being the Assistant Stage Manager on Waiting for Godot has been my favorite because it was my first show, during my freshman year at GTA. The company was small, so we really got to know each other and bonded over our little project. Many of my mentors and people I look up to came from this show. It really felt like I was being welcomed into a family and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
Why Technical Theatre?
In high school, I was pretty equally involved onstage as I was offstage. I’ve always loved telling a story through theatre and being a part of the creative process. Helping facilitate the creative process through designs to rehearsal and through to production has always been where I most excel. I love working with the people and helping make the magic happen. In deciding what I wanted to do in the world of theatre, ultimately it came down to me asking myself, “What are you really good at?” Surprisingly, a huge deciding factor was during my senior year at ThesCon. I had taken my prompt book to enter as an I.E. (Individual Event) and I managed to get an all-superior rating. This put me in a mainstage slot for the closing ceremony. That was when it sort-of hit me, and I remember thinking “Holy crap, is this actually happening right now??” and “Yeah, maybe I can do this.” This moment reaffirmed my choice to follow stage management, into college (and hopefully a career).
What is your favorite part about GTA shows?
As I mentioned before, there is always a learning opportunity and something to take away from each show. Any show I’ve worked on at GTA has always challenged me and pushed me to be better, either through my paperwork, people skills, or just production work in general. However, the best part is, hands down, the people. I’m lucky enough to get to work with both actors and technicians throughout rehearsal, and the camaraderie that is built is unmatched. There are always inside jokes, fun backstage moments, horror stories to share and laugh about afterwards. Plus, knowing that we’re all learning and are down in the trenches together juggling show responsibilities, class assignments, and work schedules, all while trying our best to be a human being, altogether makes for a healthy appreciation of those around us. It is incredibly humbling to get work alongside some of the most talented, and genuinely amazing people (many of whom, I’m lucky enough to consider friends).
What side of technical theatre have you not tried but want to?
The fun thing about being a stage manager with Gainesville Theatre Alliance, is how much the faculty and staff want you to learn and branch out. Your education and interests are yours to play with and explore. I have been grateful to learn from each department, as it has enhanced my understanding and skills as a stage manager. I’ve found I really enjoy the artistry side of the scenic world. By some computer fluke, last spring I was placed in the scenic painting class and I loved it! This semester I’m in the advanced scenic painting class, as well as the drawing for theatre class and I’m learning to explore my creative, artistic side. From this experience, I’d say that if you have reservations about something, you should try it. Try to push yourself to do something new and challenging because you may enjoy it. You may even have a natural talent for it!
Any advice on building up a portfolio?
Take. Process. Shots. If there is one thing that I’ve learned (for any technician), it is to take process shots! This is super beneficial for many reasons but being able to see where you started and how you got to the finished product is important. In addition to process shots, have some production photos. Either of what you built as it is used onstage or simply to provide a visual of the quality, and potential challenges of the show. The latter is especially important for stage managers, as our work is typically shown through the paperwork we create. While this can be impressive, adding a visual certainly doesn’t hurt.
Any advice for high school seniors applying to college for technical theatre?
Over everything else, just be yourself. Most places don’t want a robot, they want a person who is excited and ready to learn. Think about what it is you want for your college experience and education. Don’t settle because you think you have to. Also, speaking from experience, I know it may be difficult, but try not to only focus on theatre. Find a hobby, or something you like doing outside of theatre so when you’re asked, “what do you like to do?” you have an answer that isn’t solely based around theatre. Understand, many of the people you will be interviewing with, want you to succeed. Take a breath and relax, you’re doing great!
What has been your experience with hybrid classes?
It has been… interesting. I’d say many of us have become masters in the art of pivoting. Learning about theatre through a computer screen seems a bit counterintuitive as theatre brings people together. It is an art form that cannot be done without people. However, shifting to online classes along with some online productions have proved to be informative as many of us have learned some new skills. Really, the key is all about perspective. Glass half full or empty? We get to decide how we view our situation.
Why should prospective students choose GTA?
It is true what people say about college, you find your people. And you will find your people here. I have learned a lot from the hands-on classes and production work, as well as my friends. The environment at GTA pushes you to be better. If you are willing to put in the work and the time, you can take away so much from the program, regardless of your degree focus. Gainesville Theatre Alliance offers a lot of opportunities for students, that other programs don’t including student leadership roles, working with guest artists, certification courses, and many more. Ultimately, as cheesy as it might sound, GTA feels like family.
What do you love about theatre?
One of the things I love about theatre, that I think we all can relate to, is the memorable one-liners that stick with us. They always seem to hit close to home right when you need it. That’s where I find a lot of the magic of theatre to be, is in these vulnerable, emotional moments with which we all experience and share together. For me, “Wait For It” from Hamilton has been a song that for the past year is a grounding reminder for me. Whenever I need a confidence boost, maybe some inspiration or I’m feeling like I’m not where I’m supposed to be, these lyrics serve as a reminder for myself that we are all on different paths and different points in our life and careers.
I’m willing to wait for it
I am the one thing in life I can control
I am inimitable
I am an original
I’m not falling behind or running late
I’m not standing still
I am lying in wait
You may be tempted to compare yourself and your path to those around you, and start to think that you may be behind but that is not the case. You are the one thing you can control and you are right where you need to be. Trust yourself and trust the process.