Spotlight: Meet the Production Professionals Behind the Curtain

LR: Mark Ormesher, Kevin D. Smith, Chris Burrell

The seasoned production team at the Hylton Center brings excellence to every show. Every time. From coordinating myriad needs of touring artists to balancing sound levels to hanging precise lighting plots, and so much more, this team does it all with a quiet grace and skillful mastery. And while these Hylton professionals are content to execute details big and small behind the scenes, we thought it was time to turn the spotlight on them! We spoke with three long-time production team members, all of whom have been performing integral roles at the Hylton Center for over 10 years, and asked them to tell us more about their individual roles.

What does a typical day in your job look like during the Hylton Center performance season?

Mark Ormesher, Production Staff: We're advancing shows continuously, with rentals and community groups comprising the bulk of our show load. Advancing a Hylton Presents season is pretty straightforward. Most of the groups are on tour and have professionals explaining what they need. From there it's often as simple as "yes, we got that" or "no, we'll need to rent that.” Once we've confirmed those details, we'll set those things in motion. Many of the groups that we work with are folks we see frequently, year after year, and we have tour managers and staff whom we consider friends. Now that we're headed towards a more "normal" post-COVID life, I'm excited to see some of my colleagues from around the country again.

Chris Burrell, Production and Facilities Manager: The largest part of my day is spent on either advancing shows with various artists and groups, or scheduling staff to cover each of the events. The advancing part of the job is by far the most time consuming as we, Diane Burrell and I, try to prepare for every possibility that might arise during an artist’s time with us. We learned from touring groups across the country that the venues that were the most prepared were always the easiest to work with. This has always translated into a better performance for the audience. For those reasons it has been my goal to make sure that every artist, whether a famous touring artist or a local community group, are treated as if they are the most important show the Hylton Center has ever had.

Kevin D. Smith, Technical Director: I can’t really say I have a ‘typical’ day. It all depends on the work or show load. Some days I’m at my desk sending out and reading emails advancing the show coming in. Some days I’m running around the building working on performances. I’m mostly a supervisor/liaison between our crew and visiting shows. I make sure that information is making it to people that need it, and the work is getting done. But because of my background, I can also jump in and do other roles on stage as needed such as Master Electrician, Lead Flyperson, and a small part Audio. There have even been performances in the Gregory Family Theater where I was the only Hylton Center staff member working onsite, and had to fill in for multiple roles.

What kinds of projects do you work on during the summer, between performance seasons?

CB: Unlike a lot of university performing arts centers, we never stop holding events. Although our season usually ends in May, June is one of the busiest months with a lot of local dance companies, recitals, and rentals. This June there are only three days in which there is nothing in the building, and many days have multiple events happening on the same day. So for us, the rental event load will keep us busy for the summer. During that time we will spend three weeks spread out over July and August doing general maintenance on all of our lighting, audio, and video equipment. This year, we will also paint the Merchant Hall and Gregory Family Theater stage floors (this is an every third year job). If time permits, we will try to complete some general facilities maintenance such as touch-up painting of walls and dressing rooms, and replace non-LED lights throughout the building with LED fixtures. This is an on-going project that Production started in 2017-18.

KS: During the summer we still have rental clients performing shows as well as summer camps that need our attention. When we do carve out some time, we maintain our equipment and paint the stages.

MO: The summer is mainly about maintaining the building. Things wear out, break, need a new coat of paint, and need to get dusted off.  We try to get things in the best working order possible. With 500+ events in the building throughout the year, our spaces and equipment need a little love in the summer.

What performance(s) are you most excited about on the Hylton Center’s 22-23 Season?

CB: I always enjoy the Hylton Family Series as they are some of our most fun events. I think that Mummenschanz (10/23) and Machine De Cirque (2/4 & 2/5) will also be interesting performances because they are different than most of what we do. I’m very excited to see Mark Morris Dance Group (2/11) finally performing on the Merchant Hall stage, too.

KS: Honestly, it’s the Hylton Family Series performances that I get the biggest kick out of. They tend to be fun and different from what we normally do. Especially the series’ lightheartedness and diverse subject matter. SUGAR SKULL! A Día de los Muertos Musical Adventure (11/13) has definitely caught my eye.

MO: I look forward to the American Festival Pops Orchestra (12/9) every year, as watching Tony [Maiello] conduct has been a masterclass in a warm professional leader. Obviously, he's now passed the baton, and this year we get to really meet our new maestro. Peter Wilson is a charming gent, and I'm thrilled to see where the orchestra goes from here.