Sunday, June 2, 2019

Backstage Passes: Bob Greenwald, MDTC's Tech Director & Operations Manager

An Interview with Bob Greenwald, MDTC's Tech Director, Stage Manager & Operations Manager

 When dancers in Mosaic Dance Theater Company hear the word “Places!” they know that all (!) they have to worry about are their dances and their costume changes. Someone else has to worry about all the other details:  are the dancers ready, music cues, light cues, sound levels, props on and off, and the list goes on.  That lucky someone is Bob Greenwald, MDTC’s TD, SM, and wearer of many hats.  To make things run as smoothly as they do, Bob is the guy who plans the travel route for a tour show, secures a parking spot, loads the cargo, drives the van, maintains the website, builds the props, etc. And now, here’s Bob!

How did you become involved in technical theater?

Bob Greenwald wearing one of his many hats

In high school and college I performed on stage and also worked back stage. After graduation and starting a full time job I did not have the blocks of free time needed to learn and perform a role. Also the local and community theaters always had trouble finding enough qualified people to handle the technical duties, so I got to try my hand at lots of different jobs, from running a follow-spot, to recording sound effects, to re-wiring lighting instruments, and more.

What drew you to making set pieces and props?

Traditionally, dance will have very little beyond the dancers, choreography, costumes, music, and lights. But Mosaic’s acclaimed story-theater presentations add a realm of narrative and fantasy. You never know if the next production will need a golden throne, an Egyptian Sarcophagus, or a pavilion for musicians to perform in. The larger pieces are very complicated to design. They need to be sturdy enough to be fully functional, yet light enough to move on stage, and be easy to dissemble and transport to a performance. The smaller props can be just as challenging. Whether it is a 5-foot golden harpoon, a headpiece for a canopic priestess, or a cooked chicken, it needs to look correct and detailed to an audience member who may be sitting 15 or 50 feet away. But, it also needs to be light enough, balanced, and comfortable to dance with. You never know what the next item needed will be. 

Clockwise from upper left: the golden throne (Ubar the Lost City of Brass); the sarcophagus (Land of the Pharaohs); the canopic goddesses (Land of The Pharaohs); the musicians' pavilion.  (Photos by Gary Heller; video capture by Bob Greenwald.)

Can you note any differences working with Dance Theater vs. theater?

Tech rehearsal.
In traditional theater the heart of the performance is the dialogue and interaction of the characters. In Dance Theater you do not have dialogue to explain things to the audience. You have to convey the message with motion and emotion. All the technical aspects including light and shadow, color, props, etc. can help the performers in that process. Atmosphere (and everything that contributes to it) has a much bigger role.  


Is there any piece in Mosaic’s repertory that has particular meaning for you, and why?
Land of The Pharaohs. (Photo by Gary Heller.)

I very much enjoy the story-theater pieces. The additional narrative, story, and plot added to the dance, costumes, music and lighting, creates a vastly richer and more complex presentation. I think my particular favorite piece is Land of The Pharaohs. Everyone is familiar with many of the iconic images that are thousands of years old, including King Tut and the pyramids. There are also many elements most people do not know about, such as the story of Isis and Osiris.  The paintings and temple reliefs provide a wealth of visual elements to build on.  

What are the challenges (for you) of working in technical theater?

Trying to figure out how to create and design the next set piece or prop. And then figure out how to construct it so it looks and functions correctly, but still is comfortable enough to dance with.

How has your time with Mosaic changed or enhanced your experience in technical theater?

It is always growing and developing. The company continues to explore additional dance styles and new stories from the lands around the Mediterranean. In the past few years we are doing more with projections which adds an additional dimension and atmosphere to the stage. It is also an entirely new technology to research and learn. 

from Enheduanna. (Video by Bob Greenwald.)