Mike Fernbach — Theatre Design and technology specialist had been the unofficial technical director and taught backstage theatre classes — retired in the spring, leaving students studying theater and the upcoming performances this year at a disadvantage.
He had worked at the University for over thirty-four years. He contributed in multiple technical theater aspects in the theater program on campus, as well as doing more than he was hired for. Now the theater program not only lacks someone with his expertise, in his particular field but enough people to take on all the work that he had.
Theater majors and minors are required by the department to take practicum and behind-the-scenes classes. Due to Fernbach’s retirement and lack of replacement by the university, theater students must substitute classes.
Cheyenne Hills, the stage manager of “9 to 5”, the upcoming musical this semester at the University of Nevada, Reno, student, revealed many of the hardships faced by the theater department due to the undertaking and commitments the department as a whole is facing with the lack of help and experience in the field.
“Mike Fernbach was the technical director, chief electrician, the prop master, set design
and about two other jobs. He taught classes as well,” Hills said.
“9 to 5” will be put on without a master electrician, props master, set designer and all of the other work that Fernbach put into the productions.
The theater program has not had an official technical director since 2018. Although Fernbach was the lighting and sound technical specialist, he undertook the responsibilities that a technical director would to help out the department.
“It is not enough to hire another Mike. Mike never should have had to do all he did,” Hills said. We need three people minimum and we need them certified in the programs that are being used in the field today.”
Instead of assembling a production without someone with the same experience Fernbach had, the department decided to move forward with a concert-style theatrical performance. They will be putting their productions on without lighting, props, costumes and set pieces.
Kendra Bell, costume design and technology specialist, teaches some of the necessary courses for theater majors and minors and helps with performances in the theater department.
She knew Fernbach received minor compensation for the extra work he undertook, although it did not equate to the amount it would be if he would have been paid for the full-time job he was undertaking. The positions he assumed also used to be an occupation at the university.
Bell recognizes how overwhelming it is for one person to manage an entire section of production, but Fernbach went above and beyond — working two areas of production alone for a six-show season.
“It is too much, and I think it is unfair of the university or the department to continuously expect him to volunteer and take on this extra work load that he did not have to do,” Bell said. “But, we have not had a technical director for about four years. People just have not realized it because Mike was stepping up and doing service for the department.”
For the play this semester, they are presenting five narratives in “Student Directed one-acts.”
According to Jayton Newbury, one of the directors, the theater program is working creatively with their limited resources to make their productions as excellent as possible.
“Working without a technical director has its challenges, but everyone has really come together with making the show work. We have had to do shows before with limited technical aspects and costumes the past couple years. I think everyone was willing to fight to still put a great show together,” Newberry said. “Personally, I hope showing what we can do without a technical aspect will open people’s eyes to what the department can do with a fully funded show with technical aspects.”
The university is currently searching for a new technical director and held an open forum to speak with potential candidate Don Eller. However, the university has not found a substitute for Fernbach’s classes.
Madison Wanco can be reach by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.