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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Technical Director Joe Searcy
Paducah, KY

Who Joe Searcy grew up in Texas, where he attended McMurry University in Abilene. He has taught technical theater, scenic design, and lighting design; has worked in community theaters on carpentry and lighting; and, since 1996, has been technical director at Market House Theatre, a community theater in Paducah, KY. Before Searcy discovered how much fun it is to work in theater, he had worked in the construction business and, for a time, as a rodeo clown. He estimates that he has worked on the technical side of almost 800 different shows.

What “A technical director is responsible for the magic—the things that move and disappear on stage. We figure out how to make that happen. We also make sure the theater is a safe place for the actors, crew, and audience. And we do all the construction work involved with the scenery. Sometimes I also design the scenery. At Market House Theatre, I’m the production staff outside of the director of the show. I do scenic and lighting design, I’m the carpenter, and I carry out the trash!”

When “I work when I’m awake! That’s pretty much 6:00 in the morning until 9:30 or 10:00 at night in season. We do five main stage shows, three children’s shows, two touring shows ... and there are acting classes for elementary through high school kids.”

Where “We build scenery in the scene shop and assemble it on stage. I design stuff in an office. Most designers now work with computer-aided drafting, or CAD. And we build models of sets before building the actual set—when we have time.”

How “I work most directly with the director of the show. I make sure things are where they need to be for the actors and that things are working as they should. It helps to have construction and painting skills—and the willingness to get dirty. You paint yourself as much as the scenery! You also need stamina. The hours can be demanding, but it’s also very satisfying. As technical director, you get that time challenge. In actual construction work [outside the theater], if you’re three weeks late, it’s not that big a deal. You don’t turn people away at the door. In the theater, there’s the satisfaction of having that opening night deadline and meeting it.”

Why “I found it difficult to go to school until I found theater. That’s what kept me in college, because it was so much fun. I grew up doing construction work because that’s what my father did. I had gone with a friend to an audition at a junior college in Texas. The director saw me—I’m 6'5", 260 pounds—and asked me to play the part of Big Jule in Guys and Dolls. It was the first time I’d ever stepped inside a theater. The director paid me to rig roll drops [backdrops on stage], and that was when I discovered that in theater, I could get paid to work indoors on construction with people that were fun to be around. I enjoy figuring out how to create the magic on stage—like, in Dracula, making the portrait of someone’s mother turn into the face of Dracula.”

Getting There “You need broad experience and education. You should know a little bit about as much as possible. Liberal arts education, where you can branch out and look at different subjects, is helpful. When I’m faced with a problem somewhere in the theater, a little bit of learning leads me to things that help me to discover how to solve my problem.”

About the photo: Searcy works on the head of a robot for a touring children’s theater production.

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