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Theatre arts technical director stays busy with move to NMSU's Center for the Arts

Date: 01/02/2013

While the public anticipates the first performance in New Mexico State University's Center for the Arts, the technical director in the theatre arts department is gearing up for the big move from the Hershel Zohn Theatre.

David Hereford, the technical director in the Department of Theatre Arts, poses in the Scene Shop with props from the musical, "Seussical."
David Hereford, the technical director in the Department of Theatre Arts, poses in the Scene Shop with props from the musical, "Seussical." (Photo by Tonya Suther)

"Everyone in the department is anxious to get into the new space," said David Hereford, a staff member in the College of Arts and Sciences. "It's like trading in the old family station wagon for a Mini Cooper."

As technical director, Hereford oversees the scenery production in the theatre arts department. He ensures both scenery and props are built, and that they arrive on stage, on time, along with their technical components.

For the move, Hereford has stayed busy sorting through the stage equipment. He will decide what will be used in the new theatre or retired.

The move also includes multiple training sessions for Hereford. He was recently trained on the lighting system, the elevator and orchestra pit lift, as well as the fly system. He also learned about the trap doors in the stage floor and the fire curtain.

Hereford said the high-tech fly system over the stage works as a counter-weight system, which will speed up the transition time from one scene to the next by raising, lowering or removing a scene.

"The new theater has 60 feet of vertical space," Hereford said. "In the Hershel Zohn, we start hitting pipes and steel at about 23 feet. The extra space will give the designer a lot more flexibility."

Once the veteran craftsman gets his hands on the designs of a new set, he's got only four or five weeks to manufacture the props, work out any challenges and set up for opening night.

"What I find interesting is being presented with a problem and then finding a solution for it," Hereford said. "The solution may not work, but then you have to go back and try it again. There's a lot of flexibility built into that, and maybe that's what I find attractive about it -- the ability to adapt."

He expects the new facility to quell many challenges experienced in past shows such as "Stefanie Hero," a Mark Medoff production, which was the very first production Hereford worked on when he joined NMSU 22 years ago.

"We flew people in with flying harnesses," Hereford said. "Three of them over the stage and two of them over the audience. So, I had to take what materials had been purchased and make it work, and I didn't get much sleep for a long time."

Hereford became interested in theatre as a teenager. In college, he had intended to pursue a degree in forestry, but journeyed back to the theater and graduated with a BFA.

He spent five summers at the Santa Fe Opera and a summer in the props show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. He also spent time as the props master at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, and as a scenic carpenter at the Denver Center Theatre Company.

"Then, I kind of got burned out on theaters, so I went back to school, because I had originally wanted to go work for the park service," Hereford said. "I actually came to NMSU for graduate school in range management, and I completed everything but my thesis, and came in and volunteered in the Scene Shop."

Hereford said that's when they offered him the position as technical director, and he's been on the set ever since.

"Theatre as a whole is a collaborative effort," Hereford said. "It's not a solo art. It takes everybody working."

The staff member also teaches Stage Craft, Introduction to Sound, Scenery Construction and Independent Studies.

"To see students, who don't think they're interested in this, who don't think they can do it, or who have never worked with tools at all, and all of a sudden they discover that they can do things, it's nice seeing that light come on," Hereford said.

Until recently, Hereford also made sure the sound system at the Hershel Zohn was up and running. His technical talents don't end there; he did a stint in the U.S. Air Force where he maintained the radar and fire control systems in interceptor aircraft.

At home, Hereford plays an active role in the community as a cubmaster and an assistant scoutmaster.

"I've got a son in Cub Scouts and one in Boy Scouts, so that takes up my time," Hereford said.

With the close of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the Hershel Zohn Theatre, Hereford is now eager to get his hands on the designs for the set of "Our Town," which will open Friday, Feb. 22, in the Center for the Arts, shortly after the big move.

"It'll be nice to be in a real theatre, but I'll miss the Hershel Zohn," Hereford said.

Written by Tonya Suther

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