Albion Theatre Students Are a Hit Backstage at Ohio Light Opera

September 27, 2013

Peter verhaege
Peter Verhaeghe is a music and theatre major and a member of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program. He is the son of Alan and Cynthia Verhaeghe of Swartz Creek and a graduate of Swartz Creek High School.

"Problem solving has been a great part of the job, because costumes rip, jewelry breaks, things fall off and we have to fix them as fast as we can," says Corey Brittain, '14, of his work this summer with Ohio Light Opera (OLO). Classmate and fellow OLO crew member Peter Verhaeghe, '14, adds, "When a pull rope to a chaise gets stepped on you have to roll with the punches and make sure it gets off stage no matter what."

Albion College theatre students Brittain and Verhaeghe leaned of the OLO openings from Albion theatre instructor Amber Cook, who has worked with OLO's costume shop for many years. Working with Cook at Albion gave both students desirable skills, but no special advantage in competing for their jobs. "I sent in my résumé and had two different phone interviews," noted Verhaeghe.

Working in props is a "whole new world," says Verhaeghe, who wanted to expand his theatre experience in preparation for graduate school. Despite being new to props, Verhaeghe has constructed everything from an 1800s leather "daddy staff" to a 1950s-era French radio. And, "our shop is running low on floral pieces because we have to use flowers in practically every show," says Verhaeghe. "To resolve this problem I pack the bottom of flower baskets with foam and muslin to account for lack of flowers."

"The most rewarding part of the job is seeing things I've built be used onstage," said Verhaeghe, a veteran of Albion's scene shop crew. "Also, I'm used to being backstage as an actor. Here with a backstage job, I see the show from a new perspective."

Corey Brittain
Corey Brittain is majoring in music education and theatre with a concentration in the Fritz Shurmur Center for Teacher Development program. He is the son of Bruce and Terry Brittain of Fort Gratiot and a graduate of Port Huron Northern High School.

A member of OLO's wardrobe crew in the summer of 2011, Brittain's experience earned him a promotion to assistant wardrobe master this year. Along with sewing costumes, Brittain also has organization duties, such as keeping an inventory of the hundreds of items worn by OLO actors. "This job allows me to further improve my leadership skills as I am the person to come to when my boss is not available," says Brittain.

We open seven shows during the season, which means a lot of costumes and a lot of remembering who wears what for each scene, for each show," Brittain adds. While that challenge eventually fades, quick changes and repairs provide nightly backstage excitement. 

"Safety pins are our best friends; they can save the audience from getting a different kind of show if something breaks," Brittain grins. "And during our production of Cole Porter's Silk Stockings, I hide behind a center stage wall so I can change the lead's costume. I wear a costume, too, so I can run offstage with the rest of the ensemble and blend in a little better."

Brittain and Verhaeghe note that the intense demands of the job provide a great learning experience. "It is really important that we work efficiently, and if we have questions we ask them," Brittain says. "It is just a different atmosphere working professionally."

"It is possible to make a living doing what you love in the theatre," Verhaeghe said, "and seizing opportunities like these are what will get you there."