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How a childhood fascination with model trains led to the stage

As a kid, Sean Urbantke liked model trains and the model landscapes that were built for them. That translated to increased interest in the set designs created as backdrops for television shows and movies. Later, when looking for a way to incorporate that interest into a career, he discovered theatrical design. 

From model trains to being star of the show, people choose theater as a career for a variety of reasons, said Urbantke, the AACC theater coordinator.  

"I get the opportunity through theatrical design to create a world in which the story of a play takes place. I get to read a play, extract from that message or theme and use that to build something that is simultaneously informed by the play and informs the production," he said. "...I get to make visual art that comes to life right in front of you."  

He tries to convey that passion to his students. At the same time, he wants students in other majors to realize that they, too, can be part of the theater industry. For instance, if business or communications majors take part in a play "just for fun," Urbantke lets them understand the theater industry needs accountants, theater managers, fundraisers, graphic artists and public relations professionals, too.

He wants AACC theater majors ready to move to the next step and know how to work as professionals, no matter which role they have in the production.  

"There are basic protocols that every director would expect every actor to know," he said. And technicians - especially at the beginning of their careers - will need to be a jack of all trades in working backstage. "They have to learn it all."  

In class and in productions, Urbantke brings in professionals to share their expertise with the students. For instance, the spring production of "Macbeth" has lighting professional Michael Klima showing the technicians everything from designing a lighting plan to hanging the lights and coordinating cues with the stage manager.  

Safety is key both onstage and backstage. The play's director, Casey Kaleba, is a certified stage combat instructor and designed the fight scenes so they looked realistic but were safe. "Even with prop weapons there's a measure of responsibility," Urbantke said. Part of the safety protocol is designating a specific person or persons to clean and store the weapons.  

Most students don't realize all the possible careers available backstage. Designing sets is Urbantke's specialty, so he knows what jobs are needed to make a production successful. "You need carpenters, welders, painters, engineers, architects, studio artists, lighting designers, costume designers, makeup artists and makeup designers," he said.

He hopes the professionalism embedded into the coursework leads to increased enrollment in the program. With more students, he can get into a two-year cycle with a different type of show - classical, musical or modern - each term. 

Urbantke also is reconnecting with four-year colleges to make transferring to those programs easier for AACC students, whether they want to work onstage or backstage. Several four-year schools have programs that sync well with AACC's degree program.

November 2016


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