The actors are all assembled, and the lines are well-rehearsed, but the stage remains dark and barren. The musicians strum their instruments, but silence rules the house, and none applaud.
This bleak and voiceless world is the world without TECH. Each year, this world threatens to creep into our shows and events.
Moreover, were it not for a (mostly) merry band of unsung heroes, this bleakness would render us all blind to the beauty, pageantry, and magic of live entertainment. That is not a world for me, and I dare say that is not a world for you.
Believe me, as someone who spends her days producing and promoting live entertainment, I am all too aware of the value of great sound engineers, lighting designers, scenic artists and builders, and all the other behind-the-scenes do-ers that make our shows happen, and more often than not, make them a success.
Finding great technicians is one of the biggest challenges that we producers face for each and every event we do. From the smallest fundraisers, to swanky galas, and to every high-quality show organizations endeavor to host, each one requires lights, sound, décor, and detailed planning. The people who take on the task of producing a great show know that beyond a great cast of actors or a really great band, what is needed most are great technicians that can actually bring a production to life. These are the people you don’t see, the ones that quietly go about their highly skilled jobs, often receiving little thanks, and most likely all while receiving little to no pay at all for their efforts. They are the Unsung Heroes of Tech, and they live and work among us.
Recently, I reached out to Arts and Entertainment organizations in our area, and I asked them to unmask these unknowns, so that we may give them the props they have long been denied. The response was overwhelming, and what I thought would be a single article, has turned into the first in a series exploring the men and women who endeavor to make magic on our behalf. So, say hello to our first Unsung Hero of TECH, Ms. Dundee Triplett.
Scenic Designer, Painter, Costume-Maker, Props: Design & Engineering
For over a decade Dundee Triplett, aside from having the very coolest name ever, has been gifting her skills as an artist and scenic designer to community theatre productions in Morristown. She is highly skilled with a BA in Fine Arts and a Masters degree in Education. She is an award-winning three-dimensional artist, and painter. She is also a teacher for gifted students, and she is a mother. Dundee Triplett is many things, but she never imagined that she would be one of the most sought-after scenic artists in the area.
Scenic artists and designers are the folks responsible for the set, props, and even specialized costume pieces utilized to produce a show or entertainment. These are the folks that, as Triplett says, “create the overall environment, and set the entire mood for the show”. These folks are the ones responsible for taking a verbal description, or if they are lucky a napkin-sketch, and making it a real, tangible, manifestation of the director’s vision. It requires skills in engineering, construction, graphic design, painting, and more. To be good at it, it also takes a lot of experience and often many hours of apprenticeship.
Triplett didn’t get started in community theatre, because of her college days or her interest in art. She got started in community theatre because of her son. She explains, “He was cast in Rose Center’s Summer Player’s production of James and the Giant Peach, and he tells the folks there that I have some skills that might be helpful. One phone call, and ten years later, I am still helping”.
So, now I am ready to get to the meat—the real nitty-gritty of this world of TECH, but Triplett spends the next few moments talking about her son, and how much he has grown to love theatre. She talks about how they spend their time together engrossed in the work and fun of it all. She talks about how their shared passion and the rare opportunity to create together, has and will continue to strengthen the bond between them in ways that few families outside community arts get to experience. And, to her credit as a humble and grateful parent, Triplett readily acknowledges the strong relationship she enjoys with her son as an unexpected return on her investment in community arts.
At this moment in our conversation, it occurs to me that Triplett isn’t going to talk about the “sausage-making” of TECH work today. She isn’t going to talk about techniques, previous mentors, or how she came to learn to use a circular saw like a pro. She isn’t going to give away any secrets on using forced perspective in her work or how to make it rain on stage during a show. She knows all that stuff, for sure, but that is not what the work is about for Triplett. That stuff is not what makes the work important.
So, what is it that keeps her coming back, year after year, show after show? As I listen to her, I realize her passion for her work in community theatre has little to do with her overall interest in engineering, nor is it related to her education in the arts. Rather, her passion and drive, and her ongoing commitment are born out of love for the people. It is a love for the community to which she and her son now belong.
Later when I ask her to talk about what has surprises her in her TECH work and to describe her biggest “take-away” from it, she comes back to this basic truth—it’s the people and the connections made during a shared collective endeavor that keep her coming back. The TECH work is only the service she renders to address the collective need of her community. Triplett says, “I am truly in awe of the people I have met, and the friendships I have as a result of my involvement in theatre. Those relationships are among the most important in my life, and I cannot imagine my life without them”.
Triplett is as authentic as they come, and like all of us, she has had her own share of hardships, challenges, and barriers along the way. She has the gentle strength of a woman who has really lived, sacrificed, known joy, and who does not shy from sorrow when it visits. Life is not always easy for any of us. Life is often downright hard. We all need strong relationships to help us get through the challenges, over the barriers, and out of harm’s way. With nothing more than a desire to be helpful, Triplett has crafted a life-long resource of love and support out of sweat, untold gallons of paint, brushes, cardboard, staple-guns, and masking tape. That, my friends, is magic—that is theatre.