Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Adriane Heflin, Technical Director

Adriane Heflin is in charge of building new worlds. As the Technical Director at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC), she manages the construction of jungles, palaces, and sparkling cities on CTC’s stages. From the moment the Scenic Designer presents Heflin with a drawing of the proposed scenery to the minute the completed design is installed onstage, Heflin is responsible for managing the project’s logistics: technical design, structural analysis, material choices, expenses, budgeting, scheduling, and installation. She must look at a finished design drawing and decide how to turn it into a three-dimensional piece of scenery; it takes a special kind of imagination and logic to look at a drawing of a fantasy world and see wood, steel, and paint. Heflin explains that she and her team “take the designer’s dreams and ideas and figure out how to turn them into reality, both on time and on budget.”

Part of that reality is “ensuring that transitions from one scene to another are efficient and make the story move magically,” explains Heflin. Her team gets creative in making sure all the scenic elements can move around each other in the wings and on the stage safely. She notes that she receives two kinds of drawings from designers: elevations, which show how the scenery will appear to someone looking directly at the stage, and ground plans, which show a bird's-eye view of the stage. To check if the space in the wings is large enough to fit a piece of scenery through, Heflin jokes that she sometimes goes “old school,” cuts out a scaled drawing of a scenic unit, and then pushes the cutout around the ground plan “like a board game.” If the paper cutout can slide through the space on the ground plan without overlapping on anything, she knows the corresponding piece of scenery will fit through the three-dimensional space backstage. Heflin is also concerned with the safety of the scenery, pointing out that “theatre is one of the few jobs where we suspend thousands of pounds of equipment and materials over people’s heads in a temporary fashion and they don’t wear hard hats.” Because she takes care that each set is structurally sound and safely built, actors can focus on telling a story without worrying about their well-being.

Heflin’s interest in theatre began when she was a child in New York, when her parents exposed her to the arts, taking her to see theatre, dance, and to museums. She also liked to “build and create things” and eventually enrolled in the School of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, but says she was “miserable” without theatre. During her sophomore year of college, she learned about the position of the Technical Director and immediately changed her major, switching from architecture to theatre. She later attended the Yale School of Drama to earn her Masters of Fine Arts in Technical Direction and Production. She calls her current role as a Technical Director “the perfect marriage of theatre and architecture” and notes that she always knew she wanted to be a manager and not a carpenter. “I’m a classic organizer; a list-maker and a box-checker,” she states, which fits perfectly with the organizational and planning roles of a Technical Director.

After nine years of work as an Assistant Technical Director at the Guthrie Theater, Heflin had the chance to apply for the job of Technical Director at CTC. She remembers thinking, “I’m going to ‘what-if’ myself for the rest of my life if I don’t investigate this opportunity,” and declares that she was “blown away” by CTC’s vision and mission. Her still-existing dedication to CTC’s core tenets is visible on her computer, where the words “Educate. Challenge. Inspire.” are taped to the upper corner of her monitor as a constant reminder of why she does the work she does. “I love coming to work every day, even on the hard days,” she enthuses.

A key reason Heflin enjoys her job so much is because of the young audience CTC serves. Heflin fully understands the significance of presenting theatre to children and explains that, at CTC, “we have an opportunity and we have a gift of bringing theatre to kids for the first time. We have the responsibility of making it excellent.” She is a strong proponent of tackling important issues onstage and not underestimating children’s minds and imaginations and says, “We make it rich and complex because they’re kids.” She also enjoys watching the reactions of young audience members—adults filter their reactions, but children give genuine indications of if they are engaged by a show or not. Their giggles, gasps, and interactions with actors show her how successful she and her team have been in enveloping the audience in another world.

One show that consistently elicits these affirming reactions is CTC’s production of Cinderella, one of Heflin’s favorite shows she’s worked on. She calls the show “rich and vibrant” and “visually stunning in every way,” and she lauds the transformation of a pumpkin into Cinderella’s carriage as one of many magical transitions. In Cinderella, currently playing this holiday season, the beautifully painted show curtain hides huge scenic changes happening behind the scenes.  Eventually the curtain rises to reveal “the huge, ornate, gorgeous worlds” that Heflin and the scene shop staff bring to life. “When the audience has a visceral reaction to what they see onstage, when the curtain rises and the audience gasps with wonder, that’s my applause,” she shares.

It’s not just theatrical scenery that CTC’s Technical Director and scene shop staff bring to life, however; the scenery they create also awakens the imaginations and emotions of children and their families. As Heflin says, “We are creating the empathetic generation to come by opening their eyes through our work onstage,” and parents and children alike benefit from her dedication to her craft.