Blog Post

From Backstage at the Gallagher Bluedorn to Broadway - Karissa Riehl

In addition to putting on shows, the Gallagher Bluedorn team has a huge impact on student development, teaching transferable skills, and providing experiences that help students achieve their future story. Karissa Riehl, a 2006 graduate, is one of those success stories.

The best way to describe Karissa Riehl is “intentional”. Karissa Riehl has been involved in theatre since she was 15, doing community theatre in Cedar Rapids: and later, theatre at Kirkwood Community College. After graduating from Kirkwood, she came to UNI for a major in Theatre Design Production. Right away, Karissa began working on the back stage crew at the Gallagher Bluedorn. During her senior year, she became a stage crew supervisor. Karissa recalled what a big deal it was to get that promotion and get early practice in leading others. She says that as a supervisor, she got to learn how to handle people, difficult situations, and mistakes. Her memorable experiences were getting to work with Broadway shows, one of the most memorable ones being Miss Saigon.  

Karissa Riehl at the ball drop

Realizing that sometimes students don’t realize the great experience they are having at the time, Karissa remembered the impressive hydraulic lift, and said, “ I can’t believe they let college students work that thing.” Executive Director Steve Carignan says, “Of course we do it. Giving students those unique real world experiences is one of those things our program is about.” While a student worker at the Gallagher Bluedorn, Karissa had the opportunity to work in all backstage areas including electric, lighting, and sound, but her favorite was electrics. She explained how it could take a whole day to load in a Broadway show, and how she would work the whole project, and then work the show too. It wasn’t a long day for her. Rather, it was exciting, and helped her to realize she wanted it to be her future.

Working backstage allowed Karissa to connect with touring shows and ask the road crew questions. One person she met as part of the Miss Saigon crew ended up being someone she knows now in New York. Even New York c

an be a small town at times. Karissa emphasized that in her business who you know makes a big difference in the work you can get.

Karissa moved to New York in 2007, shortly after graduating from UNI. Getting work was very competitive and sometimes it would just be for one day. The important thing was to gather experiences

and remember that there is always something to be learned from everything, even if it isn’t a fantastic experience. Karissa said, “Who you know might help you get a job but what know helps you keep it.”

Karissa has been in New York for 13 years, eventually becoming a member of the IATSE Local 1. It’s important to be a union member if one wants regular work in this business in New York. She knows more people now and it’s a lot easier to get jobs. Karissa works primarily in Times Square doing load in and load outs. She’s been getting more production electrician roles which means she helps lay out the show, order the gear, and run the light board or the spot. S

he’s also ETCP certified, which is a newer certification that requires an exam. When she’s not working in Times Square, she still does fill-in work, primarily for TV late night shows such as Seth Myers, Jimmy Fallon, and SNL (Saturday Night Live). Karissa said, “Even after doing it many times, I still think it’s pretty cool when I get to work on SNL.”.

Karissa lives in Astoria, Queens, an area with a population of 80,000. She commutes to Times Square via subway. When she’s not laying out productions or flying equipment through the air, and has down time in the city, Karissa takes classes and follows some famous graffiti artists by going to see their work. Karissa continues to be a life-long learner and she loves to travel. 

Written by Margaret Empie