The longer a student is gone from college, the more they appreciate the experiences that helped kick start their careers. At least that’s the case for Derek Easton, a 2005 UNI graduate.
Easton started working at the Gallagher Bluedorn halfway through his first semester, and stayed through graduation. He worked on the backstage crew, helping with unloading and set up, and eventually transitioned into more advanced work.
As he gained experience, he was able to help with production design for smaller shows, doing rigging, electrical and lighting, and even working on more advanced challenging projects. For some of the larger shows, he was the Gallagher Bluedorn technical contact for the traveling theatre company.
Through those assignments, he got to work one-on-one with the theatre company, doing things such as helping with costume changes or operating a spotlight. During his time at UNI, Easton also worked productions at the UNI Dome and Electric Park on the Cattle Congress grounds. Student crews at the Gallagher Bluedorn ranged from five to 60 people, so he gained skills and experience working with large groups.
One particular memorable show was a troupe from South Korea putting on “Cookin”, in which they used hibachi grills and flying knives as props. The Gallagher Bluedorn was the first stop on their U.S. tour, so Easton and the other students helped unpack the South Korean set for the first time. Easton says it was interesting to see all the unusual packing, and work with the “Cookin” production plan which was so different than how things are done in the U.S.
As a theatre production and design student, the experiences provided at the Gallagher Bluedorn were instrumental in laying Easton’s expectations and getting him started in his career. Easton feels that his Gallagher Bluedorn work experience helped him get job interviews and kickstart his career.
He had worked a few rounds of summer stock in Aspen, Colorado. When he graduated, Easton went back for one more summer. His first permanent position was with the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked for three years.
From there, Easton moved closer to home in the Cedar Valley area and took a job as technical director at Theatre Cedar Rapids. There, he did a variety of work including electrical and lighting. Unfortunately, the flood of 2008 took out their theatre – located downtown – and for 18 months, all their productions took place in alternative locations. While it was a challenging time for a new employee of the facility, it provided a variety of experiences in working with unusual situations. He stayed there for seven years.
In 2015, Easton went to the Portland Center Stage at the Armory in downtown Portland, serving again as the technical director, but this time working mostly with scenery.
“Working with scenery is challenging because it’s a heavy problem solving project completed in limited time with a limited budget and a goal of creating an amazing and creative set,” he said.
Portland Center Stage produces all of their own shows, so lots of creativity is involved, and the work is intense. They have two theatres; one that seats 600 and one that seats 200. It’s the largest theatre of its kind in Portland.
Easton pointed out that while a four year degree isn’t a listed job requirement for the work he does, the degree and the work he did at the Gallagher Bluedorn was critical to helping him learn practical technical skills and how to make connections in the field.
“I’m positive I wouldn’t be as far along in my career as I am if I hadn’t had all of the Gallagher Bluedorn experiences I’ve had,” he said.
Written by Margaret Empie