Behind the scenes


Cory Brennan (right) and Andrew Herbert (left) on the scaffolds at Ozark Actors Theatre. Photo by B.A. Rupert


Ryan Rader as “Chip&quot in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Miners are spending their summer “vacation” working hard behind the scenes, and on stage, at Ozark Actors Theatre (OAT). All three have prior theatrical experience here at Missouri S&T, but this is their first season with OAT, a charming little playhouse that brings live theater to Rolla, with local and professional talent. It is one of only two professional theaters located outside of Missouri’s metropolitan areas.

Cory Brennan‘s longtime involvement with S&T’s Leach Theatre, first as shop foreman and later as assistant technical director for four years, prepared him well for his position as technical director of OAT. A 2010 architectural engineering grad from Rolla, Brennan is currently working on his master’s degree in civil engineering at S&T.

“I grew up in construction, but this is drastically different,” he says. “Sets just need to last two weeks.” He smiles and adds, “and not hurt anyone.”

His engineering background actually may have prevented some injuries. “Cory has come up with some clever fixes for the set,” says Andrew Herbert, a junior from Belleville, Ill., majoring in technical communication at S&T, and set intern at OAT. Herbert cites as an example a brace Brennan devised to steady the set when a series of vigorous door slams during OAT’s first production of the season, Lend Me a Tenor, nearly toppled it.

Jason Cannon, producing artistic director of the theater, is directing OAT’s third and final show of the summer, The Crucible. He says Brennan’s education has also helped him contend with OAT’s size limitations. “There’s no place here for storage. Cory and Andrew have to build and paint sets in one location, then transport them across town back here.”
Cannon says The Crucible will pose an engineering challenge for Brennan and Herbert. “It’s an evocative set with moving parts. It will definitely be tricky for these guys to build.”

In addition to helping build sets, Herbert ran the light board for “Tenor.” He prefers acting, though, and appeared in Sweeney Todd at Leach Theatre in 2009.

This summer, recent grad Ryan Rader is the actor of the group. He’s been in a number of student plays at Leach Theatre and can now be seen playing the role of “Chip” in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at OAT. The show runs through July 17.

A native of St. Charles, Mo., Rader graduated this spring with dual degrees in chemistry and biological sciences. He’s working as a research coordinator with local dermatologist Dr. William Stoecker for a year, then will apply for medical school. “I figured I would be in Rolla this summer, so why not try out for OAT? It was a phenomenal decision.

“The plays at S&T involved eight weeks of preparation for just four performances,” he says. “At OAT, it’s much shorter prep time with two weeks of shows — like theater condensed.”

Rader says stage experience, of course, helps with public speaking skills, something particularly beneficial to S&T’s engineering majors. “The vast majority of students in the S&T theater group Miner League Theatre Players are engineering majors. They build skills engineers don’t traditionally have.”

All three will likely continue working in the performing arts, in one capacity or another. Brennan’s considered working with firms that build theaters. “The designers often have no backgrounds in theater,” he says. “There can be some glaring omissions when the building is completed.”

As for Herbert, “I’m never getting away from theater,” he says. “I love it too much. Just wish I could get paid.”

By Linda Fulps