At the controls: Forstein works behind the scenes at Memorial Auditorium (with video)WORTHINGTON — Audience members at any of the recent holiday productions at Worthington’s Memorial Auditorium might have taken note of the small menorah that was placed among the onstage Christmas decorations. What they might not have noticed is the lighting that enhanced that décor, and that’s OK with Jacob Forstein, the facility’s technical director, who had a hand in both.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Audience members at any of the recent holiday productions at Worthington’s Memorial Auditorium might have taken note of the small menorah that was placed among the onstage Christmas decorations.
What they might not have noticed is the lighting that enhanced that décor, and that’s OK with Jacob Forstein, the facility’s technical director, who had a hand in both.
“As a technician, I prefer that,” said Jacob about his work behind the scenes. “It’s not about me. It’s about what’s on the stage. If people really noticed the lighting, I’m not doing my job. It’s supposed to complement the performer.”
It’s been almost a year since Jacob applied for and won the tech post. A native of Sioux Falls, S.D., he graduated in 2004 from Lincoln High School there. Middle school provided his first exposure to the theater arts.
“I was in seventh grade, and I wasn’t doing so well in choir,” recalled Jacob, who says he absolutely “can’t sing.” “The teacher approached me and said, ‘You have a great attitude. Maybe we can find something for you to do in the musical.’”
The production was “Guys and Dolls,” and Jacob found himself posted in front of a light board for the first time during dress rehearsals. He was hooked.
“The seed was planted. Three of my four best friends were leads in the play, so I got to hang out with them — and all the girls in the show,” he said with a big grin.
After high school graduation, Jacob opted for the general theater arts program at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
“It’s a general degree, so the classes are in everything — technical, lighting, sound, set stuff, acting and directing,” Jacob said. “It’s the right way to do it as an undergraduate so you get to see all aspects of theater.”
But Jacob has no aspirations to be an actor, preferring the behind-the-scenes roles.
“I’ve been on stage in a performance role three times,” he said. “The last one was at SMSU in a production of ‘Greater Tuna.’ … My character was named Ronnie, and all I did was hand a paper to someone else and leave. At no point have I ever spoken on stage, and I never will.
“Lighting is my forte, my very first love,” he stressed. “It excites me every time I do it.”
Still a student at SMSU with more than a year’s worth of generals left to complete, Jacob is getting valuable on-the-job training at Worthington’s performing arts facility.
“I just heard through the theater grapevine that they were looking for a technical director,” he explained. “I was looking for something I could do and still be a student. It’s my first professional theater job, and it’s really great. It’s already opened many doors with people who have come through here.”
It may be Jacob’s first professional job, but it’s not his first professional experience. A few summers ago, he talked his way into an internship at the Gateway Playhouse in Long Island, N.Y., and went back for the winter season and the following summer.
“I decided I didn’t want to hang around Marshall or Sioux Falls for the summer, so I started looking for internships,” Jacob explained. “So I picked three theaters in the New York area and I hounded them for a week and a half. Finally, this one said, ‘If you stop hounding us, we’ll send you a plane ticket for the season.’ They do summer stock — eight or nine shows in a three-month period in two different spaces. I was a theatrical electrician intern. It was non-stop learning.”
The learning curve has been even steeper at Memorial Auditorium, where Jacob has taken the reins of all the technical aspects of its productions. He started the job just as the auditorium reopened last year following its extensive remodeling.
“‘Gone Country’ was my first show here,” said Jacob, referring to an annual country-themed variety show. “It was a little nerve-wracking getting thrown in at the top of things. But I took the bull by the horns and rode it out.”
Since then, Jacob has familiarized himself with all the inner workings of the auditorium, learning all the possibilities — and eccentricities, too — of the lighting and sound systems. During most every production, he can be found manning the panels in the auditorium’s control booth, located at the very top of the balcony.
“The most fun and challenging (show) was probably ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” a community musical production staged last summer, Jacob said. “It was an amazing show to be a part of, just outstanding, and to have such a response from the community was amazing to me.
“It’s all been challenging,” he continued. “Each show is so different, and the space is so unique. It’s a challenge to make everything look good, but a fun challenge.”
“Corn Off the Cob,” the annual fall variety show, is another production that impressed the importance of community theater upon Jacob.
“The history behind it was so cool, bringing that part of the town into the show,” he said.
Jacob appreciates the history of the auditorium itself, which was erected as a memorial to the city’s veterans and dedicated in 1932. It was originally attached to a school building that at various times housed the local high school, junior high and community college. During his short tenure, he’s already heard lots of remembrances about the facility from theatergoers.
“It excites me that a theater has been in the community for so long,” Jacob said. “It’s a rarity in this economy and area. … I’ve had people say they’ve had the same seats for the last 15 years.”
Jacob expressed appreciation for his fellow auditorium staff members — manager Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh and box office manager Janene Winters — with whom he has developed a good working relationship, and the admiration is mutual.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with Jacob,” said Margaret. “When I can’t be here, it’s nice to know that someone else can, and he has new ideas about lighting that we’ve never seen before.”
Because he’s grateful for the theater doors that have been opened for him, Jacob has taken his own intern under his wing — Eric Harp, a fellow student at SMSU. They’ve shared duties on some of the larger productions at the auditorium, such as “Beauty and the Beast,” for which Eric did the lighting design.
Content for the moment to further hone his skills at Memorial Auditorium, Jacob hopes to eventually attend a theater arts graduate school and maybe teach the craft someday. But his ultimate dream job would be to go on the road with his favorite band, OAR (Of A Revolution).
“Being the lighting designer for OAR is the coolest thing I can think of,” he said. “If that happened, I could step back and say, ‘I’m good.’ Realizing that probably can’t happen, though, I’d be interested in touring with a big theatrical show. I have a couple of friends who do it now and really enjoy it. You get to see a lot of places.”
In the meantime, Jacob is determined to work behind the scenes and make the shows at Memorial Auditorium the best they can possibly be.
“I still live in Marshall, and every time I drive down here, I get excited about what I get to do that day,” he said. “I really enjoy this community because it supports the arts and likes going to shows. I’ve learned so much here about the real life in the theater. … It’s cool to say I have a job in an industry that there aren’t very many jobs in, doing a craft that I love.”
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