Quick Chat: Doug Dion

Posted August 23, 2022 By Erin Milleville

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This week get ready to chat with Doug Dion, Assistant Technical Director here at APT! Doug's the man with the plan when it comes to making sure the stage is set and prepared for every performance, and we're so happy he's giving us a behind-the-scenes look at how our outstanding Tech team gets the job done! Read on for more!

APT: Hey, Doug! How’s the summer been going?
Doug Dion: It hasn’t been an easy year back. I don’t think a consensus has been reached as to why, but I think the two biggest factors were that we were a little rusty, and that we bit off a little more than we should have. I’m still really happy with most of the work we put on stage, but it was stressful getting there, and we didn’t do it as gracefully as we would have liked. Other than that it's been a pretty good summer. We had two new carpenters in the scene shop that were great, and the two that returned again continue to be our sturdy foundation. We have a lot of tricks and techniques that are unique to outdoor repertory construction so institutional knowledge is really important. The weather has also been cooperating with us for the most part, so I’ve gotta be grateful for that.

APT: What does an Assistant Technical Director do? Can you walk us through a day in your life?
Doug Dion: Depending on the time of year, I might spend a large portion of my day working in AutoCAD drafting the parts and pieces of the many shows. During the build season though, I primarily guide the carpenters through the construction of the shows and coordinate with The Paint Shop on when pieces will be available to them, and when we can take them away to bring them Up the Hill or to the Touchstone for rigging and storage. In most other things I’m the assistant to the Technical Director (Bill Duwell). In our theater the TD and the ATD are primarily responsible for scenery. Props, Lighting, Sound, and Costumes are all separate departments, though we have a lot of interaction with them depending on the show and season.

Some days we spend the entire day moving scenery up to the stage and working in the sun. Some days the thing that makes the most sense is for me to rust-proof a bunch of steel or fill screw holes with putty and sand it smooth. Some days I pick up a small building project, or something that's tricky and doesn’t have a solid plan on paper yet. Most days it's a combination of all those things and lots of little conversations about how things need to work, where they need to store, or how many actors need to climb on them.

APT: What’s been the biggest joy this season at APT? Is there something you’re super excited for folks to see/experience?
Doug Dion: I always like sets with lots of detail. I love old architecture so the Love’s Labor’s Lost set is probably my favorite out of this season since it has a lot of architectural elements, and the climbing flowers on it, look really lovely (the Prop department did all the work with the flowers).

I’m also happy with the work we did on Hamlet. It may not look like one of our larger, more complicated sets here at APT, but there is a lot going on with those between the sliding panels, lighting fixtures, steel grating, handrails, the spiral staircase, and then all the normal things we do to make the set come apart and store easily. It took a lot of planning to make it work, so I hope that people can appreciate that even though it fades into the background for a story like Hamlet.

APT: What’s something you think would surprise people to learn about the process of creating a show from your perspective?
Doug Dion: I think most people might be surprised by how much planning goes into some of these. We have to make the scenery in such a way that it stands up to wear and tear from the weather and being put up and taken down 50 or 60 times for some sets. The crew also needs to be able to change over between shows in an hour to an hour and a half. For those reasons, the scenery can’t be built like homes with stud walls and drywall. It’s almost all plywood, steel, and paint.

A show like Hamlet required a lot of build drawings to be created before construction could begin. We get designs from the Scenic Designer, but these are mostly concepts and the exterior finishes that the audience sees. We then need to come up with the structure beneath it all, adding wheels to units that will roll into storage, and seams between large platforms where we will use coffin locks to join smaller platforms into large groups. For Hamlet, we received about four drawings from the designer, but we created twenty-six (24”x36”) to show the carpenters how to build it.

APT: When not working on the next project, what do you like to do in your free time?
Doug Dion: It's tough to go home and use the same skills you used at work during your time off, but I do still enjoy making things when I have the energy for it. I’m working on refinishing my house right now, and it didn’t start this way, but each room is getting torn out to the stud walls and having all new stuff put in. It’s a big project.

I’m also a proud nerd and enjoy board games and tabletop role-playing games with friends. I found my way into theater through acting, and then found my way into the scene shop but I still like making silly voices and playing pretend, so I play games like Dungeons and Dragons whenever I can. I love experiencing stories with people, and role-playing games are like a tiny unrehearsed play that you get to make for a really small audience.

APT: Okay, Doug. Here's your Wild Card Question: You’ve traveled all over the country and are a fan of the outdoors, so with your expert opinion what are three national parks everyone should try to get to in their lifetime?
Doug Dion: Ooohhh. Tough question. I’m conflicted about this because it can ruin my sense of natural wonder to be stuck in traffic, but more people getting outside and experiencing nature is good, as long as they’re getting their hands and feet dirty. So I'll offer my list with the caveat that if you go, you must promise to spend as little time in the car as possible once you’re there. Glacier, Acadia, and Bryce. Mountains, Ocean, and Desert. I still have many more to get to, but those are some of my favorite places.

I actually tend to prefer the state parks and national forests since they tend to be wilder and less frequented. The Wisconsin River has become my recent favorite. Canoeing down river and sleeping on a sandbar at night. It's car camping without the car and without all the other people!

APT: Sounds amazing! Anything else you'd like to add?
Doug Dion: I’m working on becoming a volunteer EMT in Spring Green, and I just want to say that I couldn’t be doing all these things without the love and support of my wonderful fiance, Katharine, and our goofy little pup, Jackaroni.