Jeffries pivots ‘real hard, real fast’
Thunder River Theatre Company production designer does a little bit of everything
Sean Jeffries is a man of many hats. The Thunder River Theatre Company production designer is something of a one-man show behind the scenes at the Company’s Carbondale theatre — building the sets, hanging the lights, and getting the sound just right. And he’s done all of the above at an award-winning level.
Jeffries was nominated for five Henry awards this year for a second time, winning his fourth Henry in four years — this one in the category of Outstanding Lighting Design for the theatre’s production of “A View from the Bridge.”
“Production designer is pretty much just the easiest way we’ve got to say what I do because … except for what the people are wearing, I do everything else,” Jeffries said. “And there’s also several other hats that aren’t even related that I get to deal with.”
Jeffries arrived at TRTC four years ago after living what he described as a “nomadic lifestyle” — working for the Palm Beach Opera from December to March; for the Ft. Worth Opera from March to June, for the Seagle Music Colony in upstate New York in the summers, and then for Arena Stage in Washington D.C. until the next winter.
All of that prepared him well for his time at TRTC where he gets to work with various directors including TRTC Executive Director Corey Simpson, Mike Monroney and Wendy Moore. And he said that each director’s style informs his process for tackling that production.
“If I’m doing a show with [TRTC Director] Corey [Simpson], we meet up really early in the process and start softballing ideas back and forth,” he said. “And then different shapes and ideas start to come to mind and then it keeps growing and growing from there.
“Like with ‘A View From the Bridge,’ … that one started at one place and then Corey did a couple rehearsals and did not like the way the traffic patterns were happening. So we completely changed out the original idea and just kept changing until we found something that we liked.”
Jeffries acquired a couple of new hats after the COVID crisis shut down the theatre to audiences earlier this year – that of video streaming technician for TRTC’s Thunderstream, and also video editor.
“[Corey] came to me on a Monday and said ‘I want to be able to stream something by Wednesday,’ and I said ‘Cool! That’s fun,’” Jeffries said. “So, I just sort of dived into the world wide web to see what the hell I could find.”
What he found was a platform called StreamYard, which is an online version of a television production desk that allows the user to switch between different shots.
“It’s pretty versatile,” he said. “I definitely was a burr in the help desk’s side for the first couple weeks. I was coming to them with questions that they never even thought about.”
Thunderstream has been a boon for TRTC, allowing it to continue producing shows, as well as streaming community events including First Fridays, and the Roaring Fork High School graduation ceremony.
“It’s been a huge pivot for me, because I’m a live theater person,” Jeffries said. “I’ve never worked on TV, never worked on a film, I’ve only been in theaters. So all this online camera stuff is completely new to me.”
Unfortunately, Jeffries said, TRTC doesn’t quite have the gear to truly livestream a show in the theatre yet. June’s TRTC production of the “Pink Unicorn” was originally planned as a live-stream, but Jeffries quickly realized that the quality wasn’t up to the standard of a ticketed performance.
“So we again pivoted real hard, real fast,” he said. “We recorded the whole thing … and we were able to shoot it very TV-like with takes. Then I just went in and edited it all together, and all of a sudden I can add film editing onto my resume.”
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