GV offers space for students backstage in the theatre program


Courtesy / GVSU MTD

Isabelle England, Staff Writer

This theatre season at Grand Valley State University has been busy, with shows like “The Merry Wives of Windsor” presented by GVSU Shakespeare Festival and “A Minister’s Wife” presented by GVSU’s Opera Theatre.

This March, students are performing, “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde directed by Diane Machin. The show runs March 24, 25, 30, 31 and April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and March 26 and April 2 at 2:00 p.m. in the Linn Maxwell Keller Black Box Theatre in the Haas Center for Performing Arts. 

In addition to the student performers, other students like Happy Battjes find a place behind the curtain working in the scene shop. 

“I got interested in the work because I was looking for a job that involved me doing something, I’m one of those people who can’t really sit still and stay at a computer for hours on end,” Battjes said. 

Battjes found their job through handshake as part of GVSU’s work-study program. Handshake offers several postings of similar opportunities for students to work in backstage positions that also satisfy their work-study requirements if applicable. 

“My role in the theater shop is to build sets for the different theater events,” Battjes said. “I build walls and paint them before putting them where they need to go, whether it be in the main theater or the Black Box. Sometimes I’ll even go up in the catwalks above the theater and help hang or set up lights for the various shows.” 

Courtesy / GVSU MTD

Battjes and other students that work behind the scenes often work closely with Christopher Mahlmann, the technical director for the theatre. Mahlmann got his start at GVSU in 2008 after earning BA and MFA in theatre.

Mahlmann manages the theatre, keeps technical systems working and up to date, works with the scene shop manager to construct the scenery and assists the students with design and technical work on the various productions.

In addition to his help in the technical aspects, he also enjoys letting out his creative side by helping with scenic design, lighting design and projection and media design for shows. Mahlmann recently had a large hand in creating the set for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed by Paul Macs. 

“I designed the set and worked on building it with the students,” Mahlmann said. “My favorite part was designing the faux banners and mural for the imaginary Grand Valley Middle School in which the show is set. We embedded some humor into the designs and I hand painted the mural myself.” 

As much as he loves the process of creating the sets, Mahlmann said his coworkers are always the highlight of his work day.

“My favorite part about working in the shop is that I get to spend time with my coworkers,” Battjes said. “We’re like a happy little family there. We joke with each other, give each other advice and also share stories. I would 100% recommend that students get involved with the theatre and they can get involved by either talking to someone in the office of the theatre or checking for openings on Handshake.”

Any student can audition for any of the theatre productions. Audition announcements are posted around the Performing Arts Center, on the Music Theatre and Dance website and are announced via the theatre Blackboard group, which interested students can request to join.

Students who are interested in working backstage or on lighting, sound or wardrobe can contact Mahlmann directly at [email protected] and keep an eye out for new positions posted through Handshake.