Five Questions with Rep technical director Nichelle Kramlich Williams

Thursday | July 20, 2017

In conversation, Nichelle Kramlich Williams projects an aura of supreme calm. That comes with a lot of practice. As The Rep's technical director since 1998, she and our extensive backstage team make stage magic happen on tight deadlines. The flighty and easily rattled need not apply.

"Sometimes it’s an incredibly difficult process," Williams says. "It’s having to work through – sometimes fight – with the designers and the artistic side of things to rein things into budget and into time."

But the rewards of that process are immense. We sat down with Williams to talk about her job and how she works to spin theatrical dreams into reality.

1.) When did you first fall in love with theatre?

In high school. I was extraordinarily shy. My best friend, who was into theatre, said, "You know what, let’s get over this. Why don’t you take an Acting I course?"

I got in there and the theatre bug hit. I did every aspect of theatre that I could at that point. I did it through high school, and a little bit in junior college.

A student professor actually gave a really good bit of advice: which was, “If theatre is really what you think you want to do, you need to take a full year off. Don’t do anything. If you miss it, you’ll know that’s what you want to do. If you don’t, don’t do it. Because it’s a really hard life."

And I did. And literally, it was a year to the day from when I took off and when I did the next show. All my friends even said "the sparkle’s back in your eyes." I knew I was missing it, but I didn’t realize that it apparently did affect me inside, too.

2.) How would you describe your job for a Rep patron who's only seen the finished product on stage?

As technical director, first I’m responsible for the scenery, lighting and the sound. The way I like to look at it is, I help make the dreams of the designers a reality.

We get the visions from the designers and from our directors. We take those drawings or those wishes and transform them into what you see on stage – within time, budget and manpower, which is the hardest aspect of everything.

We’re lucky that we have some of the best artisans, carpenters, scenic artists, electricians and sound people around. They allow us to achieve more than what I think we could otherwise.

3.) This past season was The Rep's 50th, and featured tons of technically demanding productions. What kinds of workarounds or creative problem-solving did your team achieve on these shows?

Every show last season had something like that.

On Follies, the fact that the arch truly rotated around the way it was supposed to and cleared everything. I thought it was pretty stunning when it did rotate for the Loveland scene. We all were pretty happy with it.

Christmas Carol, that was a big show. The most challenging (character) was Christmas Past. You have to understand, we were in meetings on that show starting in June of the previous year. It evolved all the way through. That one had great things. I think the effects turned out good.

All My Sons, that was the first show we’ve done that was almost entirely scrim walled. I think it turned out beautifully. (Editor's note: read our interview with scenic designer Michael Ganio, who came up with this unique set approach).

Mockingbird, that one had a lot of weird challenges that we hadn’t dealt with before. I think the grass growing worked really well, and it looked cool I think. The tree growing was a real surprise, too.

4.) What are you looking forward to most for next season?

The first show (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) I think is an important show. It's a fabulous script and subject matter. I think, so far, the way the artistic team is solving issues with the show is really creative and wonderful.

Hamlet, I’m looking forward to from the simple fact that I do adore Shakespeare. The team we have back for it is an incredible team.

The Humans, I think it’s going to be intriguing because Steve (Woolf) is directing that. The set is a one-room apartment in one aspect. But the challenge is that there’s an entire upper level that’s relatively unsupported, so that will be our challenge on that one.

I’m just excited to do Born Yesterday, plain and simple. I’ve never done it.

5.) What's your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is when I may go in, and the show’s closing, and I see people walking out and they have a big smile on their face. That truly is one of the best joys I think we all get from it.

As far as actually doing the job, I do love the creative process. I love watching the magic that our carpenters, our scenics, our lighting and sound people can achieve. When we think it’s too big, and we’re all able to come together and get it done, that’s a happy thing. That’s an exciting thing. That’s a surprising thing!