A New Face in Tech Theater

Jack Moses

With the influx of new teachers at Greenhill every year, it can be difficult to meet them all. That’s especially true if the class in question is Technical Theater, which meets in the Marshall Family Performing Arts Center (MPAC), on the eastern fringe of campus, out of sight of many Greenhill students.

But “tech” theater teachers like Leann Burns are used to working outside the spotlight.

Born in Seattle to a family of artists, Burns was surrounded by influences that shaped her artistic path. With a photographer father, a seamstress grandmother and wood-working grandfather, it’s easy to see where her artistry was developed.

A shy child, Burns encountered an early turning point when her parents registered her in a month-long summer theater camp.

“I think that they were hoping that I would get on stage and come out of my shell, but they had some tech theater workshop options,” Burns said. “So what I did was I actually took a makeup and puppet-making class during this summer course, and after that it was a done deal. I loved it.”

While actors perform the written portions of a play in the spotlight, technical theater personnel work to create the aura and setup for the production—the “magic” of the play, as Burns puts it. They work on everything from set design to lighting, with the latter being Burns’s specialty.

“She does all of it well,” Greenhill Head of Fine Arts Terry Martin said. “She has the ability to make more realistic plays and it needs a really subtle lighting where it almost looks like real lights in a real room. She’s wonderful at that, but then she can turn around and do lights for a musical that’s not realistic, one that’s really colorful and really bright.”

Though technical theater students and professionals are often denied the spotlight and recognition enjoyed by actors,  their work is vital.

“Tech theater is two distinct parts of art, one-part design and the other crafting,” Burns said. “So, you have this highbrow design work that needs to be done, analyzing the script, coming up with concepts, figuring out how to make an entire world into a set design or a light design, really brain-type stuff. Then you also have this craft part where you get to actually make things.  It’s very physical.”

Her experience also has students impressed, with ninth grader Chancey Stefanos saying,

“ I really love her, she’s good at everything she does and brings a very high level of skill to Tech Theater. I really think she will do a great job.”

Burns brings to Greenhill a varied background in professional theater as well as nine years of teaching experience at public schools WHERE. She previously worked on productions at Addison’s WaterTower Theater, where Martin oversaw more than 130 productions between 1999 and 2016. In 2011, Burns and Martin showcased  their collective talents in the WaterTower Theater production of the play Spring Awakening, with Burns providing lighting design and other technical work.

Now, in her new role as Greenhill’s resident expert in the finer points of technical theater, Burns and Martin are once again poised to pool their talents.

“I want to create a dynamic, long-lasting program in which students can learn all the different aspects of technical theater and become great artists, patrons and fans of technical theater,” Burns said. “In addition to that, I want to bring a very high level of artistry to works at Greenhill, and I want students to be a part of that.”