Campus Life

Rudder Theatre Crew Gets The Job Done — Whatever The Job

The crew at Texas A&M’s Rudder Theatre Complex may be the busiest people on campus.
By Lane Stephenson, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications November 22, 2010

They may be the busiest people on campus – “they” being the crew at Texas A&M’s Rudder Theatre Complex. Activity there, always brisk, has picked up significantly within the past year when many of the functions formerly held in the now-under-renovation/expansion Memorial Student Center (MSC) were shifted to Rudder.

During one recent evening, the Rudder crew had major responsibilities for helping set up for a sold-out Lyle Lovett concert in Rudder Auditorium as well as for coordinating logistics for a topical issues-oriented presentation in Rudder Theatre and a student-produced play in Rudder Forum. Then the crew geared up the next morning for the start of the 20th annual MEDALS (Maximizing Educational Development Through Academic & Leadership Skills) conference, a two-day event that attracts hundreds of minority students from high schools throughout the state.

Also in a single week recently, the crew accommodated thousands of students, recruiters and vendors for three separate career fairs in the exhibit hall, where activity has been exceptionally heavy with the current unavailability of the MSC, points out Billy Bielamowicz, Rudder Theatre director.

In addition to having set-up and related responsibilities for the 7,000-square-foot exhibit hall and the three major gathering sites – 2,500-seat Rudder Auditorium, 750-seat Rudder Theatre and the 250-seat forum – the crew also figures prominently in accommodating meeting and related needs elsewhere on campus – and occasionally off campus. When applicable, the crew sets up – and takes down – seating, booths and displays, partitions to section off certain areas and audio/visual and lighting equipment, among a myriad of other activities. Crew members also provide audio/visual support in adjacent Rudder Tower and for ground-breakings, dedications, unveilings and other special events around campus.

Handles Hundreds Of Jobs Annually

Bielamowicz says the 10-member crew handles hundreds of events annually at the Rudder Theatre complex and elsewhere on campus.

“These events are supported by teams of two to 65 people,” he notes, explaining that for the larger events, such as the Lyle Lovett concert, “we draw from a pool of part-time help-student, program aides and contract stage hands.” He adds that emphasis is placed on having senior staff on hand at every event and balancing the work load for all hands.

In addition to the increase in events held at Rudder, the exhibit hall – indeed all of the first floor and mezzanine – has assumed the “living room” function formerly filled by the MSC Flag Room. Students flock there to study and socialize – with many taking advantage of the facility’s sofas and other soft furniture for naps between classes.

Lt. Gen. Joe Weber (USMC) Ret., the university’s vice president for student affairs to whom the Rudder Theatre staff reports, assessed the team thusly: “24/7 and almost 365 is what Billy and his crew work.”

“They are passionate about the hard work they do, never complain, and never seek credit or recognition, Gen. Weber adds. ” Their genuine dedication to students, staff and faculty of this great university is without a doubt the standard for us all.”

Board of Regents Office, OPAS Big Users Of Crew’s Service—Big Fans

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents Office is a long-time and frequent user of the Rudder crew’s audio/visual services for its public meetings. Providing such service has become a bit more challenging now that the board’s meetings are moved around campus because of the MSC expansion/restoration.

“In my 29-year association with Bill Bielamowicz and the Rudder Theatre team, I have found them to be true professionals,” Vickie Spillers, the board’s executive secretary, says in a resounding endorsement. “They have been able to handle every event we have scheduled. It is difficult to put into words the level of trust that we place in Bill Bielamowicz and his team. I know that when Bill or Jason Muchow tells me they will take care of something, I don’t have to worry about it not getting done. The Rudder Theatre team is dependable to meet their commitments, working however long it takes to complete an assignment. They are the ones who work behind the scenes to make sure everything comes together. Many times they have had to work early morning hours and work way into the night — I really don’t know how they do it.”

The Rudder crew even accompanies the board when it convenes its meetings at another campus within the A&M System. “They set up the board meeting room to look the same and “feel” the same, whether the meeting is held in College Station or at another location,” Spillers notes.

Not 8 to 5 For This Crew

The typical work day at Rudder does not begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. for the Rudder crew, as is normal for most members of the university staff. Rather, Rudder opens at 6 a.m. and is scheduled to close at 11 p.m. – or whenever the last event of the day conclude and wrap-up functions are completed. Then there are the frequent weekend activities that must be accommodated.

OPAS, for example, is in the midst of its 38th season, and it’s one of the biggest and best ever offered by the organization that brings a variety of performing arts events to Bryan-College Station. Its programs are almost always in the evening, and the complex’s staff is ever at the ready to do its part to make the program come off without a hitch.

“Most people don’t realize what is required to put a show on the stage,” notes Anne Black, associate director of the MSC who has headed OPAS operations for more than a quarter of a century. “The fact that it looks so easy is due to the calm and professional demeanor of the Rudder Theatre Complex staff. For 26 years I have depended upon them and cannot recall a single time they didn’t deliver.”

“I worry about sales, parking and, occasionally the weather, but I never worry about what is happening backstage. Billy Bielamowicz and his staff, including Pat Castle, are simply the best in the business and we hear that from artists and crews from around the world,” she concludes.

A Staff Of Dedicated Veterans

It’s hard work, but the Rudder crew includes a cast of savvy and dedicated veterans who strive to exceed expectations. For example, Patrick Castle, senior stage manager, and John Whittemore, technical manager, each have worked at the complex for 30 years, and Elizabeth McGill, office associate, has been on the job for 13 years. Logging 11 years of service are Jason Muchow, an assistant director; Rebecca Ferguson, senior administrative coordinator, and Benjamin Leonido, theatrical electrician. Brian McLain, also a theatrical electrician, and Allan Minde, maintenance worker II, have been on the staff for a decade, and Matt Stewart, also a maintenance worker II, is closing in on that 10-year milestone.

Bielamowicz tops them all in longevity, with 37 years. For his long and dedicated service, he was presented the university’s highest award for staff in 2001 – the Distinguished Achievement Award, bestowed by the institution and The Association of Former Students. He began his career at the center as an electronics technician.

“I enjoy my work and owe a lot of my success to my predecessors from whom I have learned a lot,” Bielamowicz says. “I find my work to be both fun and challenging. There is never a dull moment.

“I work with a staff that I consider to be among Texas A&M’s finest employees – as well as my best friends. We work as a team. They have bought into the phrase: ‘The show must go on’.”

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