A native of Smithfield, Virginia, Scenic Technology senior Emmy Babyak first started studying technical theater in her sophomore year of high school at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk. Originally interested in becoming a scene designer, she became fascinated instead by what she calls “the design within the design,” leading her to pursue a degree in scenic technology. “I quickly realized that I was more interested in how things were built and engineered than the audience-facing design,” she explains.
When she started looking at universities, the Technical Director at her high school, an alumnus of the Scenic Technology program himself, encouraged her to look at the School of Design and Production at UNCSA. “I was still a bit skeptical in that way that high schoolers are when their teacher tells them to do something, but I took a tour and when I walked into the shop, I was instantly impressed,” says Babyak. “I knew I wanted to be a Pickle.”
Her years of training have now led to securing a post-graduation position at the world-renowned Meow Wolf immersive and interactive installation and experience company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There she will join a team of creatives and use her skills to create memorable experiences for visitors of all ages.
While preparing for graduation and her big move, Babyak reflects on her time at UNCSA and some of the most important lessons she has learned along the way.
I will be an Associate Technical Director at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was always kind of aware of Meow Wolf because I had seen them at the annual UNCSA Job Fair event and I had seen their work online and thought it was a really cool concept. Last summer, when I was working at the Santa Fe Opera, some friends and I visited the Santa Fe Meow Wolf called “House of Eternal Return”; it was incredible. I saw every kind of human having a wonderful time in that space – it made adults feel like kids again while kids were having fun exploring.
At Job Fair this year, I got the opportunity to talk to their team and we had a great conversation. A few weeks later, I got the privilege of going to USITT with UNCSA and was able to continue having great conversations with the hiring staff members there. When I got the job offer, I knew it was the right place for me. I’m inspired by the company both by their creativity and mission. The people and culture that Meow Wolf represents is where I want to be. It was a done deal.
I loved being Technical Director for the Fall 2022 Drama performance of “Amadeus.” I was really proud of how some of the complex and organic elements turned out. I say all the time that I would rather engineer something that is complex, abstract or complicated than big because it requires more creativity, depth and problem-solving. With complex elements, there is something around every corner that makes you have to think harder.
That kind of abstract work creates really interesting collaboration with the other departments because you have to work very closely with other talented artists to find a solution that will work. I can’t come up with a solution myself without input from everybody else and that kind of creative back and forth really brought out the best in me and my whole team. I was very proud of both my team and the rest of the production team who worked on “Amadeus.”
There was an arch unit on “Amadeus” that was quite complex. I thought I had engineered it all the way through, estimating that it would take four days to build, but the project ended up taking over two weeks. Timing for productions can be very tight and that kind of delay affects not just you and your department but can create a sort of domino effect for every other scenic department. At the time, I was panicked, because in those situations, I am not the only person who receives the consequences of my actions.
I think, as a result of that failure, I learned a really valuable lesson about accountability. I made sure to speak with every other student that was affected to make sure they knew what was going on and that it was my mistake. I also realized it impacted the morale of the team of carpenters, so I ended up going out to the floor to apologize for my mistakes and let them know I appreciated their patience and tenacity. II put myself in their shoes and channeled what I wish a technical director would say to me if I were in the role of a carpenter. I think that failure taught me not just to do better on estimations but also how to handle a team and be accountable when you make a mistake.
I can’t choose just one person. First, I have to thank Shannon Taylor, who works in the Library Cafe. I would go to the Cafe every morning to get a cup of coffee. No matter what, whether I was having a good or bad day, when I walked in, she would say hi to me with a smile and an infectious sense of positivity. Shannon knew my name, had my order ready, asked me how I was doing and that sunshine made my day sometimes.
I also have to thank all of my friends, especially Evan Hausthor, Johanna Fleischer and Chase Dietrich, who truly got me through my time here and supported me from the beginning. They were there with me at my best and during the most challenging times of this journey. This school is built to challenge you and, as grateful as I am for that, how you handle challenges says a lot about you. I believe the people that stuck with you during those harder times really make the difference in that.
It’s ok to be wrong. At the beginning of my time here, I felt like I had been given an incredible opportunity by just being here, and, if I wasn’t doing everything perfectly or right, I was wasting it somehow. I had to learn that by making mistakes, asking for help and using the resources provided, I could fail safely and then carry the lessons I learned without letting it bring down my passion or drive.
The level of leadership. At a lot of universities, you get to be the technical director or scene designer, but here, you really get to be entirely responsible for your project. Faculty members are usually just serving as advisors, so if you are assigned to a production, you are responsible for communication and logistics. There is always someone to help you, and they will let you bend but won’t let you break. That kind of project ownership is not something you get anywhere else.
The Library Cafe, of course. I love coffee and it just feels like a routine. My brain recognizes that it’s time to do work when I have stopped to get my coffee first. I love seeing friends, grabbing a bite to eat and sitting outside in the Spring when all of the tulips are in bloom.
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May 01, 2023