This is the first in a series of stories heralding the many great people of the University of Findlay and the ways they support our mission of preparing students for meaningful lives and productive careers.
Stagecraft is defined as the technical aspect of theatrical, film, or video production. It comprises many things as a whole, but one intangible skill that goes along with a knowledge of stagecraft is the ability to turn the production stage into a believable world–a link between the visible and invisible–for the audience to get lost in. Over the 13 years that Matt Stimmel ’02, has been technical director for theatre at University of Findlay, his creativity and vision for the stage has grown into something that is what he calls “well beyond just a job.”
Stimmel, who grew up near the small town of Roundhead, Ohio, supervises and oversees all of the technical aspects as well as the John and Hester Powell Grimm Theatre on campus. A typical day for him begins with unlocking the facilities and cleaning up, and “making sure everything is ready for the day and the students,” he said. As for the rest of the day, things change dramatically depending upon whether or not the department is in production and has a performance scheduled. “Obviously, as the tech director, 80 percent of the job revolves around production,” Stimmel added. “Building sets, hanging lights, running sound, those sorts of things.” He went on to explain that, when a major project is looming, he likes to start putting things together a couple of months ahead, but that it doesn’t always work out that way. For “Newsies,” UF’s most recent musical, he started as soon as he knew what was expected. “It’s normally about a 6-week process,” he said.
When the process begins, according to Stimmel, everyone normally gets together for pre-design meetings. It then goes to the designer to plot and draft the entire look of the production. Sometimes there’s a ground plan to go along with the script and sometimes not. “A lot comes from the director and his or her vision,” Stimmel explained. “My job, after all of this, is to turn plans into reality.” It seems like a difficult prospect, but when you’ve got someone with Stimmel’s experience, particularly with University of Findlay theatre, it’s not difficult to trust that the product will do exactly what it’s supposed to.
When Stimmel became a student in the Environmental Safety and Occupational Health Program at UF in the late 90s, he started to realize that he needed something to fill up his idle time between studying and classes. He had always worked; in fact, he helped his dad at his ornamental iron shop when he was around nine or 10, and, as a result, has always been into manufacturing. Near the beginning of his time as a student, his friend, a fellow student, was taking a stagecraft class at UF and told Stimmel that help was needed. “I did things like they needed with the theatre job for three years in high school, so I applied, and, really, got hired on the spot,” he said. He and his buddy started to do everything with the sets as soon the designs were posted, and this, Stimmel admitted, was where his knowledge of stagecraft really started to take shape. He stayed with the job all through college, and when he graduated, a job within his major fell through before it even got started, so he was hired in as a “part-timer” with UF theatre and kept right on doing what he was doing.
He took what he calls a “hiatus,” though, when, after around a year, he was “lucky” enough to find full-time work in consulting for a blasting company–a job in his major. “It was good money,” he said, “the work was easy, and it was in my field, so I liked it.” He endured with the company for more than three years, but was getting closer and closer to his girlfriend, Shelly, and the life on the road that went with the job was putting a damper on any thought of a future family. “I wanted to get married and have kids,” he said. “There were times when I was gone for six months at a time with that job, so that wasn’t going to work.”
As fate would have it, though, a position at University of Findlay opened up: technical director for theatre. He applied, and, once again, was hired on the spot. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, Stimmel is married to Shelly, and they have two kids, a boy and a girl. He has what he was looking for: a family. And he also, he said, has a family here at UF, one that he looks forward to seeing regularly. The students that are under his guidance and who work with him either because they simply enjoy the work, just like he did as a student, are on scholarship and have hours to work toward, or have a class that uses the experiential learning that UF is known for, are, he admitted, what makes the job. “I was helped out as a student, financially, with the work-study, and my education. Findlay helped me out so much that I’m happy to give back. I genuinely love what I do. Coming to work is not work, and the students are a giant part of that.”
Hard work and good relationships. Meaningful lives and productive careers. Whether it’s in theatre or anywhere else, it’s what UF does, and Matt Stimmel, like other alumni and employees before him, is grateful for that.