Putting things together and figuring things out came naturally to Grace Beckman as a young girl. Her mother would even ask her to take charge of assembling new furniture from IKEA.
And then in high school, Beckman was bitten by the theatre bug, specifically the backstage part, using her innate engineering skills to help produce plays.
Today, the Wright State University senior has married those two disparate passions — majoring in both mechanical engineering and stage management.
“I would like to keep doing theatre in some capacity after graduation just because truly there is nothing else like it,” she said. “But I have been looking into project management for engineering, either in the construction industry or something similar. I like putting moving pieces together.”
Beckman grew up in Columbus, graduating from Bishop Watterson in 2016. Her high school’s theatre program was a small one where everyone did a little bit of everything.
“I really liked the backstage side of it,” she said. “From the engineering point, I was helping build sets, helping run lights and doing anything that involved getting the technical side of the show together.”
Beckman was later put in charge of the productions.
“I would run around making sure actors were in the right place and learning more about professional theatre,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, there’s a job for this.’”
Beckman had never even heard of Wright State until talking with her high school counselor, who knew of Beckman’s interest in theatre. A campus visit, including a stop at the Creative Arts Center, clinched her decision to enroll at Wright State.
“It just felt right,” she said.
Beckman acknowledged that double majoring in mechanical engineering and stage management has not always been easy.
“I’ll take one semester that’s more engineering, then one semester that’s more stage management,” she said. “In the beginning, that decision depended on my classes, but now it hinges on whether or not I’m running a show. This semester, since I’m on ‘Mamma Mia!,’ will be a theatre semester for me. But I’m still taking some engineering classes.”
Beckman said the most challenging thing about stage management is juggling all of the different aspects in producing a play.
“You really can’t focus on just one thing all the time,” she said. “It’s a balance of who you talk to, when you talk to them, making sure everyone has the right information. Someone is asking for shoes. Someone lost their clip. Time management and balance.”
Beckman said the most gratifying part is experiencing the final product.
“It’s hectic and sometimes things can slip your mind and you don’t quite see it when you’re in the rehearsal room even though you know something is going to be there,” she said. “But once you see it come together and it’s all in front of you happening, it really makes you remember why you’re doing it.”
Especially challenging was producing “Mamma Mia!,” which was supposed to be performed in the spring of 2020 but was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During her interview, Beckman was in the middle of helping produce the musical at the Festival Playhouse for a three-week run from Oct. 29 to Nov 14.
“Now we’re coming back; whole new cast, new stage management team, same designers, thank goodness,” she said. “We’re just finally putting it all together. Last night when we did a run with mics for the first time, we got further than they ever got in the first process.”
Beckman said the highlight of her experience at Wright State has been the people.
“I’ve just met some really, really cool people here; classmates that I’ve gotten to work with, people who have graduated and moved on, seeing what they’re doing and following up with them,” she said.