A technical director never isn't busy, but this winter has been particularly action-packed for Richard Girtain, who'll celebrate his third anniversary at Juilliard on March 1. On December 31, his wife, Diana, gave birth to their second child, Grace (Jack is 4); less than two weeks earlier, The Technical Director's Toolkit (Taylor & Francis), a book Richard wrote with Zachary Stribling, came out. Richard lived in New Jersey until he was 11 and then moved to Oak Ridge, Tenn. (of Manhattan Project fame). He has a bachelor's in theater with a minor in religious studies from the University of Tennessee and a master's in technical production from Florida State University, and he was tech director for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis before coming to Juilliard.
What does it mean to be the technical director?
The technical director's job is to safely and efficiently realize the scenic designs for all Dance, Drama, Opera, and Center for Innovation in the Arts productions at Juilliard. I supervise the stage crew and their activities as they relate to production, and I'm also the head of the scenery department and manage the scene shop, on the B level.
What's one of your favorite Juilliard memories?
On my first tour of the facility, Kent McKay, the vice president for production, and I stopped by an orchestra rehearsal. The majority of my professional work has been in the theater, however throughout my education, I played tuba in marching and symphonic band and sang tenor in various choirs, so I was transported back to a time when my involvement in the arts was much broader. I fell in love with the feeling of being back in an environment where all of the performing arts were together.
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day?
I really like my job, but maybe just for a day President Polisi's. The opportunity to engage all of the different facets of Juilliard from that perspective would be enlightening.
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do?
Hang out in the park with my family.
What is the strangest job you've ever had?
I was a dishwasher in a cafeteria for a year in college. I was no stranger to physical jobs— growing up, we had a small farm with horses and bailing hay was the local thing to do to earn a little extra cash—but this was different. The kitchen/dish room of any eating establishment is a machine. Each area has its part to do and when one bogs down the whole system begins to suffer. I really learned teamwork in the workplace, being accountable to each member of the team, and the valueof really hot water on pots and pans.
What's the craziest day at work you've had?
That's a tough one—in hundreds of productions there have been too many wild ideas and days to count. One day it snowed four inches on an outdoor stage—in July—and we had a performance six hours later. I've also had to create a five-minute rain storm all the way across a 50-foot stage; make a three-ton, two-story house spin and track; and build a working 18-foot tall replica of the Trevi Fountain. Each presented a different challenge. Some may say crazy, but it's just another day at work for me. That's why I keep coming back.
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
I love to fish and ride motorcycles, although I don't have much time for either lately.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I'm an Eagle Scout.
What are you watching?
The most recent season of Doctor Who.
Why did you go into production work?
I love the idea of bringing ideas to reality. Where others see chaos I see opportunity. I think of my job as someone dumping a box of random Legos on the table, showing me a picture of something sort of real and then saying “Make this, only bigger, and bluer.” It's never dull and always changing.