Introduction of New Directors

Garrett Brown, MVC writer

At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, the Mount Vernon theatre department made a big change. Though the technical director began the previous semester, both directors are quite new to the MV staff. Being new, they should receive a proper introduction, so the students with which they will be working can get to know them a little bit better.


Questions for Ms. Sydney Nichols and Mr. Rick Barber, auditorium/technical and theatrical directors respectively:

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sydney: “I am a student at the University of Indianapolis; a sophomore. I graduated from Mount Vernon in 2021. Currently, I am majoring in pre-art therapy, with a minor in theatre which is absolutely useful for this. I was in tech crew all four years of high school, and I mainly focussed on scenic design and art, but I really enjoyed expanding into learning about everything in technical theatre.”

Mr. Barber: “My name is Rick Barber. I live in Speedway, Indiana. I have lived back in Indiana for exactly ten years. Before that, I lived in Tampa, Florida, where I worked at Busch Gardens Amusement Park as a performer, and I also had three flower shops. I lived there for fifteen years. Before that, I was always more or less a gypsy; travelling a lot in entertainment with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Holland America Cruise Lines where I was a singer-dancer in the show. Also, before that, I was living in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I  performed in a show there for two years: “Starlight Express” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Before that I lived in Nashville Tennessee, where I was a backup country singer. I have lived in Branson, Missouri, Boston, Massachusetts, Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California; always in the entertainment business. I graduated from Oakland City University, and prior to that, I went to Indiana University, where I was a music major. I am from southern Indiana; a small town called Loogootee. I knew at a young age that I needed to find myself and who I was, and I did not feel like back in the late ‘80s that I was going to do that living in southern Indiana, so I felt like I needed to get out and travel the world. I got a job my third year of college on the summer break in Nice, France, where I was also a stage performer in a show there. Prior to that, I was always performing, singing, and dancing in shows at Holiday World and at Kings Island throughout the summer, which helped me get through paying for college. That is who I am, and where I am now today is still owning a flower business in Speedway, Indiana, and then I get to come back and do this part time at the school and some other high schools, choreographing and staging musicals.”


What is it that you do here?

Sydney: “Tech director wise, I have all of the tech crew; I think there are almost forty of them, so I do my best to guide them and let them use their creativity to bring the technical aspect of a theatre show to life, whether that is through lighting, sound, set design, artistry, and even stage management. The other aspect of it is the auditorium director side, so right now I am working on renovating the auditorium by bringing us some new lights, speakers and carpeting and all that fun stuff. And for band and choir shows, tech crew also helps with those. That is not really the theatre side; that is more just learning the ins and outs of how the auditorium works on the technical side.”

Mr. Barber: “I think I have to have a vision of the show. I try not to make the show in my vision the same as everybody else’s. I like to give it a twist if I can. I also like to make the production numbers of the musical a little over the top if I can, a little edgy. I like to push the limits if I can to make it a little bit broader and a little bit bigger and a little bit more extreme to make it more memorable to the audience.”


What got you interested in such a position?

Sydney: “The previous tech director, Joy (Ms. Mills). She contacted me that she would be moving forward with a new position at Marion University, and she recommended me; and she said that she thinks I would have a lot of fun, and I would be successful with it, so I really just kind of jumped in. At that point I was a freshman in college, and I was not really sure how I was going to do it, but I knew that it sounded like a lot of fun, so I interviewed, and it worked out. I always looked up to Joy. She was the biggest inspiration to me being, first off, a woman who was a tech director was an inspiration to me, only because before her, it was Mr. Oakerson, who has since moved on to Carmel, but I always admired the unity in tech that she was able to bring, the closeness that people had. She was always open and willing to talk with us and be real with us, and that is what I have tried to model myself after is keeping tech a safe place.”

Mr. Barber: “I have always, like I said, travelled a lot and done a lot of shows performing, but I found that as a director I can be more creative rather than being in a show where somebody else is creating the picture. I like putting forth the vision on the stage because I can make it anything that I want to make it, whereas if I am performing a show I always have to be limited on what maybe other directors see as the show. I have always had a creative mind, creative vision, and I just enjoy seeing that vision through from beginning to end on the stage from helping design the set to figuring out the costumes to props to the special touches that make the number. It makes me more interested as a director that I can have my hand in all of it, I guess.”


Do you enjoy working here?

Sydney: “Of course. I think this is the most fun job that I could have. I mean, obviously I need a job. It has ups and downs. It is certainly a good amount of stress, but it is the tech crew that makes it fun and worth it during those stressful points.”

Mr. Barber: “Yes. I really enjoy working here. The people here are very accepting, very loving, very accommodating, very open. My degree was in music education, and back thirty years ago, maybe thirty-five years ago, people were not as accepting of me as a gay man to include me, and thus I felt like my creativity at that time was very stifled because I knew I always had a vision of what I wanted to see on stage and I always felt like butting heads with everybody else, the staff, the other teachers, the parents because maybe they could not see me as the person that I was and kind of put limitations of what I thought I could do, my capabilities.”


What is your favourite part of the job?

Sydney: “The students in the tech crew. Though I will say, they know how to make me laugh, and they never fail to astound me with humour and wit, but also the things that they can make and come up with. I am always impressed. They always one-up themselves, and that is what I am proud of.”

Mr. Barber: “The favourite part of the job, for me, is putting on a show that I feel like people can sink their hearts into. I feel like some shows might not be appropriate for some schools; maybe they do not have as much energy as needed, and if it does not fit the cast and the crew and the school’s expectations then I feel like I am limiting myself on my capabilities as far as a director.”


What are your opinions on the other new director?

Sydney: “Oh, Mr. Rick. I love him. I really appreciate that he has brought more of a sense of community to the theatre department. When I was in high school, from a student’s perspective it kind of felt more two-sided, like not as harmonious between tech and cast, but I think now that there is more of a sense of mutual appreciation and bonding and just fun. I really loved working with him. He lets the cast and crew be kids.”

Mr. Barber: “She and I get along really well. We are always on the same page as far as our vision. She always seems to see my vision as far as the show, and she executes it perfectly each and every time with what I have seen. It is easy to communicate with each other from finances to the set builds to expenses to schedules. We pretty much see eye-to-eye on everything, and we work together really well as a team.”


Are there any big changes you have made since you began working? If so, what were they?

Sydney: “The first thing that comes to mind is the auditorium itself. I have generously been given a good budget to kind of update the space and make it more technically advanced for us. As I mentioned before, all of the new stage lighting fixtures that are LED; so many more capabilities with that. They use less energy but also have more capabilities with colour. I am really excited for that. LEDs bordering the stage and the aisleways, those are getting repaired as well as some new carpeting. We are taking out the ‘70s disco look, sadly. As for the tech side of things, I think when I came in, it really was just a free-for-all; I would say, ‘This is the set we have to make, and you guys got it.’ I think since then, I have tried to provide a little bit more structure. The tech crew is kind of grouped off into little groups that I try to switch up, so they can really focus on the construction of one certain piece, like the stairs for instance. I want the same group of people (the self-deemed ‘Step Bros’) to work on the stairs because it is a certain technique that you have to learn and get used to. There is a good group who have worked on the trailer, and it is kind of fun because you get kind of emotionally attached to these pieces and be really invested, and it is more of a sense of achievement when you see them come out. I think every change that I have made has been in an effort to make it easier, more fun, and more rewarding for everyone. I do not think I could ever compare myself to Joy, but I will say that I do my very best to keep the traits that I admired when I was a student from her. The only thing I can think I do differently from her is I use the [auditorium director’s] office, which I guess is really the tech crew’s office now.”

Mr. Barber: “I think the only big change is that I have tried to create more of a positive atmosphere and more of a morale booster. If I was ever in a position where I felt like I was limiting the abilities or the fun of theatre, then I would be limiting the talents, I would be limiting the creativity from the crew, and I would be limiting everybody else’s buildup to the show. I feel like If I can just continue to try to keep a positive attitude, a positive vibe within the group, and a good energy, and create a good energetic show that people are enthusiastic about, then it is going to filter down to the students and then it is going to filter down into the audiences and the community.”


Is there anything to which the readers can look forward?

Sydney: ““Legally Blonde.” April, 13-16. “Legally Blonde” will be very fun. We will have all those new things that I was talking about. There will be a pit for music, and our lights are going to be really fun. The set is amazing. I am really impressed. That is the most immediate thing to look forward to.”

Mr. Barber: “I think that the readers are going to look forward to something bigger than the last show with this show. I want to see that we can overtop our and the audiences’ expectations for what they saw in the last show, that we can exceed the production value, that we can exceed the dance ability, that we can exceed the special effects. The overall build of the show, I think, needs to be bigger than the previous show, and I want the audiences to come and enjoy the show; I want them to get the true vision of “Legally Blonde,” the play that they might know but then also the musical part of the show which they probably are not familiar with. As theatre people, we are [familiar with it], but average audiences probably are not familiar with the musical, so we can bring that life to the stage with the production value of the show. By bringing the dance and song and every special effect, we will create what is called a supervision of what people might expect. I am excited about the scene of the final outcome of the show is going to be, and I am excited to see the energy from the crew and the cast and everybody behind the scenes and so on. What the expectation is going to turn out to be for the show, too.”


Questions for students:

What are your thoughts on your new director?

Penelope Dearth (grade 11, crew): “Sydney Nichols is awesome. I heard about her when I first started tech. I did not really know who she was, though, because I did not start tech until I was a sophomore, and by then she was already graduated. I was a little scared that she would be really strict, but she is actually really sweet, and she allows us to make our own decisions about tech. It is really nice to be able to make my own decisions, especially as one of the lead set designers, so it is nice to have a tech director that can trust and respect us.”

Callie Runyan (grade 11, cast): “I love Rick. I think he is great. He has really good visions for the show that he brings to life. He is super nice. He feels like an uncle. He is just so fun. He is just a great guy.”

Katie Bowsher (grade 11, cast): “I think the new director is great. I think he has great energy. He is really positive. He has relationships with everybody, and he makes an effort to let us have fun but also make a good show, and I think that we have all really liked the switch from the past.”


Is there anything to which the readers can look forward?

Penelope Dearth (grade 11, crew): “For “Legally Blonde,” we are having real dogs, not just fake toy dogs. If you saw “Mary Poppins,” there was this tiny, little, fake robotic dog that was used for one scene, but in “Legally Blonde,” we are actually including two dogs. One of them, Stassi, is from one of the crew members, and the other one, Nori, is from one of the cast members, so it is nice to see the crew and cast be more involved in the show.”

Callie Runyan (11, cast): “We are currently working on “Legally Blonde” which is a lot of fun. We have so many songs, so many amazing sets, so many costumes. There is a lot visually to look at and a lot to see, so everybody should get tickets and come see the show. It is really awesome.”

Katie Bowsher (grade 11, cast): “The show has real dogs. There are two real dogs that are going to be on stage, and there are going to be awesome set pieces. For “Mamma Mia!” there was one set piece. The one big set piece was there for the whole show, but for this show we are going to have moving set pieces, so there will be different things on stage, and it is overall a very exciting show. Everyone loves “Legally Blonde;” just like the movie, and the songs are super fun, and it is such a funny show.”


New MVCSC theater directors, Rick Barber and Sydney Nickols, on the set of “Legally Blonde.”
Sydney Nichols and Rick Barber on the stage of the MVCSC theater.
Behind the scenes of their current play, “Legally Blonde,” with Rick Barber and Sydney Nichols.

The cast and crew put in a great amount of effort into each and every show, and they are better able to do so with the help and leadership of their directors. With all that being said, go to and use the access code “BLONDE” to preorder tickets to see “Legally Blonde” this April.