Spotlight: Jonathan Shimon, Technical Director
Neglia Ballet Artists’ Technical Director JONATHAN SHIMON is leading a team from University at Buffalo to the 2019 Prague Quadrennial in June. We thought this was a good time to catch up with Jonathan and learn more about him, the field, this project and his work with Neglia Ballet.
The 2019 Prague Quadrennial (PQ), which is held every four years, has been called the “Olympics of Scenography” by the New York Times.
Jonathan Shimon grew up outside New York City. He fell into Technical Theatre as a 7th grader when his shop teacher recognized he had an interest and understanding of basic tools and asked to help out building sets for a school show. When he started college at UB he took an Introduction to Technical Theatre on a whim. He quickly dove in and a little over a decade later, he started teaching that very class. He’s been on UB’s faculty since 2014.
The 2019 Prague Quadrennial (PQ), which is held every four years, has been called the “Olympics of Scenography” by the New York Times. Shimon’s team of undergraduates and faculty at University of Buffalo will present their entry in Louisville this month at the (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) USITT National Conference then transport their exhibit to Prague Czech Republic in June.
What’s your favorite aspect of working with college students?
I really enjoy seeing their arch of development and seeing students dive in the way I was able to.
Describe your UB team’s entry and what does it mean to be in 2019 Prague Quadrennial?
I was selected to be the Technical Director for the US exhibits in the Prague Quadrennial. My team (which has many students and professionals that have worked on Nutcracker) and I have engineered and fabricated the “sculptural home” for the best scenography that has happened in the US in the past four years.
When and how did you get connected to Neglia Ballet?
The summer after the first production I had just graduated from grad school and the designers Lynne Koscielniak and Dyan Burlingame asked if I be interested in working on the show. I met with Heidi and Sergio and started working on the show a few weeks later to prepare for the 2010 show. Previous to that I actually worked on a few shows at the CFA with Neglia Ballet in the early 2000’s.
Describe what you do for Neglia’s productions.
I oversee most of the technical aspects for the show, from coordinating with Shea’s, to packing the costumes on the truck I’m involved. Recently we have been building new scenery for them, and for that I do all of the structural design, lead the builds, and of course ensure the pieces get to Shea’s and are assembled correctly.
Do you have a favorite / funny / nail-biting backstage Nutcracker memory?
There are so many! In 2013 I still lived in Maryland, and received a call from Heidi, she was preparing for Baba Yaga and all of the scenery including Nutcracker scenery was stored in a huge warehouse in Blasdell and unbeknownst to any of us the owners has started using the building to process soybean and most of the set was covered soybean dust. So in planning for the show, we orchestrated a huge cleanup effort and moved all of the scenery in the two weeks I was in Buffalo for the show.
If budgets were no object, what set piece creation (for Neglia or otherwise) would you love to see brought to life on stage?
Well I won’t call it out by name, but I hope everyone will be seeing it this November! (at the 11th Nutcracker at Shea’s, Nov 30 & Dec 1, 2019)
What advice do you give to young people who are interested in theatre but want to be behind the scenes instead of in the spotlight?
Do it. Putting in the work is the only way to succeed. There are so many jobs in technical theatre and tangential industries. Diversify your skills, both Assistant Technical Directors (James Hergenroder 2010-2016 and Kassidy Coburn 2017-current) who have worked with me on Nutcracker, grew up dancing. (I could never get the timing right for the cotton candy ball or Mother Ginger.)
Where’s the most exotic / interesting / exciting locale you’ve worked?
When I’m not working at UB or Neglia, I work for a company called Chicago Flyhouse, as an Associate Trainer. I travel all over the world training technicians and performers in rigging, performer flying, and automation safety for the cruise ship industry. My last trip was from England through the Azores and Canary Islands, I can’t even pronounce the place I’m headed to in April.
What do you do for fun / interest when you’re not working?
I work… a lot. But a lot of my work is fun. Right now I am working on an animatronic prop for the national tour of Phantom of the Opera. When I’m really, really not working I spend time with my wife Katie and son Jacob.
What or who inspires you?
I think I’m most inspired by challenges. How can this scenic element/effect/prop be better, cheaper, lighter, safer, more reliable, or built faster.
Anything else you’d like to share…
If you see me backstage during Nutcracker don’t be shy and say “hi”. I might look serious, but I’m not.
We wish Jonathan’s UB team all the best in Louisville and Prague. We’re grateful to have a talented and dedicated crew with us backstage at Shea’s helping make the magic come alive!
[Above photos courtesy of UB. Top: Jonathan Shimon. Bottom: UB student paints an element of the exhibit.]