“If I do my job right, no one knows what I do,” said Adriane Heflin, technical director at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in Minneapolis. That’s just fine with Heflin, who thrives when she has a clipboard in hand and is working with her team to plan set builds and solve problems.
Growing up on Long Island, Heflin was lucky to see a lot of Broadway shows and ballet performances, instilling in her a lifelong love of theatre. Her other love was architecture, so much so that she started out as an architecture major in college. “My freshman year, I did no theatre. I was really unhappy,” she said. She switched majors when she realized that the role of the technical director is “the marriage of theatre and architecture. I said, that’s what I want to do.”
Going to the Yale School of Drama right after college was like going to boot camp, not least because she was the only woman in a class of 10. “I spent a lot of my first year feeling really young and really female,” she said. But her coursework and the people she met there helped her realize that she wanted to work in resident nonprofit theatre. When the Guthrie Theater posted an opening for an assistant technical director, she jumped at the chance.
After nine years at the Guthrie, Heflin had worked on 100 productions in a shop where some of the carpenters had been in their jobs as long as she’d been alive. She wasn’t looking for a change, necessarily, but decided to investigate when the CTC posted a job opening.
Heflin, who has now overseen more than 75 productions in her 11 seasons at CTC, keeps the mission of the organization taped to her computer screen. “We have such a responsibility to show young people how magical theatre is,” she said. “We are teaching the empathetic youth of tomorrow—we are teaching them empathy and how to tell their stories and stand up for social justice. What could be more important?”
Though Heflin underwent rigorous training, she says she’s never had a true mentor. “I feel like I’ve very much had to forge my own path,” she explained. So as one of the few female technical directors at large regional theatres in the country, she makes an effort to reach out and guide women who enter the field, and she makes sure to connect with young girls who tour the shop. “I tell them, ‘Do you like to build with Legos? So did I. Do you like to color and paint? So did I. I lead a shop full of men every day, and you can, too.’”
Not that a love for building is the only harbinger of success as a TD. Collaboration, communication, question-asking, and problem-solving feature heavily in her description of what makes a good TD. Especially the question-asking: She advises anyone interested in pursuing technical direction to keep the queries coming. “And if people tell you to stop asking questions, ask them why,” she advised.
On the day we met, Heflin and her team were preparing the set for Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas—her fourth time doing the show. She pulled out the original set model and pointed proudly to their built-out realizations on the shop floor, as if they were characters in the play.
And though Heflin is sure the audience doesn’t know about her job, she knows when they like what they see. As she put it, “When the curtain rises and audience gasps, that’s my applause.”