Theater Arts professor Nat Davies swaps college students for grade schoolers at summer-long theatre camp in New York

While sitting in one of eight theaters on the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center campus, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theater Design and Management Nat Davies reflected on the last 15 years she has spent with the institution.

From securing her first post-grad job with Stagedoor after completing her BA in Theater Design and Production in Britain to now, Davies has grown immensely as a person and professional in the last decade and a half of summers at the New York state-based theater company.

“I was in my early 20s when I first started working here. I had just graduated, and they gave me my first job and they were so welcoming,” Davies said. “Then I went to grad school, and I was a grad student while working here, and then now I’m here in my 15th year after my first year of being a professor at Lees-McRae. Within my professional career I’ve pretty much grown up through Stagedoor.”

Stagedoor Manor is a completely self-contained performing arts center which hosts three three-week sessions every summer for 300 theater-loving students aged 10−18 who want an intensive educational theater experience.

“Our mission statement is, ‘creating and providing a positive theatrical experience for every camper,’” Davies said. “They are taught how to sing, they have masterclasses in voice, dance, how to collaborate with other artists, and at the end of it we do Broadway standard shows. They live, breathe, and eat theater—that’s what we do here.”

Each session focuses on different plays and musicals, and after each three-week period the students give performances. While the campers make up the cast, technical theater professionals bring everything together. That’s where Davies comes in as the Head of Lighting and Assistant Production Manager.

“I’m in charge of lighting, sound, set, and paint. I lead the set designers, the scenic artists, the light designers, and the sound designers,” Davies said. “We hire professionals and people who are still in college, and people always say if you work lighting design at Stagedoor you can work anywhere. We do it old school—we don’t use LEDs we use incandescents—so if you can work here, you can work anywhere.”

While she has taken on more and more responsibility at Stagedoor over the years, Davies said that each summer is an opportunity for her to grow and mature in her own work as well. She attributes much of what made her a successful professor at Lees-McRae to what she’s learned about professional theatre at Stagedoor.  

When you’re teaching, “you’re still growing,” Davies said. “You’re passing on knowledge, but you can still learn from other people. There was one year here that one of my lighting designers taught me something about a dimmer that I didn’t know, and I use that all the time now. It’s showing students that everyone is still human: professors, students, colleagues. We’re all in a learning environment together.”

Now, reflecting on her first full year as a professor, Davies said that she brings this collaborative spirit and desire for continued learning that she fostered at Stagedoor into her classroom. She can take the lessons she has learned throughout the last 15 summers and use them to share her love of theater not only with the students at Stagedoor, but in her classroom at Lees-McRae.

“Stagedoor encompasses everything I love about theater. It’s a family environment, it’s collaborative so we all work together, and there’s no such thing as, ‘it’s not my job,’” Davies said. “Stagedoor is a very magical place, it’s its own little world. Everyone who comes here loves theater and learns a lot and grows a lot. I’ve not come across any place like it, and that’s why I’m still here.”

By Maya JarrellJune 06, 2022
Campus Life