The art of theater tech: Behind the scenes of Caitie Miller’s journey to HM


Courtesy of Ben Rafal/Photo Director, HARD AT WORK Miller poses in front of the workshop

Madeleine Offit, Staff Writer

“Anything that you could do in theater, I’ve done it,” Technical Director and theater teacher Caitie Miller said while reflecting on her experiences bringing theatrical productions to life. “I have been a director, stage manager, actor, set designer, and lighting designer. I love it.”

Miller knew she wanted a career in the arts ever since elementary school, she said. Her choice to pursue theater was the product of growing up in a family with careers in the arts and a lot of experimentation. “I went to an elementary school that focused on the arts and my mom was an art teacher there,” she said. “I found that theater was the art thing that I loved doing the most.”

The first time Miller got to take charge on set was as a stage manager for her high school’s production of playwright Molière’s play “Scapin the Schemer,” she said. “Scapin” required an intricate set that Miller produced with the assistance of the technical director of the play, she said. “It was the first time I thought, this is what theater is,” Miller said. “It’s wacky, it’s fun, everyone was laughing so much, it was pretty, it was goofy. I think that is my earliest and most favorite theater production I have ever worked on.”

Miller particularly loves how theater is a collaborative art form, she said. “It brings together a ton of people in service of one artistic goal. And I also love that it’s the one art form that really brings together all the other ones,” she said.

At Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, Miller pursued an English major alongside her theater major with a concentration in design. She built sets, hung lights, and took as many classes as she could, she said. She also built the sets of every theatrical production that ran at her college as part of her work-study job in the scene shop. During her senior year, Miller designed one of the college’s large-scale shows for the musical “Urinetown.” “I got to draw all the pretty pictures and then watch other people bring my vision to life, so that was pretty cool,” she said.

After graduating in 2012, Miller struggled to find a job, she said. “In 2012 we were still in the midst of a recession, so jobs were not to be had.” Miller spent a year living in Memphis and was able to find work at a local Olive Garden. “I took as much design and stage management work as I could…I worked on tiny little shows in Memphis that paid you barely anything for your work,” she said. In 2013, she and her husband moved to New York, where she got a job working at a restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art, she said. She spent four years working at the restaurant but continued her passion for theater on the side, she said. “When I finally moved to New York, I started stage managing at a great little theater, the Astoria Performing Arts Center in Queens,” she said.

Once she felt ready, Miller attended graduate school for a three-year master’s program in Design and Technology at Brooklyn College. “To be a designer, there’s a lot of technical stuff that I felt like I was missing and so that’s why I went back to grad school,” she said.

During her last year at Brooklyn College, Miller instructed students in an ‘Intro to Design’ class. “Graduate school was all the aspects of theater and design in college, but multiplied by 1,000,” she said.

Right after graduate school in 2020, Miller began work at the school. She teaches three main classes in the Upper Division (UD) and leads the after-school stage crew. One of her classes is an introductory class all about learning the design process and visual literacy — the ability to convey ideas with visual language instead of words, she said. Miller also teaches Applied Design and Technical Theatre, a more tactile and hands-on course in which students design sets for the Horace Mann Theatre Company’s (HMTC) seasonal productions.

Athena Spencer (12) the leading set designer for the UD’s recent production “Something Rotten!,” appreciates Miller’s devotion to her work, she said. “She is really hard working and she really cares about her students,” Spencer said. Spencer and Miller have built a particularly special bond through their work together on various sets, and have been able to bond over things that transcend production design. “We both really love to talk about Taylor Swift,” she said. “Ms. Miller has a lot of strong opinions and they are fun to hear.”

Amaris Christian (10), a member of after school stage crew, adores Miller, she said. “Ms. Miller is a really strong woman and she takes the time to show you how strong you can be,” Christian said.

Christian’s favorite moment with Miller was when she first learned how to use a chop saw, she said. “I didn’t really know how carpentry would work and she showed me. She always wants to make sure the people in the stage crew are doing something hands-on,” she said.

Master electrician for the after school stage crew Gwendolyn Simon (11) and Student Technical Directors Juliet Burgess (11) and Bailey Hecht (12) all highlighted the importance of a female mentor in a male-dominated field. “I hope the stage crew will continue to be a place where girls and people of all genders feel empowered,” Hecht said. 

Hecht also recalled Miller’s sense of humor, “Ms. Miller always has the best sayings,” she said. “My favorite of hers is that you can tell how stressed a techie is by how many pencils are in their hair. She told me this during tech for ‘James and the Giant Peach’ when I had roughly five writing utensils shoved in my bun,” Hecht said. 

Miller is able to bring wild visions of her students to the stage using her past expertise, she said. “My 13 or 14 years of building sets come into use whenever one of my designers really wants to make this crazy thing happen.” she said.

Miller hopes her students feel what she did during her first experiences designing. “Watching my students grow is the best feeling in the world. It’s why I teach,” she said. “I remember the joy I felt when I first had a design that I drew on a piece of paper and then saw my vision come to fruition. Watching my students feel that feeling is the best.”

Outside of her work at the school, Miller focuses on her two year-old daughter. “Right now, my whole life outside of school is about my daughter,” she said. “We are learning the alphabet and trying to get her to feel brave enough to slide down the slide — that’s pretty much what I do.”

Reflecting on the lessons she has learned at the school, Miller emphasized the unique students she has been able to work with, she said. “Horace Mann students have so much academic knowledge and you’re all in your heads all the time,” she said. “What I’m going to take away from the school is how to get people to open up and turn all their knowledge into physical and artistic creations,” she said. “Teaching at any other school would be different.” 

Miller hopes that all students at the school have the chance to see an HMTC production. “It has been a wonderful experience working here. We have created some really cool art,” she said. “We do some really cool stuff down here in the basement and behind the scenes.”


A Tuesday in the life of Ms. Miller

10:00 a.m. 

Miller begins her school day at 10:00 a.m. as opposed to 8:25 a.m, and gets settled in. 

10:15 a.m.

Miller runs backstage to help with assembly. Some of her students run the lights while others work the curtains. Miller makes sure everything is running smoothly and working safely. 

11:10 a.m

Miller teaches her D-period “Intro to Design” class with 3 Freshmen and 2 Seniors.  

11:55 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Miller wraps up her class and cleans up whatever pieces of set the class was building, from painted backdrops to treehouses for actors to stand on. 

12:00 p.m. 

Miller usually either paints something or builds for a set during this free time.

12:50 p.m.

Lunch! Miller likes eating during F period because the Cafeteria is quieter. 

1:40 p.m.

Miller uses G-period to get ready for after-school stage crew which runs from 3:20 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She spends this period drafting, pulling out tools, or cutting things in preparation. 

2:30 p.m.

Miller teaches in-school stage crew H-period with four students. They build sets for upcoming productions. 

3:20 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Miller oversees after school stage crew of 20 students. The students are broken up into their different projects and are usually working in different areas including the Gross Theatre, the shop, and the Black Box. Some work on lighting while others work on building sets. Miller works with Middle Division teacher John Griffin to supervise the students

5:30 p.m.

The crew cleans up and leaves by 5:45 p.m.

6:00 p.m. 

Miller leaves the school and goes home to her family!