Andrew Rovner ’13 hasn’t had a major part in a play since he was in middle school. But his love of the theater spurred him to pursue a double major in drama and philosophy at Vassar. And since he graduated, he’s cobbled a fledgling career working behind the scenes for several theater companies in Chicago.
Rovner has had fairly steady work as a member of the sound crew at the esteemed Steppenwolf Theater in downtown Chicago. He’s also done some work for the Jackalope Theater Company, where Vassar grad Nate Silver ’10 is a director, and he’s helped design and run what he calls “spectacle theater” events produced by the Redmoon Theater Company in the city’s parks and neighborhoods. And in his spare time, he’s launched his own storefront theater group, called First Floor.
Rovner began to specialize in sound when he landed a summer internship at the Steppenwolf Theater between his sophomore and junior years at Vassar. He spent the following summer at Steppenwolf as well, and when he began job-hunting early in his senior year, he inquired there first. There were no staff positions open, but he was offered work as a freelance sound technician. “Since then I’ve been employed on a show-to-show basis,” Rovner says. “It’s about as steady as the work can get while there’s a show running.”
Rovner’s other ventures in the Chicago theater community have been just as rewarding. One of his tasks at the Redmoon Theater Company was helping to design and build “a cool urban machine” called the Cyclone Grill. The machine consists of a four rotating platforms that hold charcoal grills and a self-contained sound system Rovner designed, using eight truck batteries. Members of the Redmoon crew take the machine to parks and neighborhoods, where they cook hot dogs and hamburgers while a DJ plays dance music and an emcee introduces local performers and community activists.
“We’ve taken the Cyclone Grill out to about 10 different neighborhoods since I’ve been here, and it’s been a great success,” he says. “Mayor Rahm Emmanuel even came to one of our events.”
Rovner says he’s grown accustomed to working behind the scenes while the spotlight is falling on others. The transition from being on stage to moving backstage happened when he was in the seventh grade in his hometown of Tampa, FL. “I’d been in a musical in the sixth grade,” he recalls, “but I got pulled aside the next year and was told I could run the sound board instead of having an acting role. I was informed, very gently, that I was tone-deaf and it would be best if I didn’t perform.”
Rovner loved the theater, so he remained active in drama clubs throughout high school, handling numerous technical assignments. He continued in that role when he got to Vassar, and he says he’s been able to tackle all of his ventures in Chicago because of the wide spectrum of training he received in the Drama Department. “Vassar does a great job producing holistic, cross-trained theater artists, and I’ve learned that’s pretty rare at other colleges,” he says. “Even though I was primarily interested in sound design for most of the productions I worked on, I learned a lot of other skills and gained a good understanding of everyone’s role in the theater.”
Rovner says he gains a special kind of satisfaction making contributions to a production that may not be immediately apparent to the audience. “There’s a feeling of fulfillment you get when you work on something where someone else gets most of the credit,” he says. “Nobody leaves the theater saying, ‘I loved the guy who created all those sound effects,’ but if everybody had a wonderful time at the show, then I’m gratified, knowing I was a part of that.”