Unsung Heroes of Menlo Theater

Unsung Heroes of Menlo Theater

Costume Designer Meredithe Brown

From the ornate gowns of Antigone to the trendy miniskirts of Mean Girls, every play’s costuming brings the characters to life and adds another dimension to the story. 

Menlo grandparent Meredithe Brown volunteers to design the costumes for all Menlo theater productions, working with Upper School drama teacher Steven Minning to execute his vision for each character. Menlo has a large repository of clothes in the basement of the Spieker Center that Brown often uses to craft the costumes. Otherwise, she hand-makes a portion of the costumes herself or rents specific pieces.

Designing costumes is a difficult endeavor and Brown’s costumes must satisfy multiple conditions. “The challenges, of course, are meeting Mr. Minning’s expectations, finding the right costume and then also, of course, keeping within the budget,” Brown said. “And [I] just get over those by keep trying: if it doesn’t work, then [I] try something else.”

Brown finds the hard work that comes with designing costumes rewarding. “When somebody puts on a costume and they’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is fantastic,’ then of course that makes you feel good,” she said. 

Brown began volunteering three years ago with Menlo when her grandchild, Chloe Banatao (’27), started attending Menlo in middle school. Brown learned to sew as a child and made her own clothes. After she had kids, she started making their clothing as well and even used to make her grandchildren’s Halloween costumes. 

Even though Brown’s role is behind the scenes, she loves interacting with the performers. “It’s always, of course, fun to see your designs come on stage, and the kids are actually feeling like they’re part of them,” she said. “It becomes them and their character.” 

Many of the students that Brown works for respect the work that she does for Menlo. “[Brown] is probably one of the most hardworking people that I’ve ever seen,” sophomore and theater performer Simone Lev said. “Bringing our shows to life and giving them the character and the authenticity that they have is something that people really respect our program for.”

Performing Arts Technician Jeffrey Zahos

Lights, sound, action! The audiovisual system behind Menlo’s theater productions shapes the audience’s viewing experience. Mastering the perfect volume and timing enhances the audience’s ability to immerse themselves in the plot, the character’s emotions and the art behind it all. The man behind all this? Performing arts technician Jeffrey Zahos.

In collaboration with Upper School drama teacher Steven Minning, Zahos brings to life Minning’s creative vision for the play to enhance the audience’s experience in a particular manner. Zahos creates a complex sound system of speakers and other equipment to achieve those goals. “[The sound system is] all in service of a creative process and ultimately an audience experience,” Zahos said. 

Zahos also increases dramatic effect through the manipulation of sound. When there is a mood shift or a character change, Zahos alters the sound to make the shift more noticeable and realistic. For example, in the Upper School’s most recent production, “Antigone,” Zahos designed an audiovisual system that mimicked the whir of an airplane traveling above each speaker.

Having previously worked as a sound engineer at universities for 16 years, Zahos is well experienced in his field. However, should any challenges arise, he is not left to confront them alone. “We [have] a lot of help from students,” Zahos said. 

He works closely with many of the student tech crew members, guiding them in the complicated endeavor of lighting and sound engineering for a musical theater production. “[Zahos] is always working very hard to make sure everything runs smoothly,” sophomore Valeria Gurrola-Mariscal, who has been the light board operator in past productions, said. 

Theater producer and set designer Andy Hayes also supports Zahos through his classes on technical theater called Page to Stage. The students learn how to install and manage the sound system in the Spieker Center. 

“My favorite part of my job is definitely giving students the experience of joy and a sense of accomplishment when you work together as a team,” Zahos said. “On the night of the performance, there’s really a wonderful feeling when you see something you’ve worked so hard on for so long come to life and make so many people really happy.”

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Julia Livingston
Julia Livingston, Video Editor

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