The Magic-Maker

From the intricate inner workings of "The Phantom of the Opera's" animatronic monkey, to light-up LED Elvis costumes for the Broadway smash "Honeymoon in Vegas," Jonathan Shimon’s groundbreaking work in theatre technology sets the stage for new modes of theatrical magic.  

Members of UB's Zodiaque Dance Company perform in Shimon's LED costumes (Photos: Jim Bush)

By ELIN HAWKINSON

Published January 2018

Jonathan Shimon

Jonathan Shimon, BFA '07

If you've ever witnessed a live performance, you may have noticed that more than actors move around the stage. Set pieces, lighting, costumes—according to Assistant Professor and UB alumnus Jonathan Shimon (BFA '07), each of these elements has been specifically constructed for a unique role in telling the production’s story. 

“Everything the audience sees is a choice,” says Shimon. “I’m the person that applies reality to those choices: Physics, hours, dollars, steel, wood.” 

At UB, every theatre and dance major, and a good number of engineering and computer science majors, take Shimon’s popular “Introduction to Technical Theatre” course—160 students in the 2016-17 school year alone. As quickly as technology progresses, theatre finds a way to implement the advances, and the class is crucial prep work for students who must respond to the industry's changing needs. 

These days, Shimon notes, the number of computer networks backstage at a Broadway show is astounding.  

“Fifty years ago, the industry wasn’t what it is today,” he explains. “There’s a huge deficit of skilled theatre technicians.” 

Watch Jonathan Shimon and professional costume designer Jen Dasher, along with students from the Departments of Theatre and Dance, Computer Science and Engineering, create LED costumes that push the boundaries of what's possible on stage. 

Not surprisingly, an intense level of professionalism is expected of all UB theatre and dance students. For a design major, this includes creating a 3-D scale model of their set designs. Given the sky-high expectations and razor-tight deadlines, Shimon makes himself available 24-7 to answer questions. 

“There’s a great dichotomy between the large research university and the small program,” he says, referencing close mentoring relationships coupled with access to exceptional resources, such as the Center for the Arts. “To my knowledge, there’s no other program where design students get the chance to design professionally on a rock concert for 10,000 of their peers.” 

"As much as I've invested in UB, UB has invested in me." – Jonathan Shimon

All the World's His Stage

An internationally-recognized expert, Shimon regularly trots the globe training performers and technicians from Singapore to Barcelona. Home in Buffalo, he’s been the Technical Director for Neglia Ballet’s "The Nutcracker" at Shea’s Buffalo for the past eight years, and he’s on the committee to decide the upcoming UB Theatre and Dance season. A quick peak at next year’s calendar reveals an already jam-packed schedule of drama, dance and music theatre. It’s a lot of go-go-go, and no matter the production, the ongoing challenge is always time. 

“There’s a show, there’s an audience coming, and the work must be complete,” Shimon says. “Theatre technicians deliver more consistently than FedEx.”

With so many people the world over depending on his expertise, it's hard to imagine UB and the Buffalo theatre community without Shimon, but when he initially enrolled in the College as an undergrad, his major was undecided. He was leaning toward Biological Sciences until another student convinced him to take a theatre tech course—the class he now teaches.

“I’m really excited to be back here as a faculty member,” Shimon says. “As much as I’ve invested in UB, UB has invested in me.” 

Cover and Light and Sound America

The March 2015 cover of Lighting & Sound America, featuring the cast of "Honeymoon in Vegas" and Shimon's LED Elvis costumes. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Don't miss the chance to check out Shimon's work in the UB Department of Theatre and Dance 2017-18 season.

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