Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Peek Behind the Curtain: A Chat with Russell Buonasera, Zilkha Hall Technical Director

Russell Buonasera
One of the key players who helps make Musiqa performances such a success when it performs at The Hobby Center is Russell Buonasera, Zilkha Hall’s warm-hearted and capable Technical Director. 

Buonasera wants to build the next generation of arts and education enthusiasts. Throughout his school years, he held an undying appreciation of the arts and arts education. When his junior high English teacher took notice of his immense appreciation for Shakespeare and theater, she sent him to speak with the school’s theater director, who opened his eyes to the beauty of the performance of Shakespeare.

The efforts his teachers took in encouraging his interest in the arts has remained with him throughout his life. “When you have these doors opened to you and realize people are paying attention to what a kid is doing meant a lot to me,” Buonasera said.

Buonasera began his career as an actor, but soon realized the personal reward of being part of the backstage production, instead of the focus of the production.  This interest led to various positions as a production technician, sound engineer, and carpenter. While taking a required Stagecraft class for his undergraduate theatre degree at the University of Houston-Central in the early ‘80s, Buonasera was encouraged to talk to the Scene Shop Foreman about an opening as a Scenic Carpenter for the Festivals Company. 

The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

“The Festivals Company was the professional project of U of H that produced the three Children’s Theatre Festival shows at the Wortham Theatre on campus, and the two Shakespeare Festival shows at Miller Outdoor Theatre, under the direction of the late Dr. Sidney Berger,” Buonasera said.

He decided to take the job.  By gaining experience as Scenic Carpenter, he was able to find continuing work on the technical side of live event production, working in a wide range of venues including: Windmill Dinner Theater, Stages Repertory Theatre, The Shaw Festival at U of H/Clear Lake, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Local 51 of IATSE, the Tower Theater, Texas Opera Theatre, The Virginia Opera, and Houston Community College/Central.

In January 2003, a few months after Zilkha Hall opened, Buonasera joined the Hobby Center and learned about the Discovery Series.  The Series’ programs serve K-12 students from economically disadvantaged areas of Houston; thanks to the generosity of donors, students attend the performances at no cost.

Zilkha Hall

Musiqa’s award-winning educational concert, Around the World with Musiqa, has been a part of the Discovery Series since its debut.  With performances for schools every October, Around the World with Musiqa is an interactive concert experience for schoolchildren, created by the composers of Musiqa.  Presented in Zilkha Hall, the concert uses new interpretations of well-known folk songs to teach musical concepts to students in a fun and engaging musical experience.  Encouraging arts education and broadening culture through community outreach programs is vital to the Hobby Center Foundation’s mission.

“The programs are the best tools for engaging younger children in dissembling the art of performance and reassembling that makes it accessible to children of all ages,” Buonasera said.

As a technical director, Buonasera’s roles include sound design, a collection of resources and personnel that mount the production, safety, functional hardware, and securing the amount of time needed on stage to execute said duties.

Buonasera most closely collaborates with Musiqa Artistic Director Anthony Brandt. “I would say the biggest moderator is Anthony. He and Karol Bennett have been the constant support,” Buonasera said.

“Tony has a real sense of exploration and engagement with everything in the world,” Buonasera said.

Buonasera provides the primary support and framework for the performers and artistic staff. He said the biggest issue in production is time management because it’s the most finite component of any production. Buonasera stays mostly behind the scenes; however, at the end of every performance, the on-stage performers introduce the production staff as ‘the men and women behind the curtains.’

“They describe details like what the stage hand does or sound engineer functions,” Buonasera explained. “The performers deconstruct the support for production. That’s my way of engaging the kids, as well as being very hands on with the lobby traffic full of kids.”

Around the World with Musiqa is so well crafted and impactful, which gives us even more dedication to keep it going,” Buonasera said of the Hobby’s Center’s commitment to presenting music education activities for children.

Musiqa’s 2013 programming during the Hobby Center’s Discovery Series offers school day performances of Around the World with Musiqa, October 22-25, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.  Musiqa’s concert for children grades 4-7, Musiqa ReMix, will take place December 10-11, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.  

Both Around the World with Musiqa and Musiqa ReMix include a pre-concert in-school workshop, a CD for every classroom, online teacher materials and the downtown performance.  Musiqa’s education programs have served close to 35,000 students in the greater Houston area, with a focus on reaching Title I Qualified schools.

To register and learn more about these exciting programs, please visit 

We hope to see you at the upcoming performance!

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