Code And Character: NRT Director Mixes Tech With Theatre

The process of balancing two seemingly conflicting passions in college can feel daunting for many students. But Penn State senior Brenden Eck has carved a unique niche for himself in the university community by blending and balancing his coursework with another passion: theater.

Eck is a senior double-majoring in IST and finance, but he’s also actively involved with the renowned theatre group on campus, No Refund Theatre (NRT).

In fact, part of the reason why Eck chose to attend Penn State was because of NRT. He knew he wanted to major in something that combined business and computers, but he also wanted to go to a school that would allow him to explore his theatrical passions.

Unsurprisingly, finding a school that provided him with both opportunities proved to be a challenge. When it finally came time to choose a college, Eck had two options: Northeastern or Penn State.

Thankfully, longtime friend Kieran Dempsey helped him make the right choice.

“He was involved in NRT and was like, ‘Hey you should come check out to this theater club. I don’t know if you have to decide soon, but check it out,'” Eck said. “I looked it up and was like, ‘That sounds pretty great. I’m going to go to Penn State.”

Eck has been deeply involved with NRT ever since. He joined as a first-semester freshman and has played a part in virtually every aspect of running the organization. Eck started off as an actor in many of its shows before becoming the club’s public relations chair and then moved on as an assistant director and director. He now heads NRT’s tech department as tech director.

Theater has been a natural part of Eck’s life. His father acted in a couple of productions throughout college, while his older sister became involved in theater at a young age as well. Eck’s parents encouraged their children’s interest in acting.

“They were like, ‘You are loud. Go get on stage,'” Eck said. “And I did, and I really liked it. I didn’t want to admit it for a while because it wasn’t ‘cool,’ but I did really enjoy it.”

While acting has always been Eck’s passion, mentors and friends in clubs like No Refund Theatre and the Penn State Thespians pushed him to get involved with other aspects of production.

“Acting is great and it’s really fulfilling to get up there on stage, but there’s something on the other side when you’re directing, because it’s your vision,” Eck said. “When the audience gasps or laughs, it’s like ‘Oh, I did that,’ especially if it was something that was your idea.”

Eventually, thanks to continued mentoring from others, Eck made the switch from directing to tech and lighting design.

“I love lights. Lights are a great time,” Eck said. “It’s one of the last pieces to be put together because you need the setup on stage…and then you need the actors there so you can tell them to move to the light, but it’s really cool to see it all come together.”

Eck’s coursework as an IST major has influenced his work onstage. He said his concentration in people, organizations, and society within the college has contributed to his success in No Refund Theatre.

“I choose the one where it’s basically communicating technology to people, like taking these difficult concepts and making them simpler,” Eck said. “IST has helped me do that and design things around people with the user as a focus.”

As tech director, part of Eck’s job involves teaching theatre tech to the younger members of the club. Thus, having a background in understanding how best to communicate these technical skills to others has come in handy.

Eck points to working with stage lights as an example. As a student-run club with limited funding, NRT’s lighting is very, very basic. It uses a lighting setup with a total of six lights, which is not normal practice, even for the smallest of theaters.

Teaching younger club members how to operate with limited resources and still put on a great show is something Eck doesn’t feel he’d be able to do as successfully without his background in IST.

As a soon-to-be graduating senior, Eck’s time with NRT is coming to a close. After graduation, he hopes to work for a technology consulting firm and hopefully, though not likely, continue his theatrical passions.

No matter the path Eck’s life takes, he credits the experiences that No Refund Theatre and his fellow NRTs (a name club members have given themselves, pronounced “nerts”) for many of the transferable skills he’ll take from college.

“A lot of computer nerds, like myself, can kind of get isolated from people because they’re sitting behind a computer all day,” Eck said. “So, I think starting with theatre and getting into computers really helped me get away from that. It made me more of a people person.”

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About the Author

Emma Dieter

Emma is a senior from the ever-popular "right-outside" Philly area studying labor employment relations and PR. She's also the Student Life editor for Onward State. She has been a Penn Stater from cradle and will continue to bleed blue and white, 'til grave. She loves trashy romance novels, watching Netflix, and crying over cute videos of dogs. If you ever want to talk more with her about how great she is, or simply have other inquiries, feel free to email her at [email protected]

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