As the technical director of Niagara University Theatre, Primo Thomas, ‘13, not only oversees the construction and operations of stage productions, he also uses his experience to mentor students in sound design, lighting, and more.
“I know I’m never going to be Broadway set designer, but if I could help influence a student who might be, that’s what it’s about for me,” he said.
Theatre students receiving that behind-the-scenes learning from working professionals is another reason why the NU Theatre program is so valued.
“We try to cultivate a healthy respect for (everything) with both our design students and performance students,” Thomas said. “Actors can appreciate why designers and technicians are important, and we’re teaching the tech workers that your job doesn’t exist without the folks on stage. It’s so important that there’s that healthy respect for both crafts.”
Thomas is an active set designer and technical director in the Buffalo theatre community. He’s pleased to return to the Niagara community this year, as he still feels the same as he did when he first stepped on the stage: It feels like home.
“I am still best friends with the people I graduated college with,” said Thomas, adding that he also met his wife at Niagara. “You always have your blood family, but I found my theatre family here. We’ve been through rehearsals, shows, tech … whatever it is, we do it all as a group. Those are the ties that bind.”
Thomas was attracted to Niagara’s theatre program in high school, but because his parents advocated that he pursue a path with more perceived stability, he enrolled in the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. However, Thomas beelined to the theatre during his first few days on campus. After an advisor talked to his parents, the switch to officially become a theatre major was made.
“Ironically, I worked in hospitality for a while after I graduated,” Thomas said. “I remember touring, seeing the theatre, and meeting the faculty and students. I still remember that feeling: Like it was the right place to be. Like it was home. It was instantaneous.”
One of Niagara University Theatre’s virtues is that students can study in three degree programs that give them knowledge and experience both in front of a crowd, and behind-the-scenes. For Thomas, this program gave him an advantage, as he was able to gain multiple design opportunities as a student.
“I worked on a ton of shows,” he said. “You definitely don’t leave this program as a design graduate lacking of skill or knowledge. We do our best to make sure kids know what they need to, and are ready to go.”
After graduating from Niagara, Thomas worked on productions with a variety of Buffalo-Niagara theaters, including Second Generation, Irish Classical, and the New Phoenix. He also worked as a technical director at the Niagara Community College Theater prior to joining the Niagara University program full-time.
“There’s a lot of us out there promoting the program and pushing students to come here,” Thomas said. “I wish more kids knew about our program. The faculty and staff are so caring and dedicated to our craft. It’s beyond the 9-to-5 time; we’re here working because we’re here for the students. You will hesitate to find a theatre alum who doesn’t have a profound attachment to the program.”
The pride of theatre alumni is something that continues to impress Thomas. One of his friends recently donated light fixtures for the lobby to the program.
“There are alumni all over who we’re trying to get more incorporated to what we’re doing,” he said. “All of us alums who work for the theatre program have this inherent love for the program. We’ve been in the students’ shoes. We will do whatever it takes to make it better.”
From his days as a student, to his family and friends, and now his career, it’s clear Thomas has a passion for Niagara.
“To be back and be able to work full time at a place that I care so much about is amazing,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s an all-encompassing job.”
To learn more about the theatre program at Niagara University, click here.