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Alan Tollefson brings theater productions to life

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Alan Tollefson, technical director of the theatre arts department, was born into a theatre family and has been around the design environment his entire life, including touring in a family puppet show. His love of teaching is what brought him to the University of La Verne. Currently Tollefson is transforming the Dailey Theatre main stage into wartime Algeria in preparation for the upcoming performance of Jean Genet’s “The Screens.” Tollefson is looking forward to the spring performance, which will mark the sixth production in the 2010-2011 season. / photo by Victoria Castaneda

Sara Montgomery
Staff Writer

The University of La Verne theater arts department puts hours of hard work into every production.

In May, the department will put on “The Screens,” which displays an intricate panel stage, crafted by students under the guidance of the new technical director, Alan Tollefson.

“It requires problem-solving and the ability to communicate to the different student workers,” Tollefson said. “I use my experience to help the students learn hands-on.”

Tollefson joined the department in August 2010 and it is his responsibility to design and build sets that bring scenes to life on stage.

Originally from New Jersey, Tollefson’s educational experience has taken him across the country, finally landing him at ULV.

He received his bachelor of fine arts degree at the Art Institute of Chicago and his master of fine arts degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

His love of teaching is what ultimately brought him to La Verne; he said the close connection with the students made it an ideal fit.

“I like to be able to have conversations with students about different topics outside of class,” he said.

Tollefson’s childhood stories could definitely be a topic of discussion between himself and his students.

He was raised in a theater family with his father being a high school drama teacher and, at the age of six, he had already started touring in a show as a puppeteer.

Puppet Pie was his family’s touring puppet show that travelled in New Jersey, doing over 60 shows.

Jim Henson and Sesame Street inspired the children’s show.

Although his puppeteer days are over, Tollefson is hard at work to bring Jean Genet’s “The Screens” to life.

Just by looking at them, the storyboards for the show would overwhelm anyone inexperienced with technical design.

The stage design will include a series of screens that track in and out to suggest the various scene locations from the 1960s.

With Tollefson’s guidance, students are able to take direction and create these elaborate sets.

“It is awesome that he lets us jump into things right away,” Amanda Novoa, theatre arts major, said.

“I think that we learn quicker and gain a lot from trying things out ourselves.”

“My background in fine arts helps me think spatially. It allows me to engineer the set pieces and think about the process of order,” Tollefson said.

“Alan is a great teacher who believes in allowing the student to take the lead,” Phil Velasco, senior technical theatre major, said.

“He teaches the students to think critically by letting them come up with their own creative solutions to problems providing guidance only when necessary.”

Serving as technical director is more than engineering sets to Tollefson. The ability to work with students and teach them the importance of intricate set design is something he enjoys.

“Teaching is my career and I feel very privileged,” Tollefson said.

To see Tollefson’s technical designs come to life, “The Screens” opens in Dailey Theatre at 7:30 p.m. May 5.

Tickets cost $5, $8 and $10 and can be purchased by calling 909-593-3511, ext. 4386.

Sara Montgomery can be reached at

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