Even on the biggest stage in theater, Dan Murphy ’12 doesn’t need the spotlight on him.
From his first theater experience in middle school to his time with UMass Lowell’s Off-Broadway Players, Murphy has always been more interested in setting up shows than acting in them himself.
Now, working as a senior technical designer for Production Resource Group, an industry-leading production company servicing concerts, award shows, theater performances and more, he sets the foundation for Broadway plays and musicals.
Based in New Windsor, New York, Murphy and his team create production sets in their workshop and install them in the theater for performances. His technical design work has been used in “Shucked,” an original musical comedy featuring the work of Tony and Grammy Award winners, and Disney’s “Frozen” on Broadway.
As a mechanical engineering graduate, Murphy says his experience with software such as Pro/Engineering, SolidWorks, AutoCAD and Inventor helps in his technical designer role.
“We have a huge crew of people that actually build all the shows,” says Murphy. “I'm responsible for taking the drawings, making sure structurally that everything is sound … and then we build to those drawings as close as we can.”
Murphy’s involvement in theater was different from the typical experience of his engineering classmates. Interning for the theatre arts program, building sets for shows at Comley-Lane Theatre in Mahoney Hall and serving as president of the Off-Broadway Players, Murphy says he had a strong backing from both the engineering and theatre arts departments.
“It was a very busy time, but everyone was very supportive,” he says. “I got a lot of support from my engineering professors, friends that I met through Off-Broadway Players and friends that I met through engineering.”
Murphy says his favorite production at UMass Lowell was a performance of “Rent” in 2011. Staged as a rock concert, Murphy did the lighting design and met his now-wife, Erica Tremblay ’13, who was the stage manager of the production.
“That certainly holds a very special place in my heart because of the scale of the production, trying something new in terms of lighting design. And then, obviously, meeting my wife during it was pretty great, too,” he says.
Murphy’s first experience in theater was working on a set for a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” when he was in middle school. He wasn’t allowed to use power tools at the time, he says, so his father, who was a carpenter, helped build the set.
As a high school student at Westford Academy in Westford, Massachusetts, Murphy continued his involvement with theater production.
He helped the school host the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild’s annual High School Drama Festival during his junior and senior years. The festival features more than 100 one-act plays performed by groups from local high schools.
“I got my first taste of this extremely crazy logistics puzzle that you have to solve,” he says. “I was responsible for hosting the schools and figuring out how the shows loaded in and out … like what I do for a living now.”
While he continued to cultivate his passion for theater at UMass Lowell, Murphy says Assoc. Prof. of English Shelley Barish helped him learn how to make a living from it.
“I didn't actually major or minor in theater, but I ended up getting very interested in it largely as a result of Shelley (Barish) and some other professors showing me what careers were available for people like me who had absolutely no talent in acting but really enjoyed backstage work,” he says. “Once I got to UMass Lowell and started doing theater there, the rest is history.”