To celebrate Women’s History Month, HUDSON is shining a spotlight on some of the incredible women that call Hudson Scenic Studio home. Today we are spotlighting three women from our Carpentry and Metal Shops: Donna Golden, Emma Greene, and Whitney McDermott. We sat down and chatted with them about their work at Hudson, favorite projects, and what it is like to work as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
The interviews below have been edited for clarity/length.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be involved in technical theater?
DG: Pretty much since I was at the end of high school, theater was a thing I wanted to do. I recently wanted to get into design, but I didn’t want to do grad school and all of that. I realized I was good at carpentry midway through college, so I transferred to doing this.
EG: I went to LaGuardia High School and I was a technical theater major there, so that started all that. And then I went to North Carolina School of the Arts, technical theater again. And I just stuck with it.
WD: I started doing theater in high school, when I was a freshman. I was a competitive swimmer but wasn’t friends with the other girls on the swim team. Eventually my mom said “Why don’t you try out for a play?” So, I did. The high school that I went to had what they called a Rookie Show and I was cast as the lead, and I was horrible. But I’ve always been a person who can make things, I have been making stuff since I was a very little kid, so my high school theater teacher was like “hey why don’t you try this”. It was a perfect fit and I loved the theater kids. [My teacher] said to me “you know you can actually make a living doing this” and I was like ‘what??’. I’m from the Midwest, where women go to school to be teachers. We had the conversation at home like ‘do you want to do this’ and I was like ‘yeah I do’.
Q: How did you end up working for Hudson?
DG: I started literally a week after I graduated college. Neil [Mazzella, Hudson Scenic CEO] went to my undergrad, so we toured here [at Hudson Scenic] and he hired me the next day.
EG: NCSA did a trip to visit a bunch of different shops and Hudson was one of the stops. After that, I applied for the internship and didn’t get it, but I said, “hey I live in NY anyway, if you get busy, I would love to come and work” and Carrie [Winkler, Lead Production Manager] did actually call me. I came in and worked the summer, went back to school, and then when I graduated, I called and said, “I’m available if you need anyone” and I’ve stuck around ever since!
WD: I had never built scenery before working for Hudson, I had always worked in prop shops. I am super attracted to finicky, detail-oriented projects. I’ve always seen scenery as a series of flats and platforms which is a little bit boring, but my life led me to a place where I needed a secure paycheck. Someone who was working here suggested I apply. She said Hudson is an incredibly good place holder [if I ever wanted to go back to props] and it just was a good fit. So, I’ve been here ten years!
Q: What does a typical day look like for you on the shop floor?
DG: It could be a myriad of things, putting a deck down, running a router, building desk units, it really just depends on the job and what needs to be done.
EG: Usually laying stuff out, a lot of cutting, cleaning, layout, drilling holes, building frames, some problem solving.
WD: 9 times out of 10 I work in the iron shop, but I am perfectly happy and confident to work in the carpentry shop. I just do whatever they ask me to do and I am happy to do it. I like really fidgety projects. I am super excited when I am on a project that is like ‘oh we want to make this weird thing and we’re not really sure how to do it, so let’s just start trying’. Like the [Drama Book Shop], that was right up my alley. I loved that project because of the challenge and interesting weirdness of it; that was really fun.
Q: What is your favorite project you have worked on?
DG: Probably Harry Potter [and The Cursed Child, along with the renovation of the Lyric Theatre]. Just the general build of that, all of the proscenium stuff is great, and the deck is really cool.
EG: It has to be some of our recent theme park projects, it has to be, hands down. That, and then the most recent one I had fun with was the throne for SIX the musical. I did the throne for that and it was really cool. It was a good job to go out on before [the pandemic hit].
WD: For [some of our recent theme park work] I was pregnant through the whole first part of it and when they sent the project down to Florida everybody who worked on it signed the inside. [My colleagues] put my name and my daughter’s name on it, because I was on maternity leave. When I came back, we had [another version of the project] set up and I have a picture of me and my daughter standing inside. It was really sweet.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
DG: That’s always the hardest question for me to answer...lately it is learning how to program for the router. I have no formal experience, so it’s all sort of what I learned on the job, so as things get more complicated it’s a higher learning curve for me.
EG: I don’t know...in the summer with the heat, when it’s 100 degrees on the floor and you’re trying to weld, and you’re covered head to toe...you just can’t drink enough water!
Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?
DG: Favorite part is probably just the general scenery build, building flats, platforms, I just enjoy that a lot.
EG: I like the problem solving, I like getting a job and figuring out how to make it work, how to make it better. I like the people, I like the constant change, different jobs all of the time, working with great people.
WD: The two parts about the work that we do that is awesome is that there are certain days when you’re incredibly challenged so your brain has to be laser focused on what you’re doing, making the right choices in the moment or planning ahead for the next step. And then there are other days that you work here where you are doing the same thing, literally standing at a drill press all day, and that is when I solve all of the world’s problems. Absolutely I could solve all of the world’s problems in the days where I have to drill 3,000 holes.
Q: What advice would you have for young women looking to get into technical production?
DG: Probably not to let what anyone says bring them down. All throughout college and everything it was always ‘oh you’re going to be a starving artist, you’re never going to be able to live off of this kind of career, especially being a woman in it’ and obviously that’s not true. There’s always a place to be able to make money to support yourself. The most important aspect is not to let it stop you from doing what you want to do.
EG: If you want to do it, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because anyone that has ever told me I can’t do this has had no effect on my career. They have been completely wrong. Here [at Hudson Scenic] everyone has been completely embracing, no one has ever questioned me or why I am here. So, I think if you are working somewhere and you have people there saying ‘you shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be here’ - that’s not the place for you. Go somewhere else, there’s more options, you don’t have to be in a bad situation. If you’re good at it, you’re good at it. I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction out of [my work]. It is nice to get up and move around and work hard and create stuff. The work is so interesting! I don’t think I could do the same thing every day. It’s a satisfying job. It’s a lot of fun.
WD: I think that I have been successful because I have accepted that I have to work harder than [the men who came before me]. And I have just accepted that. They’ll never find anybody who is working harder than I am. The two pieces of advice that stick in my head are “be so good they can’t ignore you” and my dad always says, “it’s not about blame it’s about recovery”. So, when you make a mistake it’s not about focusing on the mistake, it’s about focusing on either how to fix it or how to fix it for the next time. Like, if I screwed this up because I wasn’t focused on the drawing and I made a mistake, I ask myself what I need to do to make that better next time. Being able to internally fix those things because nobody else is going to fix anything for you. It boils down to knowing yourself and having that self-knowledge and understanding.