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Familiar Faces, Unknown Names: Ms. Christianson

If you’ve ever been on campus during an assembly, prayer service, or event on the Main Lawn, you’ve probably seen her setting up sound equipment. She’s got curly hair and an easy gait. She never fails to greet students with a warm smile. If you’re still not sure who I’m talking about, allow me to […]

If you’ve ever been on campus during an assembly, prayer service, or event on the Main Lawn, you’ve probably seen her setting up sound equipment. She’s got curly hair and an easy gait. She never fails to greet students with a warm smile. If you’re still not sure who I’m talking about, allow me to introduce you to one Ms. Heather Christianson01, CB’s own Theatre Manager.

While she is technically neither an unknown name nor an unfamiliar face, I think CB can still stand to get to know the real Ms. C — the story of how she came to work here, and who she is off-campus.

You may have noticed that her name on Schoology is followed by ’01. Like many of our teachers, she graduated from CB. But how did she come to work here? What made Ms. C come back to “the place to be?”

Ms. Christianson studied theatre at the University of Southern California. She loved the tight-knit supportive community, and it reminded her of her days at Christian Brothers. After graduating, she worked a variety of jobs, including, but not limited to: being stage manager for the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company, hanging lights at the Disney Store, and working at a camping store. And while those were wonderful experiences, she learned that she hated looking for a job. Because the majority of professional theatre work is trying to find it, she decided it may not be her best option. Her next move was to consider a different major where she could put her skills to use — but then, destiny struck.

“I had just applied for a communications major when I got a call from my parents. What had happened was that, when CB was planning building a theater, they talked to pretty much anyone they knew that had any theatre experience. They knew my parents had a background in theatre, so they had been invited to look at the plans. Later on, when it was getting constructed, they got a call saying, ‘We need to hire someone to run this building.’ And that’s when my dad suggested they ask me for advice,” she said with a grin.

The rest is history.

Ms. C’s full title is Technical Director of the George Cunningham Performing Arts Center. Talk about a mouthful! A veritable assortment of responsibilities fall under her jurisdiction — which is just a fancy way of saying that CB keeps her busy.

“Usually the way I describe it is, if it happens in the theater or it has to do with lighting and microphones, it’d probably be me.”

Yes, Ms. Christianson is responsible for sound at assemblies and prayer services. Of course, she teaches Theatre Arts. But it is also her duty to maintain the theater building and its equipment, as well as other equipment in other buildings. She even spends some precious weekend time at school during play season hosting Set Build Saturdays, where students can earn service hours helping out the theatre department.

Although she stays occupied during the normal school year, she makes time for her many interests and hobbies. She loves California for its beautiful climate and ample outdoor activities — in colder months she snowboards, and in warmer months she hikes. A traveler at heart, she likes to get out and see the world. It doesn’t matter whether the destination is local, national, or international. The world is full of people and places to see, new and old, and she wants to experience as much of it as possible. At home, she takes care of a garden and tries her hand at DIY projects — her most recent was an attempt to make a gas fire pit.

Ms. C & Penny spiffed up for a family portrait for Penny’s first Christmas.

Don’t be fooled, she isn’t the type to get bored indoors. Over quarantine, she’s been learning to play piano. She borrowed a keyboard, downloaded an app on her iPad, and went at it. In addition, she likes to cook. She laughed and admitted that she isn’t the best chef, but loves exploring the cuisines of different cultures.

Now, it helps that she hasn’t been experiencing the pandemic alone at home. Her roommate? Penny the dog, a coated xolo, adored by her mama and all 115 of her Instagram followers. (That’s right, Ms. C’s dog has her own Instagram account! But you’ll have to ask for the username yourself.)

So there you have Ms. Christianson, on campus and off. But that’s only what she does. In order to get a good feel for a person’s character, you should talk to the people around them — and what better place for us to start than with her partner-in-crime?

Mr. Michael D. Jackson and Ms. C have been working together for six years. This school year will be their seventh. They are the only drama teachers on campus, and as such, have to spend a lot of time together. Luckily, this has never been a problem.

Mr. Jackson folded his hands over his knees as he proudly told me, “my general favorite thing is how easily we work together. The two of us take on the roles of a staff of ten at a normal theatre company. But we can laugh about a lot of stuff. There’s stress, ’cause you’re on a deadline to open the show, but it’s kind of stress-free in the sense that you can laugh about it.”

The two get along well, enjoying each other’s company even outside a professional space; he admitted that, after a show’s opening night, they grab a beer together and celebrate all their hard work. “We’re pals, is what it’s turned out to be.”

One of Ms. Christianson’s best qualities is her reliability and dedication to her craft. Mr. Jackson told me a story about the first show they did, which required a two-story brownstone apartment set that took up the whole stage. She dove in headfirst, even though she had never done anything like it before. Undaunted, she set forward learning how to accomplish such a task. Where she couldn’t do something herself, she reached out for help. That kind of work pays off, and now CB has an impressive amount of theatre awards to show for it. The brownstone set was the first story of many to come that prove you can always rely on her, no matter what the case is.

Ask anyone who has participated in CB’s theatre programs, show, or class, and they will tell you that Ms. Christianson is one of the kindest people they’ve ever met.

Anna Deukmejian (’23) was a student in Ms. C’s Theatre Arts class last year, as well as having a role in Peter and the Starcatcher, and later, the unfinished production of Twentieth Century. Anna spoke fondly of how approachable Ms. Christianson is.

“I’ve never had any issues going up to her to talk about anything,” the sophomore says.

Acting takes a lot of work and constructive criticism, which Ms. C is always willing to provide. She’s generous with her time, and ensures her kids feel supported.

“When you’re doing theatre, when you’re helping kids like that, you have to be really patient,” Anna says. “And she never got frustrated with me.”

Ms. C’s impact transcends graduation. Ashton Smith ’20 was in the theatre program from 2017’s Hamlet, through to their graduation. Naturally, they were close with her, having spent so much time working together during both classes and productions.

“She is incredibly supportive,” they said. “She doesn’t leave you to figure things out on your own — she’ll guide you.” Ash has been both an actor and a backstage worker, finding help and hugs in Ms. C when things seemed intimidating. They sadly laughed that they really miss her.

Freshmen, seniors, and of course her coworkers all regard Ms. Christianson as a nurturing, good-humored, down-to-earth person. And if you aren’t familiar with her? Don’t worry:

“This is a community I really love, and because of that… it’s always okay to say hi and introduce yourself or ask me a question — whether you’re in my class or not, in the plays or not. I do think of everyone at this school as extended family.”

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