Class Notes Profile: Peak performance

Engineering takes center stage for Jonathan Tobin

As director of the Fox Valley Theater Guild’s production of Noises Off, Jonathan Tobin, ’10 ENG, faced a design challenge: How could he build a two-story rotating set on a stage that wasn’t big enough to accommodate his artistic vision? “There were a few times early on when I didn’t know if we could do it,” says Tobin, an electrical engineer who volunteers at night with the Aurora, Ill.-based guild. “How could we fit two floors on a stage with only 16 feet of vertical space? How could we get the required rotation without hitting lights hanging from the ceiling? How could we move the set with only a 10-minute intermission?”

Tobin turned to his engineering background, using AutoCAD (computer-aided design) to build a three-dimensional model of the set with dimensions that eventually worked. The reward, he says, was hearing the audience gasp after the first scene change.

The Oswego, Ill., native began acting at the age of 8 and was active in local theater during high school. But by the time he was in college, he had stepped away to focus on engineering. After graduation, Tobin was hired as an electrical engineer at Performance Power Services, a Warrenville, Ill.-based company.

As an engineer, I’m ultimately a problem solver.

But Tobin missed the theater. Several years ago, he began volunteering with the group. Since then, he’s acted, directed, run the lighting panel and soundboard, and even sold concessions. “As an engineer, I’m ultimately a problem solver,” Tobin says. “I might not use the theory of thermodynamics in theater. But what I’ve learned from learning those theories—how to solve problems and where to look for answers—can be applied to any issues I come across on stage.”