This article was originally published in the July 2018 Princeton Echo.
Whoever said, “Sleep is overrated,” must have been referring to Hannah Semmelhack. In the past few weeks, as her fellow college students were wrapping up their school year, Semmelhack, Princeton University Class of 2020, was busy balancing class work with her new responsibilities as executive director of Princeton Summer Theater (PST). She was not only sending out subscription letters and soliciting donations, but she also was contracting the company of actors and technical team, taking final exams, serving as production manager of Theatre Intime (the student-run theater on the Princeton campus), and co-designing a student production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Yes, she admits, she has had several sleepless nights trying to get it all accomplished.
Growing up in a household with parents who are both chemists — father Martin is a professor and associate chair of Princeton’s chemistry department and mother Christina Kraml is a visiting scientist at the university — this Princeton native was drawn to both test tubes and books from a very early age.
However, living in close proximity to New York City and having McCarter Theater right in their backyard, Semmelhack’s parents introduced her to a lot of professional theater.
“I had friends who did theater in high school, and I always wished to get involved but it didn’t feel like I would fit in with the theater kids,” she says. “As soon as I was admitted to Princeton University, I knew that I just had to get involved in theater in some way.”
It was during freshman orientation that she met Jane Cox, an award-winning lighting designer and the director of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater, who became Semmelhack’s greatest role model.
“I went to the theater open house, determined to force my way into the world of theater on campus,” she says. “Jane spoke about her work and made it seem very approachable. Immediately following that meeting I got in touch with her over e-mail, and she signed me up to be an assistant stage manager on ‘Once,’ the thesis show in fall, 2016. From then on, I took more of her theater classes, signed up to do more shows with student groups, and here we are. Jane has made the world of theater infinitely approachable and given me so many opportunities to learn and participate.”
When picking a college, at first Semmelhack was adamant that she didn’t want to go to Princeton University. But recognizing the advantage of having with a father who is a professor and a mother who had gone to Princeton as a graduate student, she at the least had to apply.
“I never wanted to escape the comfort of my home. I decided that attending Princeton would mean living away but still being very close,” she now says. “In the end it’s been really lovely to be able to go home on weekends for a nice meal or a relaxing break from campus life.”
Heading into her junior year at Princeton, Semmelhack is majoring in classics with certificates in theater and music Theater. Her theatrical experience is primarily in stage management, most recently a student-written thesis production, “Trailing Rhiannon,” performed at the Lewis Center for the Arts this past May.
“The stage manager functions as the hub of communications between all members of a production team and cast,” she explains. “I get to see a show from the director’s first idea to put on the show, through casting and rehearsal process, through tech week and the addition of technical elements, all the way to the closing performance. While it’s not the job that receives the most recognition, as stage manager I get to help realize the production every step of the way.”
It’s these skills that have prepared her to be executive director of PST. With her strengths in organization and communications necessary to be a stage manager she is ready to tackle the job of overseeing the operations of Princeton Summer Theater. In this position she will be joined by Daniel Krane, Class of 2018, who will serve as artistic director. The curtain rose on the new season with Jonathan Larson’s “Tick, Tick…Boom,” directed by Victoria Davidjohn. It continues through Sunday, July 8.
In a release announcing their appointment Geoff Rich, a 1978 alumnus and Broadway producer who is president of PST’S board of trustees, says, “Daniel and Hannah have been delighting winter audiences with incredible productions on the Princeton campus. I know they’ll carry forward the great tradition of presenting a compelling summer of great theater for the Princeton community.”
As executive director, Semmelhack is responsible for the entire business side of the company. This includes managing the season’s budget, hiring the executive and managing boards, and working with the publicity director on advertising and marking for the season, among other things.
In addition to the season opener, the other productions on this summer’s roster are “Uncommon Women and Others” by Wendy Wasserstein, directed by Krane; Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” directed by Maeli Goren; and “The Baltimore Waltz” by Paula Vogel, directed by Nico Krell. The season also includes a children’s show, “Greetings from Mars,” on Friday and Saturday mornings. The season runs through August 19 at Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.
When school returns in the fall, Semmelhack is ready to hit the ground running and is already committed to stage managing two of the thesis shows for next year. Both are large-scale projects that will take up a lot of her time, but she is also hoping to return as production manager of Theatre Intime. Plus, she plans to design lights for “Masquerade,” a student-written musical being produced by Princeton University Players.
As for life after Princeton? Semmelhack hopes to go to graduate school either in classics or for a master in fine arts.
“When I came to Princeton I felt pretty confident that I would stay in academia, perhaps as a professor; but having slowly gone deeper and deeper into the world of theater, I could easily see myself working for a theater company after graduation,” she says.
Princeton Summer Theater, princetonsummertheater.org. 732-997-0205. All performances take place in the air-conditioned, newly refurbished Murray-Dodge Hall on the Princeton University campus.