David Duggan is the new man behind the scenes at Bret Harte High School’s performing arts center. Hired just as school began in late August, Duggan’s office remains a work in progress – an oil painting of a saxophonist and upright bassist performing at a jazz club constitutes the room’s decor – but he has ambitious plans for the future of the Bullfrogs music and theater programs.
“The first (goal) is not only to continue this theater as a community theater but also develop it as a learning center, to make this more of a classroom environment and open it to students who aren’t necessarily into (performing arts),” said Duggan, smartly-dressed with an auburn goatee.
“The second main goal that I’m shooting for is to make this a facility that’s used year-round,” said Duggan. “It’ll all take a little bit of time, but that’s definitely the direction we’re heading.”
Duggan, 27, envisions a summer music camp and a drama workshop, as well as community events like the congressional debate held in the theater last week.
These optimistic designs for expansion mirror the hopes harbored by school administrators for activities in their new performing arts facility.
Before the old Bret Harte High School (BHHS) building burned to the ground in 1994, there was no proper theater facility on campus, said Bob Bach, a former Calaveras County superintendent of schools who worked with the school board to hire Duggan. The current earth-toned 350-seat theater rose from those nearby ashes in 2002, three years before the 100th anniversary of the school.
Duggan calls the space and its bells and whistles – rigging, reverb units, and acoustic clouds – “professional quality”. But this techie is not without a human side.
“What really attracted me to the position was the incredible, well-designed facility but also (the opportunity) to pass on my knowledge to the technicians of tomorrow,” said Duggan, whose previous teaching experience includes guest lecturing at University of the Pacific in Stockton and mentoring interns in a program he founded at the Fat Cat Music House and Lounge in Modesto. “That can really be a rewarding experience to get someone fired up about this stuff.”
Duggan hopes to eventually teach a course on the technical aspects of performing arts.
Duggan was also drawn to the job because of the beauty of the area: His wife, Brittany, who he met at the couple’s alma mater, the University of the Pacific, hails from Murphys and was the 2001 Miss Calaveras.
The son of a teacher and a land-use planner, Duggan grew up in Santa Rosa. While his high school soccer and baseball days have transitioned to his current affinity for golf and boating, his early music and technology interests have combined to become Duggan’s vocation.
A double-major in Music Management and Music Performance at UOP, Duggan explored his love of sound outside the classroom, as well. He strummed electric bass for the pep band and plucked the upright bass with the Stockton, Modesto and North Star symphonies. He also moved behind the scenes, working as a technician in the stage crew for productions at the UOP Conservatory, bringing him into contact with legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, a 1948 graduate of the school.
Stephen Anderson, dean of the Conservatory, has fond memories of Duggan as a student and as an employee when Duggan returned to serve as coordinator of student services immediately before coming to BHHS.
“Very bright, very efficient, very entrepreneurial, very skilled,” said Anderson of Duggan, who he met when he became dean during Duggan’s senior year. “He’s a wizard … with computers, Web sites and technology in general. We hated to lose him, but part of our job as a school is to bring people in and give them experience, so we’re thrilled that he’s moved on to the next stage of his career.”
Following graduation from UOP, Duggan worked as the production manager at the Fat Cat Music House and Lounge, where he toggled the sound dials for such acts as Vanilla Ice, Maroon 5 and Buddy Guy.
“Anything that needed to be done technically or for production, whether it was fixing one of the amplifiers or the computer, Dave did it,” said Mike Vanek, assistant talent buyer at the venue. “We could count on him.”
Despite this near-constant exposure to music industry celebrities, Duggan was all business.
“For the most part, I stayed behind the scenes,” Duggan demurred. “I got to meet the artists, but nothing too crazy.”
Duggan said his closest rub with the stars he helped perform was when he drove country rocker Uncle Kracker back to his trailer after a performance in Modesto’s baseball stadium.
Al Velzen, an assistant principal and guidance counselor at the high school, recently collaborated with Duggan to put on a college night in the theater.
“I was extremely impressed at how knowledgeable he was technology-wise … just very professional,” said Velzen of one the district’s newest hires.
Duggan drives an F-150, shares his home with two cats, and enjoys meals at the Sun China restaurant in Murphys.