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Alumni Board Member Breen ’78 Lends Expertise, Mentorship to EVVYs

  • Two students installing lights for the EVVYs.
  • Madison Stromski and Miles Katz work together on the floor

As the saying goes, the EVVYs must go on. And thanks to David G. Breen ’78 and his company VDA, the EVVYs, which went on May 10, were extremely professional.

“Over the last, at least 10 years, David and his team have donated labor and scenic costs to the EVVYs in the tens of thousands,” said Diana Barton ’91, advisor to the EVVYs, and manager of Emerson Channel. “He has mentored and advised on the EVVYs, been a presenter, and more.” 

Breen, an Alumni Board member who also partners with the E3 program and other campus events, said the EVVYs Gala is fully designed by VDA, and worked with Lulu Batzorig ’24 to design the EVVYs Mainstage. That includes the décor, the creative environment, draping, and so forth. Breen estimates that VDA charged Emerson about $18,000 this year. But the EVVYs mainstage would’ve cost about $36,000 if he had not donated some of the work. For the EVVYs Gala, VDA provides all the design and sponsors the event for a $6,000 cost to the school compared to a $25,000 value. 

“I spend a lot of time on design, price points, materials, how it can be built, and those types of choices,” said Breen. “All my (personal) design time is comped. Those hours are part of my relationship with my school. I’m proud to do it because I want it to be successful.”

Breen’s involvement with Emerson also extends past the EVVYs and includes being on the Board of Advisors Executive Committee. He’s also currently on the Alumni Association Board, and was also previously the president of the Alumni Association.

Breen also commonly speaks to classes offering his professional experience and insight. He said VDA’s relationship with the College allows Emerson students working on the EVVYs to get the opportunity to work with a professional company.

David Breen smiling while talking to someone behind the scenes
Alumni Board member David G. Breen ’78 backstage during the 43rd EVVYs on May 10, 2024.(Photo by Christopher McIntosh)

Esther Chilson ’25, who was attracted to Emerson after learning about the EVVYs, was the Aesthetics Executive Producer for the last two years.

“I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was such a large-scale show, with theatre and VMA elements, and I just thought it would be such an incredible learning experience,” said Chilson. “The position of Aesthetics EP uses all of my skills as a Stage & Production Management major, and teaches me so much more about what it is like to work on a live-streamed show. The mixing of two worlds and so many students is such an incredible experience.”

“[David Breen and VDA] are all such talented professionals who teach us so much each year,” said Esther Chilson. “They understand we are students, and help in whatever way they can in order for us to learn and succeed.”

Students usually move on from Chilson’s position after one year, but seeing her grow and gain confidence the last two years has been extremely rewarding, said Breen.

And who knows, Chilson may end up working for VDA one day. Breen said 15 to 20 alums freelance for VDA as carpenters, painters, installers, light technicians, and more. Five alums work full-time for VDA, including Senior Lighting Designer Anne Dresbach ’04. Dresbach started as a freelancer for VDA in 2014, and came on full-time as the company grew.

Dresbach, who won an EVVY in 2004 for lighting design, enjoys mentoring students on technical details like lighting marquee signs and cabling.

“I enjoy … seeing how much they’ve grown. I like the enthusiasm and the eagerness [of students] to learn,” said Dresbach. “I like seeing how much they take control and are doing things on their own.”

Dresbach said she has hired students after working with them at the EVVYs. And both she and Breen enjoy working with new talent.

“The EVVYs are a mainstay at the school and a very powerful PR tool,” said Breen. “I love how the majority of the Emerson alumni community has a strong affinity for the EVVYs. They watch it online, and they’re very proud of it.”

For Breen, he’s proud to help the EVVYs maintain a professional-quality show.

“Board Trustees are appreciative of my support of the school. Hopefully, that gets other people to think about how they can support the school,” said Breen.

Breen and VDA particularly stepped up during the height of the pandemic.

“In 2022, if it weren’t for Breen and his team, the 41st EVVYs at the Majestic never would have happened,” said Barton. “We had only six students on campus as opposed to about 80 to 100 normally. VDA basically took on all scenic and lighting for the show.”  

Breen said volunteering for boards and being on campus allows him to understand what needs support.

“I just love the spirit the students bring. The excitement of growing and ideas they put forward,” said Breen. “I see myself in all of them. I chuckle because they ask some of the same questions I did as a student. They have the same drive, the same interest, and I love that Emerson continues to foster that experiential learning process that was essential for me when I was here. It’s cool.”

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