It’s opening night at UCI’s Studio Theatre. The audience waits expectantly and the actors backstage rehearse their lines one last time. The crew scurries into position. Enter stage manager Brandon Spooner, thriving on the tense and exhilarating atmosphere.

“At showtime, the director hands the play to the stage manager, who molds it into a finished work of art,” says Spooner. “When it’s done, you’re giving people joy.”

Spooner is working toward an honors degree in stage management at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. He already has served as a stage manager for performances, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole and the UCI Etude Ensemble, a student dance troupe under the direction of profesor Donald McKayle. He hopes to become a Broadway stage manager and he credits UCI with giving him the tools he’ll need to succeed.

“UCI gives you real-world skills to handle the extremes,” he says.

Spooner chose to study drama because of the stage’s collaborative atmosphere and strong sense of family. It’s a feeling he came to value from growing up in a large family in New Orleans.

Although he was in California when Katrina hit, the hurricane inspired him to “give something back,” which he does by leading campus tours and providing information about UCI to prospective students, their families and other guests. He throws in a little comedy improvisation to spice things up.

“I feel I’m making a difference. If one kid decides to go to college because of my tour, that’s an incredible reward.”