Katie Doyle: Using engineering, theatre education in concert tour design career

Katie Doyle was raised by a family of engineers who encouraged her to tinker and ask questions.

“My grandfather gave me my first electronics kit when I was 5, and I made every project in the book,” she says. “Engineering was always kind of on my radar as being something I would enjoy.”

Doyle’s family also had an affinity for the arts, and frequently took her to shows, including the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“I remember staring in awe as dancers were raised effortlessly from below the stage,” Doyle recalls of the performance. “I couldn’t stop looking around trying to figure out where the lights were coming from and how everything worked.”

She pursued both disciplines while at the University of Maine where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology and minors in electrical engineering technology and theatre.

“Theatre has always been a big part of my life, and when I realized that I could make a career out of creating those magical moments using technology, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.

Today, Doyle is a mechanical design engineer at TAIT Towers, a company headquartered in Lititz, Pennsylvania that designs, constructs and delivers live event equipment. She works on a team in the touring department to design staging and automation equipment for some of today’s top concert acts.

“Our shows travel all over the world and are experienced by millions, if not billions, of people every year,” she says.

How long have you been working at TAIT?
I started at TAIT in the electrical controls design department in 2013 after completing my engineering and theatre course work. In January of this year, I switched from electrical to mechanical design.

What are some projects you have worked on at TAIT?
I designed a control system for some pneumatically actuated flowers for Lady Gaga’s 2014 ARTPOP Ball Tour. The stage went from flat to full of flowers in seconds.

Our design studio also recently designed the tree fascia for U2’s 2017 Joshua Tree Tour. It is a massive stadium show with a 192-foot-wide stage. Our tree fascia extended 30 feet above the 45-foot-tall video screen to create a seamless visual between the physical fascia and video wall content.

When designing for concert touring systems, we focus on making the load-in as easy as possible. It’s really important that the system be simple and reliable with the least number of connections and cable runs.

What has been your most memorable professional moment?
This job has allowed me to do things that my childhood self could have never dreamed of. I’ve worked at Radio City Music Hall, spent a few days behind the scenes at a major theme park, designed equipment that flies people, was in a video by (record producer) Deadmau5 that received 13 million views, and most importantly, I have had the honor of working with some incredibly talented and innovative people.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your field?
Time is absolutely our biggest challenge. The entertainment industry moves fast. It is not uncommon for us to go from concept to shipping 10 trucks worth of gear in eight to 10 weeks. Our clients are some of the greatest touring artists in the world. When they want to make a change or add something to their show, they come to us because they know it can be produced quickly and toured easily around the world.

Why UMaine?
I came up to visit UMaine (from my home in Madison, New Jersey) for the first time in the fall of my senior year of high school. I was struck by the sense of community and the strength of the College of Engineering. I would be lying if I said the fall leaves didn’t work a bit of their magic in making me fall in love with the place.

How did you meld engineering and theatre while at UMaine?
I found myself in a constant balancing act of handling my engineering workload and commitments in the theatre department. Though challenging, each discipline complemented the other. Through engineering, I learned the math and calculations that supported what we were building in theatre.

When I wasn’t studying or building scenery, I was usually working a load-in or a show at the Collins Center for the Arts. Having a venue on campus that brought in everything from national Broadway tours to international artists was a great way for me to gain experience with touring scenery and equipment.

Describe your experience in the School of Performing Arts and any productions you assisted with:
The School of Performing Arts is wonderful because there are so many opportunities to get involved. I mostly worked in the scene shop both as a supervisor for department shows and as technical director for several Maine Masque shows. I had a hand in building just about every show that went through the shop during my time at UMaine. “Hair,” “Eurydice,” “Equus,” and “Avenue Q” were some of my favorites.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
UMaine is an incredibly special place. It has the breadth of opportunities usually found at large universities, but once you find your place, it has the focus and support of a much smaller college. It changed my life in ways that I am still discovering today.

What was your favorite place on campus?
Hauck Auditorium is the place on campus that fills me with the most nostalgia. I am proud of all the shows I worked on at UMaine, but Hauck is where some of my most fulfilling work was done. To me, Hauck is not just an auditorium, it’s a warehouse full of hippies in 1968, it’s a surreal space that simultaneously represents the real world and the underworld, it’s a row of homes in an outer borough of New York. When I think back on Hauck Auditorium, all of those places and dozens more exist simultaneously in my head.

What is your advice for incoming engineering and/or theatre students?
Embrace as many opportunities to learn and gain experience as you possibly can. The most difficult challenges that you take on, whether it be a thermodynamics class or stage managing a musical, are the ones that you learn the most from.

Did you work closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
It would be remiss of me to not thank the people who have had the greatest impact on me: Joe Donovan, Jude Pearse, Scott Dunning, Herb Crosby, Scott Stitham and Jeff Richards. You pushed me hard, believed in me and gave me the tools to pursue the career of my dreams.

Contact: Elyse Catalina, 207.581.3747