Behind the Scenes
Four Trinity alumni lift the curtain for a sneak peek into their worlds
Monday, October 1, 2018
collage of four polaroid photos: one is art supplies, another are costume sketches, another is a soundboard, and other is a costume room

Whether you’re watching a box-office smash on the silver screen, a theatrical hit on the Great White Way, or simply your favorite TV show from the comfort of your couch, an entire ecosystem of creative people are at work behind the scenes, night and day. Four Trinity alumni lift the curtain for a sneak peek into their worlds.

Crazy and Perfect
cristina miranda bouldin wears a formal dress, smiling next to a mantle with three emmys on it

For many people in show business, an Emmy win might be the long-awaited zenith of their career. For Cristina Miranda Bouldin ’08, it was the just the start. Shortly after graduating from Trinity with a degree in communication and a minor in film studies, Bouldin became a producer on Cristina’s Court, a courtroom reality show. Within two years, she found herself shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues on stage at the Daytime Emmys, wearing her senior prom dress and clutching the coveted trophy.

Bouldin spent months digging through countless court cases and booking guests—a task that honed her ability to “sweet talk” potential defendants who got cold feet about appearing on TV. Three-hundred episodes later, the executive producers invited her to help with the show’s Emmy campaign in Los Angeles. “I stayed in their mansion in the Hollywood Hills,” says Bouldin, who aspired to work in entertainment since she was a child. “I thought, ‘This is a dream, this is crazy and perfect!’”

She stayed in LA for more than four years, joining a production company called Pilgrim Studios, where she worked on reality programs including Top GunsAmerican Chopper, and Full Metal Jousting. “All the stuff I love,” she jokes. “All nice and girly!”

Bouldin’s time at Trinity prepared her for the “get it done, make it happen” world of television. Outside of her classes, she worked on the Tiger TV program Newswave, and she was active in the sorority Sigma Theta Tau. “I was super shy coming into college,” Bouldin remembers. “Being in Sigmas definitely helped me to be more open.”

Many of her sorority sisters are still close friends, but she’s also made meaningful connections with other Tigers since commencement—including with Chelsea Holmes ’11 (check out the sidebar), who followed in her footsteps to Pilgrim Studios.

Bouldin moved back to Houston, her hometown, at the end of 2012, and she and her husband welcomed their first child this summer. As a new mom, her sweet-talking skills from Cristina’s Court may soon come in handy again—in negotiating with a toddler.

Costuming Crime-Fighters
patricia mclaughlin in formal wear at the emmys; holding an emmy while standing next to an emmy statue

Patricia McLaughlin ’75 is not a nerd. And yet, she’s probably more deeply entrenched in the superhero-filled world of the Marvel Universe than anyone you know, thanks to three years of outfitting secret agents and supervillains for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“I had no interest whatsoever until I started working on it, but now I think it’s great,” she says of the TV show, which follows the exploits of a super-powered government agency from the popular Marvel film series. “There are a lot of visual effects, alien words, alternate universes, and complicated timelines,” she continues. “It’s been quite an education.”

As the show’s costume supervisor, McLaughlin has come to know the characters inside and out, poring over scripts to determine each episode’s sartorial needs. Will the actor wear a harness underneath for stunts? She’ll size up their costume. Will the first scene of the day be bloody? She’ll have duplicate clothes ready for shots that require clean gear.

Originally from Lufkin, Texas, and now based in the Los Angeles–area neighborhood Van Nuys, McLaughlin has worked in the entertainment industry for more than four decades, but she has been a singer and actor since her youth. Her first connection to Trinity came during high school, when she spent three summers at an upstate New York vocal training program led by music professor John Seagle.

She ended up on the red brick campus majoring in drama and studying under theater professor Paul Baker, whose “integration of abilities” philosophy required students to explore every aspect of theater, from lights and sound to costumes and sets. “That experience still helps me now,” she says, “since I interact with all the different departments.”

McLaughlin graduated in three years, then moved to New York, where she worked as an actor and singer. After 13 years on stage, she pivoted out of the limelight and into the world of costuming. Using skills learned at the Seagle Music Colony and at Trinity, she quickly landed gigs in costume departments on Broadway, where she prepped clothes during the day and helped actors dress during evening performances.

In 1987, McLaughlin had her daughter and relocated to California, just as the 1988 writers’ strike began. “I had so many opportunities in New York—doors just flew open,” she remembers. “Then I came out to LA and it was horrible. Everything was shut down!”

She found work with a company that rented clothing to shows, but it wasn’t exactly glamorous. “I was literally scraping manure off moccasins in a dark warehouse, with no AC, for $5 an hour,” she says. But before long, she hit pay dirt, landing a job as a costumer on Golden Girls, where she dressed Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty. “Even now, that’s one of my favorite things I’ve done,” she says. McLaughlin’s career took off from there.

In her job, she organizes a team of clothing specialists to bring the costume designer’s vision to life. She has worked on everything from sitcoms and series—including Big Little Lies, which won her an Emmy in 2017—to movies such as MatildaMalibu’s Most Wanted, and August Osage County.

While every project is unique, McLaughlin keeps her department running smoothly by anticipating challenges, communicating clearly, and prioritizing tasks. “You’ve just got to roll with the punches,” she says—fitting advice coming from someone who spends her days among crime-fighting superheroes.

Fight Club
collage of ron piretti directing fight choreography. on the left, he pretends to be strangled. on the right, he holds a sword.

Ron Piretti ’71 does not like violence—a fact that may seem incongruous with his professional life, where he has made a name for himself in the theater world as a fight director. On stage, he says, fighting is “really like dancing; it’s all choreography.”

Like McLaughlin, Piretti came to Trinity to study under Paul Baker, transferring from a college in his home state of Connecticut. Taking courses in sculpture, dance, and writing, Piretti says he discovered many new interests, and even the city of San Antonio broadened his perspective: “I didn’t know anyone from Texas, and coming from the East Coast, being Italian, I had to learn to navigate a whole new environment—how to talk to people, how to make friends.”

After graduation, he apprenticed at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival (now called the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey), where he discovered the skill that would become his niche. “Someone thrust a sword and shield in my hands and put me in charge of the weapons. I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is cool.’” He went on to earn his MFA at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago, then moved to New York, where he acts, choreographs fights, and teaches.

Piretti made his Broadway debut in 2010 playing Officer Krupke in West Side Story—the pinnacle of his career to date, he says—and has directed fights for musicals including Sting’s The Last Ship and Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. Whether playing a character or choreographing an altercation, he sees his work as a form of storytelling. “Everything, even a slap, has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it all must move forward in sync with the bigger story.”

Working as an actor goes hand in hand with the liberal arts principle of learning how to learn: “You’ve got to be interested in life,” Piretti says, “and you can’t stop doing things.” He takes classes in acting, Italian, and guitar, and attends many events in the city—including Trinity alumni gatherings—to ensure that he’s always making new connections. “It’s all about meeting people,” he says, because you never know where a new connection might lead.

Different Discoveries
collage of kevin mohs in control room and on site, in front of a line of trucks with massive satellites

Over the course of his 27-year career, Kevin Tao Mohs ’87 has traveled from the French Alps, where he filmed an elite mountain rescue team, to the Maasai Mara preserve in Kenya, where he witnessed a herd of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles make a perilous crossing through crocodile-infested waters. Most recently, in his role as vice president of production for the National Geographic Channel, he spent 10 days in Yellowstone, overseeing a live special. “My job is never boring,” he says, “and every day is different.”

But it’s not all adrenaline rush all the time. “I do strategic planning and manage the budget, and I also get to be creative with storytelling,” he says. “I tap into all sides of my brain.”

The variety of his professional life reflects an intellectual philosophy Mohs has embraced since his days at Trinity. “My goal was to get a well-rounded education,” says the mass communication major, who took classes in history and law, as well as acting. “A small school allows you to try a lot of different things,” he says, “and also gives you good one-on-one time with your professors, so that you can learn from their experiences.”

That broad foundation has served him well in his career, where he has created nonfiction shows for Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, and National Geographic. It has also encouraged him to be a lifelong learner. “We see anything that can entertain, inform, or distract as our competition,” he says, “So we are always busy learning and observing, and always evaluating different techniques for telling a story.”

Maintaining connections with mentors, colleagues, and classmates has also played a large part in Mohs’ personal and professional trajectory. “You have to keep in touch with people, never burn bridges, and leave a good reputation, wherever you go,” he says, recalling how contacts from grad school led to his first production gig, then to a job with Animal Planet, where he eventually became a vice president. And in a roundabout way, none of that would have happened had he not crashed on the couch of his first-year suitemate in Washington, D.C., while applying to grad school.

As for that old suitemate? “He and his wife just brought their kids to Silver Lake,” Mohs says. “We had Maryland blue crabs and talked about our days at Trinity, when six of us were crammed into a four-person room on Thomas first!”

Mohs makes it a priority to give back to the next generation. (“Others did it for me!”) He spoke at Trinity Communications Day in 2017, advising students to set concrete goals for themselves. “You can’t just have them in your mind,” he explains. “You have to write them down, because if you say, ‘One day I’ll do this,’ then before you know it, that ‘one day’ is gone.”

In the frenetic world of show business, Mohs’ words ring especially true. But equipped with a solid liberal arts foundation, and bolstered by the widespread network of alumni always ready to lend a hand or give words of advice, Tigers have what it takes to ensure that the show goes on.

Crazy / Busy / Life
chelsea holmes stands next to sign that reads "pilgrim studios"

While working on Tiger TV gave Chelsea Holmes ’11 her first taste of show biz, a Trinity connection got her foot in the door. The communications major met Cristina Miranda Bouldin ’08 at an Alumni Association event while studying “abroad” in Los Angeles. Bouldin, who was working at the reality TV production company Pilgrim Studios, helped Holmes land an executive assistant job there. Holmes shared a glimpse of her typical workday.

  • 5:30 a.m. Head to gym with fianc`ee. (This week: squats.)

  • 9:20 a.m. Bike to work, wearing light blue helmet. (Possibly meant for children: "It was the cheapest one!")

  • 9:30 a.m. Arrive to the office after perhaps the shortest commute on record in L.A.

  • 9:35 a.m. Catch up on email while casually scanning conference room calendar, mentally noting any upcoming celebrity visitors.

  • 10 a.m. Update color-coded notecards with ìplot pointsî for episodes of Pilgrimís shows. Assist executive producers with calls, meetings, and emails.

  • Lunch: Excavate healthy meal (because, L.A.) from overstuffed fridge. Eat at desk, fielding the occasional phone call while watching an episode of Big Brother ("Yes, it's still on, and really good--give it a chance!"). Take a walk if the weather is nice.

  • 2:30 p.m. Prepare for afternoon meetings between editors and producers.

  • 3:55 p.m. Take two flights of stairs down to reception desk (thighs screaming from morning squats).

  • 3:56 p.m. Immediately return upstairs, making sure to ìcoincidentallyî share elevator with celebrity spotted earlier on conference room calendar.

  • 4 p.m. Prepare for following dayís meetings and calls.

  • 6 p.m. Clock out!

  • Evening: Cook dinner and play intramural basketball with fianc`ee, then watch some reality TV before bed. Gotta love what you do!

Photos provided by featured alumni

Miriam Sitz Grebey '10 writes about architecture, urbanism, sustainability, and more. She majored in Spanish and environmental studies at Trinity, then earned her master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamSitz.

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