A Montclair State education can take you anywhere. Just ask Mike Van Dusen ’93, who spent four weeks in Sochi, Russia last fall building the set for NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics with his company, blackwalnut.
“It was a good environment to work in,” Van Dusen says, about working at the International Broadcasting Center. Van Dusen and his team were there for four weeks, working twelve-hour days to build the set. Despite the long workdays, Van Dusen found time to explore and enjoy himself while in Russia. “I traveled a lot and have been all over. The best part of the Sochi experience was visiting local towns and interacting with everyone. It was nice to experience another culture without interfering with it.”
Van Dusen has maintained a connection with Montclair State since he graduated. He briefly taught at the University and has given talks to current theater production students. He recognizes the value that an internship adds to a student’s education, and often hires Montclair State students to intern with blackwalnut. “I want to help students,” he says.
While he was at Montclair State, Van Dusen majored in Technical Theater. Since he graduated, the program was renamed Production and Design and made into a concentration within the Theater major. Students in this program learn how to optimally design and build sets to showcase the action happening on stage. When Van Dusen was a student, Technical Theater was a small department with frequently revolving professors. He learned to work independently and provide his own resources, two skills that helped him later in his career. After graduating, Van Dusen worked as a roadie, electrician, then a scene shop employee, where he met his current business partner. Together, they started blackwalnut and hired former colleagues from the scene shop.
His company, blackwalnut, has an impressive list of clients including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, the 2010 NFL Draft and NBC Nightly News. The broadcast set for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games is the latest accomplishment for the company.
“Be proactive on the front end to avoid the customer overpaying and more work for the builders,” he says, discussing his recipe for success. Van Dusen has worked with NBC in the past and enjoys a relationship with the network. “The most important thing is to work with recurring clients, collaborate on the design and keep clients happy.”