Behind the scenes of every MSU-Riley Center performance

Rainey worked for 11 years as technical director at Meridian Community College before coming to the MSU Riley Center, where he is tasked with ensuring dozens of performances each year are perfectly executed.Contact: Marianne Todd

MERIDIAN, Miss.—When Andy Rainey got his first glimpse of the Grand Opera House of Mississippi, he had no idea he would one day be technical director at the historic and celebrated building now known as the Mississippi State University Riley Center.

Precariously perched atop an antiquated catwalk to secure equipment for a show, the opera house gig is one he remembers as a more daring feat in his three decades of theater work.

Now, the renovated 1890s former opera house is listed as one of Southern Living magazine’s most beloved historic theaters of the South, and it’s where Rainey serves a vital role in ensuring that each performance is perfectly executed.

“I started working in theaters as a child. My dad was a union stagehand at the Temple Theatre, so I grew up going to work with him,” Rainey said. “When I was 9 or 10, he let me run the follow spot. At that time, it was a carbon arc. Two rods touched together with electricity, and it would create an arc and burn. The lights were really hot.”

More than that, Rainey got to meet celebrities such as Hank Williams Jr., Tanya Tucker, Marty Stuart and Willie Nelson.

“Compared to a lot of other kids my age at the time, it was a great experience. How many kids got to say they got to be backstage during a concert? And I got to learn a trade, too, and be with my dad,” he said.

As an adult, Rainey earned a degree in electronics at Meridian Community College and went to work as technical director for the theater at his alma mater. He worked there for 11 years before accepting a job in 2019 as technical director at the MSU Riley Center.

While his list of celebrity brushes grew through the years, Rainey has kept his focus on the unseen tasks that bring success to a show—everything from fulfilling artists’ riders to managing intermittent stagehands, setting up performances, and running lighting, sound and video for the performers.

“It’s an all-encompassing job,” he said. “I do a little of everything. You’re either having a performance or planning one.”

When he’s not running a show, he’s maintaining, repairing and updating equipment.

Rainey is a technical wizard who has mastered navigating a variety of artist temperaments, said Morgan Dudley, MSU Riley Center’s director of events.

“It’s so important in this field to have things down to a science in the logistics of a show from the back of the house, from the unloading and loading, even when they’re advancing a show and getting the details right,” she said. “He knows the acoustics, and he knows what works. He’s a huge reason why artists like to be here.”

Rainey said while the reward is in successful performances, there have been many times the travails of getting there seemed insurmountable, recounting the Broadway musical “An American in Paris” in which his crew was forced to cut 20 feet off the show to fit on a smaller stage.

“This theater is inherently not designed for those types of performances because it was designed for 1800s opera,” he said. “The excess was on the street being guarded by our campus police officers. My workshop was wall-to-wall cases.”

He also remembers the good times.

“My favorite moment was also my scariest,” he said. “It was during St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and I wasn’t aware that the lead singer would come into the audience and onto an upper box seat. He stood on the railing overlooking the audience. It was a great spectacle and a great show for our audience—unless he had fallen.”

After traveling this month to the U.S. Institute for Theater Technology conference in Seattle, Rainey won’t get a moment of rest when he returns. Booked with more than seven shows through July, Rainey will accommodate such stars as Taylor Hicks, Better than Ezra, The Commodores and Wayne Newton.

For more information on upcoming shows, visit the MSU Riley Center at

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