Each “What Matters Most?” interview tries to capture an aspect of a student’s pursuits or interests that might not be visible in their everyday Waynflete experience. This week, I caught up with Will Armstrong who has dedicated countless hours backstage running the technical production aspects, designing lights over five shows during his four years at Waynflete.
Will, how did you first discover this passion?
I first got hooked in Middle School – It was definitely during the 8th grade show when I first felt part of a production. Chris Fitze also had something to do with it- he draws people to technical theater because of who he is. I showed up one day and he said “here’s how the board works and you’re designing lights for the show.” I landed the job because there was no one else to do it for Cry of Players but I’d say lighting design strikes me as the best job there is.
When did you get serious about it?
I have always liked to tinker with computers etc. We are really lucky to have our lighting board. It is the ideal set up. It’s a good board, not quite professional level, although some of it is already getting outdated. There is a great video learning series online about how lighting boards work and I watched the whole series. Chris got me started on how to write cues. There is also good literature in the drama room about stage lighting. It’s a whole career.
What keeps you committed to the work?
You have to learn how to be cool about mistakes, that’s a life skill. People make mistakes in a show. You make one and you just have to move on. The show doesn’t stop. You have to live with it. It’s about living with what you have and trying to make the best of it. Every single night we take notes, the notes go to the set, I have a whole page. After the tech for Drowsy Chaperone we had over 100 cues to adjust. There’s a lot of uncertainty or ambiguity in the theater so you can’t be a perfectionist. A production is going to look different every single time it runs so you can never recreate something. That’s the beautiful thing about theater, you can’t relive it.
Are there lessons from the theater that translate to your life?
Definitely. Managing my own time (which I’m still working on) and learning the self- discipline which goes along with that. I may not be the best supervisor, but I’m learning multiple ways to approach leadership. You learn how to be in a hierarchy in theater-you’re in a chain of command with a final product and real life consequences. My strategy has been “You should do what I say because it is in the best interest of the show.” That’s the way you gain more responsibility for each other and learn how to be part of a cohesive unit.
You talk about each production like it’s a team effort. What role does any one individual play? Do you think there a parallel with sports at Waynflete?
Work in the theater is very similar to sports. Same adrenaline rush. Theater is less pressure and it is more collaborative. I like the drama. But there is still pressure because there is a product you’re making together. As far as the individual is concerned, I still think about this all the time. It’s a really interesting culture that happens here. There’s structure imposed on you in both but at the end of the day it filters into one message- the end goal is the same. You’re being asked to take a step ahead in life. In an ideal world, you graduate being able to structure your own life-which is always changing. Life is not static.
What keeps you so committed?
Two years of learning and two years of life. It has shaped me and changed my life.
What are your hopes for the future?
Mostly I just want to have access to travel the world and work on cars. But world peace would be cool, too.