When I was first confronted about the idea of being Head Grip for Zenith, I was terrified. The thought of being responsible for an eleven person crew was scary enough, not to mention the additional responsibility of all the props and equipment that had to move on and off stage during the show. I nervously accepted the challenge after some encouragement from Mr. Poole, and my experiences from that show became some of my most memorable and rewarding in TEC.
Zenith taught me more than I ever imagined about the value of leadership, trust and passion. It gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and a leader, and prepared me for my upcoming senior year. Leadership is much more than being in charge and giving out orders. It includes building the knowledge and confidence of your crew and being a positive role model. During our pre-show meetings, leadership is often called the "glue" that holds our organization together. Strong leaders are imperative to the success of any major production, including Zenith, but leadership isn't limited to the crew heads. Any crew member, regardless of age or position, can exhibit leadership qualities at any time. Even during seemingly trivial set changes, I was always watching my crew members, waiting to see who would take charge. Whether it be rolling the piano on-stage, changing shinbuster gel colors, or even just doing homework backstage, I always enjoyed seeing someone rise to the occasion and take ownership of the task at hand.
With a sophisticated show like Zenith, the grip crew was constantly moving props and equipment on and off stage, so delegation was important in order to take care of the scene changes as quickly and efficiently as possible. It didn’t take long for me to realize how important trust and delegation were to the success of the show. With the amount of moving parts on-stage, there was no way for me to oversee everything going on at once, so I had to trust that the grip crew was following along and ready for whatever came next. At first, this was hard for me. I wanted to personally supervise everything that was going on and help wherever I could, but after a couple long and stressful rehearsals, I realized that it wasn’t necessary. Trust started to grow within the crew and they constantly impressed me with their preparedness and hard-work. This trust led to a much smoother, calmer show because everyone could focus on their own responsibilities without worrying about everyone else’s.
While leadership is the glue that holds TEC together, passion is the motivation to keep moving forward and improving. Passion is what kept us going during the long rehearsals and late nights. Passion is the motivation to put on a successful show. Without passion, the show would seem half-hearted and boring. Whether that motivation came from the competitiveness within the grip crew or just a desire to put on the best show yet, I found that passion was, without a doubt, the most important contributor to a great show. It’s what kept us striving for perfection during the long rehearsals and it paid off in the end after three great shows for the Zenith audiences.
In conclusion, Zenith this year gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and a leader. It was challenging at times but more importantly, it taught me more than I ever imagined about the value of leadership, trust and passion and provided me with memories that I will cherish forever.
Currently, Andrew is a Lighting Director and Producer for film and television in New York City.
At only thirty years old, he is a respected professional and has worked with NBC, CNN, MTV,
Sesame Street, and Nickelodeon to produce over forty shows. Andrew even went to the Beijing
Olympics and was awarded an Emmy nomination for his work.
In 2006, not one week after graduating from college, Andrew began lighting national
television. Only four years prior, he was with TEC on a television set in Los Angeles looking at
thousands of lights in the rig, thinking, "people must have to wait decades to be a part of this."
Andrew's career really began back in high school with our very own Westlake Technical
Entertainment Crew, working every show he could from rentals to Zenith. Andrew collaborated
with Mr. Poole to create a balanced life with school work, lacrosse, and TEC. Mr. Poole was
always accommodating and remains, to this day, "a good friend and mentor" to Andrew. In
retrospect, Andrew "wishes he could have been more involved," but still, TEC helped him pave
his way to success by teaching him the necessity of "persistence, hard work, and understanding
the bigger picture."
Andrew was accepted into many college programs. He chose to continue his studies at
Sonoma State University. He went in looking to major in lighting design, but ultimately became
a "BA in theater as opposed to just lighting." His education provided a method for him to really
grasp a real world sense of productions: "No one understands a deadline like a theater major.
You can't push back deadlines. You have to get it done."
It takes more than being aware of deadlines to become successful. It takes this kind of
passion or drive that sets you apart from everyone else. For Andrew, this was creating content.
In the theater world, you can take internships, but in the end "you are only as good as your
portfolio." Employers "only look at your resume for five seconds. What does your content say
Andrew is naturally a producer. It's his job to find ideas and make them a reality. This
seems like a lot of work, but in actuality all he had to do was go to the English,
Communications, and Theater departments to find other students and create any kind of film.
No matter the size or success level of the production, everyone involved has not only made
connections and gained experience, but has also built up credibility. This may not seem
like "usual" work for a lighting designer, but this work set Andrew apart. He always asked "What
can I do for you?" and continually opened himself up to new opportunities.
Andrew's final advice: "Never stop creating content. Never stop. The more content you
make, the better your skills will get. Keep learning new devices and software that come out.
Never ever ever stop. Go make a short film. It's easy. Use your software. It doesn't matter
where you go to school. Your content is you. Your reel is who you are. If you have a great reel,
people will be climbing over themselves trying to get you. Never stop creating."
At the end of the show, the lights came up, and we were ushered away in the direction of our buses. I snuck another look at the people in what I would later learn to be the control booth. A boy waved at me. I smiled shyly and followed my class out.
It was the children's show in the Black Box Theatre - Charlotte's Web that year - and I was a third grader. In what felt like only five seconds later, I was a freshman in high school, facing a crew sign-up sheet on the call board. The children's show? I could be one of those kids up there! I didn't waste any time in writing my name down.
Soon after, the official crew was selected and the list was posted - I was assigned the job of sound board operator for The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon. It was my first taste of TEC. I met and learned from younger members and upperclassmen alike, and I played back all of the show's sound cues without problems. Once I started, I wasn't going to stop. I worked Zenith, then joined the leadership team, then the Chaparral Stadium Video Crew and worked every PAC production my sophomore year. I was hooked.
Fast-forward to junior year, where I found myself back in the Black Box as the stage manager for Willy Wonka. This show was the longest running in TEC's history, with a total of nine shows, had the largest cast of any Black Box Theater show with almost 40 cast members, and even brought in several elementary students from across the district. For a lack of a better description, it was a big production!
To top it all off, we had a smaller-than-usual crew. However, everyone rose to the challenge and was on top of their jobs, taking notes to help them improve and constantly teaching each other. One TEC member who wasn’t originally on the crew stepped up at the last minute to fill the position of a student who got sick, emulating the camaraderie and leadership outlined in the mission statement by being there when needed and doing what others might not be willing to do. Together, we put on nine great shows, each one better than the last.
Honestly, I was a little nervous to stage manage - what if I messed up the whole show? But during the three rehearsals before opening night, and in the days of the shows after, I asked questions, I took notes, and I remembered the examples set by all the stage managers before me - the same things I had done on all of the shows I'd worked no matter what position I was in. Then, when opening night came, all I could do was my best and trust in the crew.
One of the most important lessons I learned from this experience was that part of being a leader is knowing when to step back and be a follower. With all of the different elements that make up a show, it's impossible for one person to do everything. Specialization makes every part of the show the best that it can possibly be instead of having many people’s focus and knowledge spread too thinly over everything. For the scene changes this show, the stagehands figured out what worked best for them and wrote their own notes instead of me micro managing them from the control booth. Because they were constantly moving the set, they were able to troubleshoot and make changes much better than I would be able to make. Being the stage manager doesn't mean being the person that is in charge of everything. It means being the person that calls the cues. Everything else is being a leader, which everyone on a crew has the potential to be. Everyone can offer encouragement, propose solutions to a problem, follow rules and safety protocol, and embody professionalism, teamwork, camaraderie, and fun. By acknowledging that everybody on the crew is a leader - no matter the magnitude or number of their responsibilities - no one is above anybody else. Every job is equally important. The members of a crew learn from each other and work together, not on different levels based on perceived rank. This dynamic leads to successful productions and contributed to the improvement and eventual accomplishment of this show.
After the conclusion of the ninth curtain call and the final call of the last light cue, I stood up from my stack of textbooks (I was too short to see the stage without them) and happily started discussing how well the show went with the light and sound board operators - my coworkers, and friends - while watching all of the kids exit the theater. Some were chattering excitedly; some were waiting patiently, still and quiet. A few were staring intently up at us.
So I waved.
one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Italy. Among those forty-one individuals
was me. Before the Italy trip, I had never traveled out of the country. I hadn't traveled at
all, really. But, I've got to say, it was worth the wait.
After deciding this year's TEC trip would be to Italy, the officers planned events
that would help us get there including the Westlake Marching Festival and the
Nutcracker Spectacular. As the departure date approached, everything seemed to fall
The Wednesday before we were to leave, we were presented with an
unexpected dilemma: our flight had been canceled. Though many were disappointed,
Mr. Poole, TEC students, and our travel agents spent hours on end with the airline and
our Italian tour guide. After much persistence, we finally constructed a solution.
There were to be three traveling groups, two leaving on Friday and one on
Saturday. The Saturday group and one of the Friday groups drove to Houston and
departed from there. My group, one of the two departing on Friday, flew out of the
Austin Airport. This arrangement was much appreciated and, thankfully, all three groups
were reunited in Italy.
Venice, Verona, and Milan. I couldn't say which city was my favorite. Each one provided
unique memories and a distinct culture that I will remember forever.
The first day in Rome, as we waited to reunite with the Saturday group, we took
a comprehensive walking tour of Rome. Everything we saw was impressive and
historically significant, but then came the storm. Few people anticipated the possibility
of rain, and so some of us did not bring their umbrellas, myself included. Within a matter
of minutes, almost all of our group members were completely drenched as we trudged
through the racing waters of the streets of Rome.
The next day turned out to be beautiful, still slightly damp, but beautiful none-the-
less. At lunch, a small group of us broke off and wandered the streets looking for a bite
to eat. That is when we heard a man shouting at us, "Free Pizza! Free Pizza!" He had
certainly gotten our attention, so we decided to investigate. He immediately began to
set up chairs for us while feeding us small samples of pizza. It was quite refreshing to
meet an individual who was authentically Italian. He treated us well, giving us a good-
sized pizza and a soda. As we left, he handed us small sheets of paper with a link to his
shop's Facebook page, asking us to like it.
Scala Opera House. We were given a tour of both the museum and the opera house.
Within the museum, we observed countless artifacts that were owned by some of the
attendees and composers from La Scala's prime. Those objects were indeed
magnificent, but after visiting a myriad of museums all week, the opera house itself was
far more fascinating. La Scala had been recently renovated and all of their equipment
was state-of-the-art. The entire stage could not only be rotated, but also completely
replaced by a different stage hidden below. This feature was absolutely incredible and I
had never seen anything like it. However, one of my favorite features was La
Scala's "tech tables." In TEC, we use a few black tables for rehearsals that we normally
have to pull out of storage. La Scala's tech tables, however, rose up from a hidden
panel in the ground. I was amazed to see a nearly identical version and setup of the
tables, something our organization uses quite frequently, actually being used in the
While in Italy, our group of TEC students and chaperones had many planned and
unplanned adventures. Something about this trip changed our group. Perhaps it was
the hours of bus rides to and from different cities or the countless tours of museums.
Regardless, this trip helped build new friendships, strengthened old ones, and lived up
to the TEC mission statement. Leadership allowed us to get there. Camaraderie made it
meaningful. And we certainly did have a lot of fun.