Just about eight years ago, I stepped into a theater and worked on its lights for the first time. I remember those Friday afternoon hours in the dark vividly. I learned which bolts to tighten or loosen, which metal parts to slide in or out or around, and which parts to not touch so as to avoid burns — all in the process of achieving the perfect beam of light. I was only 14 years old and a couple of growth spurts smaller, so I remember the then-high school senior who saw me struggling with an awkwardly large wrench for my hands and came over to offer some advice. I remember the sense of awe I experienced, watching how those beams of light could change in color and texture and so many other ways with a simple sheet of plastic or a thin, stamped disk of metal.
I spent those Friday afternoons learning my way around catwalks and fly rails, all while seeing a stage production come to life for the first time. So much of what I learned in that theater has stayed with me well into my days at McCarter with the Triangle Club. But now, as I write during lulls at rehearsal eight years later, I’m confronted by a sense that these eight years will soon become but a period of my past. The light I’ve learned to work with — to color and shape and transform to the beat of an actor’s line or a song’s tune — will soon be out of my hands. I’m unlikely to make a career out of it, and few, if any, non-professional theaters match up to the ones I’ve been lucky enough to work in.
All this makes my last few nights in McCarter for my last Triangle premiere this weekend just that much more special. And with light, one thing that makes it so magical is how ephemeral it is. I can’t put some of it in a jar to take home as a souvenir like I’ve seen props and costumes and even chunks of the set go out the theater doors. There’s no lighting equivalent of gathering around a piano and singing old songs year after year. Once the last light turns off, that’ll be it — all gone at the flip of a switch.
But at least not everything will be gone. Yes, maybe summer’s come and gone, and the winds of change are blowing, but at least some things will remain as the rest fade to black.
Down Alexander Street, past the Dinky station, past the canal, past a field labeled the “Soil Re-Use Project,” and just past Route 1, sits a workshop where I’ve spent the better part of my fall breaks at Princeton. There, I’ve helped build a hot dog cart, a pair of Dinky cars, and now, some trees and a fire pit — among some other things. It’s the one week each year when the Princeton Triangle Club’s team of technicians (or TriTech) invades the McCarter production shops to build the sets for our annual mainstage shows.
I still remember the first day I entered that workshop in the fall of 2019. Those first few weeks as a first-year had been fine — just fine, but not much more. I was liking my classes, my quad and zee group were feeling like a home, and I was trying new things and meeting just as many new people. But the campus still felt rather lonely until I stepped into that workshop and met the cast of characters who would come to color my days.
I could probably fill a book with essays about the people I’ve met in that workshop. Friendships formed that have ebbed and flowed since. Tears wiped away in moments of comfort. Intense bantering as well. Hearts entangled. Months, years spent looking up to those older and wiser until a blink of an eye reveals that everyone else is younger and fresher and looking up to you.
It’s that last bit, in particular, that lends some assurance of some things — friendships, fleeting and evolving as they can be at times — enduring instead. Because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, isn’t it? The comfort and warmth of cycling through an endeavor like Triangle with people like TriTech’s at one’s side. The appreciation emerges for a transformation from the first-year kid sitting silently in his shyness at the back of the van traveling down Alexander toward the workshop, to the senior riding confidently back from the workshop, being asked by a younger friend to include them in these stories recording my time with the club.
It’s all this that leaves a trace that no light has been able to leave the last eight years. It all has changed my life — saved it, even.
This light, this club, these people — they have left their trace.
José Pablo Fernández García is a junior from Ohio and Head Prospect Editor at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at email@example.com.
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