Wittman Sullivan Weathervane's Lighting Director

Wittman Sullivan Weathervane's Lighting Director
Posted on 01/31/2022
Credit: Akron Beacon JournalEighth grader Wittman Sullivan, seated right, learns lighting design from Jack-Anthony Ina, the master electrician at Weathervane Playhouse, as they adjust stage lights from the control board Sunday.
Eighth grader Wittman Sullivan, seated right, learns lighting design from Jack-Anthony Ina, the master electrician at Weathervane Playhouse, as they adjust stage lights from the control board Sunday.
Eighth grader Wittman Sullivan, who has been acting on Akron-area stages for years, is now making his debut as a volunteer lighting designer for Weathervane Playhouse's 8X10 TheatreFest.

He sees it as a great opportunity to branch out into the technical side of theater.

His mentor, master electrician Jack-Anthony Ina of Richmond Heights, said Wittman, 14, is undoubtedly the most youthful lighting designer the theater has ever had. 

"I'm positive you're the youngest," said Ina, a 22-year-old Baldwin Wallace theater graduate hired by Weathervane at age 19, told Wittman.

Ina previously held the youngest lighting designer distinction. 

Wittman, a Miller South theater student who ran the light board under Ina's tutelage for "Kinky Boots" in the fall, was the only person besides lighting designer Ina who did that for the complex show, which was the first production Weathervane had ever done with more than 1,000 light cues. Typically, the theater fills slots for different volunteer light board operators nightly.

"I'm very picky about getting a good light board op and making sure we have someone consistent if we can," Ina said of relying on Wittman for the complex show.
Wittman Sullivan, 14, left, trains with master electrician Jack-Anthony Ina at the control board at Weathervane Playhouse on Sunday.

Wittman Sullivan, 14, left, trains with master electrician Jack-Anthony Ina at the control board at Weathervane Playhouse on Sunday.
Wittman enjoyed that work so much, he accepted the invitation that followed from Ina in October to be mentored as lighting designer for the winter 8X10 TheatreFest. 

"I saw that he was interested, and I saw that he had fun running the light board so I'm like, 'Let's get you enrolled in designer,' " Ina said.

Now, Akron resident Wittman is enjoying creating his own lighting design for a festival of eight plays that isn't nearly as complex as designing for a glitzy pop musical. As of last week, the teen has designed more than 30 lighting cues for the community theater festival. 

The 8X10 TheatreFest, running for its 10th year, features eight 10-minute plays by playwrights from throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand who submitted their works and were chosen as semifinalists. For this festival, which opened Thursday and continues through Jan. 23, audience members vote for the top three play-winners, which are announced after the final show.

Wittman, who said he likes the problem-solving aspect of the technical theater, had previously operated props and set pieces as a volunteer for Weathervane's "Memphis." He also helped hang and focus lights as part of a volunteer crew working with Ina on "Memphis" and helped rig the LED video for "Kinky Boots."

Eighth grader Wittman Sullivan adjusts a light's angle from a lift above the stage at Weathervane Playhouse on Sunday.
Wittman is eager to learn all he can about lighting, and Ina is happy to teach a young theater artist who's thirsty to gain new technical skills. Ina, hired by Weathervane in 2019 during his last year of college as a theater major on a stage management track, said young people of any age should be given the opportunity to learn about lighting design.
Eighth grader Wittman Sullivan adjusts a light's angle from a lift above the stage at Weathervane Playhouse on Sunday.

"I totally enjoy working with him. He's willing to learn but he also brings his own ideas," he said of Wittman.

"I thought it was a good opportunity," said Wittman, who has experience acting, singing and dancing but not a lot of experience in technical theater. "I just think progressing through theater more, it's useful to have more skills and abilities."

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The teen, who wants to pursue a career in politics and urban planning while continuing to do theater on the side, said he's naturally drawn to the meticulous nature of lighting design. 

"It's the stuff I love about most of theater, which is kind of the very nitpicky design," Wittman said. 

'Power team'
Melanie Pepe, the theater's chief executive and artistic director, called Wittman and Ina a "power team."

"They're really enthusiastic and talented," she said. "He's [Wittman is] just on the front end of learning about lighting design, but he's learning really quickly."

Ina said the only way to learn how to design is to design. And he has plans for Wittman to go further. 

"By next season, I'm hoping he'll be designing the bigger shows as well," Ina said. "All I would ask is that after doing this, he assistant designs a big show for me (to) get to see the process of that and how that works out and then jump into designing it."

Wittman and Ina have spent about 2½ weeks working together on lighting design for the 8X10 TheatreFest. Ina's doubly busy both mentoring Wittman on lights and directing one of the 10-minutes plays, the drama "The Handle."
Teen lighting designer Wittman Sullivan, front, is mentored Sunday by Jack-Anthony Ina, master electrician at Weathervane Playhouse.
Teen lighting designer Wittman Sullivan, front, is mentored Sunday by Jack-Anthony Ina, master electrician at Weathervane Playhouse.
For Wittman's training, the master electrician broke his teaching down into a series of tasks, including having the teen read each 10-minute script to come up with the main point of each show and ideas on how to focus that with lighting. They attended creative team meetings to learn what the set would look like and what directors were looking for. They also talked about what colors the stories gave Wittman in his head and what mood he wanted to set with each short play.

Keeping those ideas and the plays' scenic design in mind, Ina taught Wittman how to refocus the stage's existing light plot, while the lights' electric bars were lowered to the ground. After Alan Costa's skyline set went up, the teen has been going up on a lift to angle lights. 

Wittman's lighting choices will play off of the whites and grays of the skyline set. 

"He's getting a lot of cool things to play with for his first lighting design," Ina said. 

Wittman said his first stint as lighting designer is exciting and nerve wracking. And designing for the festival is unique because each of the eight, self-contained short plays has its own feel and color palette.

"It's a lot heavier on the more creative design aspect of it," Wittman said.
Wittman Sullivan, left, learns lighting design from Jack-Anthony Ina, master electrician at Weathervane Playhouse, as they adjust the stage lights from the control board Sunday.

Wittman Sullivan, left, learns lighting design from Jack-Anthony Ina, master electrician at Weathervane Playhouse, as they adjust the stage lights from the control board Sunday.
Last weekend, Ina talked about lighting designers going into hyperdrive during tech week and how some folks like that pressure and adrenaline.

"I love it," Wittman said.

For every lighting idea Wittman has, Ina asks him why he made that choice.

"Every light cue that you put on that stage has to have a reason. It can't just be there to be there," Ina said. "Every single one of them has to have a real meaning and real impact behind them," Ina said.

The mentoring experience has been invaluable for Wittman.

"I think I learn a lot from him, that's the biggest thing," Wittman said of Ina. "And he pressures me to be better at what I'm doing."

Arts and restaurant writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]

Details
Show: 8X10: The Eileen Moushey TheatreFest

Where: Weathervane Playhouse, 1301 Weathervane Lane, Akron

When: Continuing through Jan. 23; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Onstage: Sage Katusin, Jay Farrell, Sean McConaha, Jeannie Clarkson, William Noussias, Jordan Potter, Jonathan Merechant, Donna Longfellow, M Evelyn Kidder, Mason Shuman, Makenna Bird, Mark Stoffer, Tong Xu, Caitlin Bradley, Adam Alderson, Jennifer Matas, Laura Niehaus, Brittany Oliver, Heather Culotta, Lindsay Dunphy

Offstage: Barry Wood, Stephen Taft, Scott Sullivan, Marj O'Neill-Butler, Jennifer O'Grady, Lindsey Brown, Rinn Packard, Scott Mullen, playwrights; Melanie Pepe, Fred Gloor, Jack-Anthony Ina, Tabitha Rox, Joshua Larkin, April Deming, Sandy Eaglen, Brian Westerley, directors; Jasen Smith, Lainey Bodenburg, Megan Nelson, costume design; Scott Davis, producer; Kelli Perk, stage manager; Alan Costa, scenic design; Wittman Sullivan, lighting design; Casey Ha, sound design

Cost: $18-$22

Information: 330-836-2626 or www.weathervaneplayhouse.com
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