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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

Young Actor Now a Lighting Designer

By Dottie Havlik | April 29, 2008

Elizabeth Paxton is a 19-year-old home-school graduate from Bristol, Tenn. She is the lighting designer for Theatre Bristol, including the production of Pinocchio, which opens in May. Also a volunteer actress, she plans to audition to study drama in New York next spring.

She recently chatted with A! Magazine for the Arts.

Starting out: My first show was Theatre Bristol's The Music Man in 2003. [When I went to audition] I thought, if it works, fine; and if it doesn't, I don't have to see anyone again. I was in the young ensemble, part of the big dances and songs.

Her transition to backstage work: Theatre Bristol was doing The Miracle Worker. I'd done three shows in a row [as an actor], and I was still very shy about it, so I didn't audition, and then I missed it. I didn't have anything to do! I remember calling Emily Anne [Thompson, executive director] and saying, "if you need my help..." She said we could use you backstage, and that's how I got into that. I found it to be just as fun and entertaining. You still feel like you're a part of the show family.

Lighting design: The first time I ever did lights was Oliver! — for that one I just ran the [light] board. I didn't even really run the board; I just hit the "go" button over and over again. The designer at that time had programmed it all. Then I started learning how you set the lights and program them. It takes just as much work and creativity as being on stage.

I started with three shows. People were very patient with me. They'd be down here with the lights, and I'd be up there in the booth. They would turn the lights to all the angles, and I would make the decision because I'm the designer.

When it came to the board, [the previous designer had left so] I basically found the instruction manual — this was for The Rocky Horror Show — and sat up there for hours upon hours. I even had to stop and come back another day because I had to figure out how to get rid of all the programs for previous shows as well as putting in all the new ones. It's just a matter of fiddling around for yourself.

Programming is actually optional. You can program the board so all you have to do is hit a button, or you can work the faders and bring the lights up and down manually. Because there were so many things going on for Seussical! the Musical, with each rehearsal I was adding something different, so I never programmed it. I just wrote it down in my script and did it manually because there were so many little things that changed. With Lend Me a Tenor, I was in the show, and I also designed lights, but I programmed it all in, and another guy ran it.

Being on stage: Acting is my first love. So many things attract me to it. Especially when you've been a part of different shows, and you've met the same actors doing different roles, That is impressive, that one person can turn themselves into different characters. It's fun pretending to be anyone you want to be...then the audience comes, and you get your reward with applause and laughter. I don't think there's any other feeling like it. And the trust you build with other actors. When something goes wrong — and it frequently does — how you can think on your feet, or someone else thinks for you. Amazing things happen.

On community theatre: That's a plus about being here — in community theatre as a whole. I recently told someone that, other than my family, Theatre Bristol is the place that I'm most thankful for because it has brought me so many experiences and so many friends. This has been a great place to grow and learn.

Dottie Havlik is Vice President of the Board of Directors of Arts Alliance Mountain Empire (AAME) and chair of AAME's Arts for Youth Committee.

Topics: Family, Theatre

Elizabeth Paxton is the lighting designer for Theatre Bristol.

This view of the light/sound booth in Theatre Bristol's ArtSpace shows how removed the technician is from the stage.