Enthusiastic lighting, sound designer shares theater passion with students

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Greg Brewster, electronics specialist for the theater department, who champions professional-level lighting and sound for events, organizations and students around campus—and for a certain house in Brewerton.

Q. What are your duties in the theater department?
A. Currently, I have responsibility for all the electronics and mechanics of the lighting and sound areas—maintaining all the fixtures, training students on the lighting and sound boards as well as new technology such as moving lights, LEDs, scrollers. Often there are sound and lighting design responsibilities (for plays and other events), depending on the needs of the department. Of course, mentoring students is huge, and then I teach courses in stage electronics and mechanics and in sound design. The theater, music and broadcasting departments really collaborated to mold the audio minor.

Q. What are you doing for “Arcadia,” the spring play?
A. I’m currently mentoring a sound design student, Rachael Kepler. Sound design in college is really a different experience than high school—there’s a lot more responsibility, there’s a lot more pressure. It’s really walking the student through the experience. When you get in the professional world, there’s strict criteria you need to meet such as the paperwork side of design, choices in terms of sound effects and underscoring and how that’s going to affect the audience. Do those choices move the show along or hinder it? Finding out what works best for the needs of the show is one of the first things I teach.

Q. I understand you’re an alumnus.
A. Yes, 2005 in theater. I was on the production side, primarily focused in lighting. Being the liberal arts institution that we are, though, we needed to study it all.

Q. What was your favorite production as a student here?
A. I tended to—and I still do—love the musicals. They’re really fun and exciting. We did “Big” my last year as a student. That show was a great challenge, especially the oversized (piano) keyboard that lights up as the actors dance on it. It’s those fun technical elements that are a challenge that make working in this field great. We tied the oversized keyboard on stage to the orchestra pit via midi so the keys would light up as the pianist played, and we hoped the actors were dancing on the right keys. (Laughs)

Q. Where did you grow up? How did you come to Oswego for school, then work?
A. I graduated from Vernon-Verona High School in ‘98, then went off to (Finger Lakes) community college. I went to see “Disney on Ice,” as an outside project and started talking with the sound guy. Long story short, that turned into a job pretty much right away. That weekend I ended up quitting school and going on the road. My parents were, of course, not happy. (Laughs.) I did that for a couple years, then I helped with a production at my high school in 2000 and that was the first year we attended the high school drama festival. That’s what got me interested in Oswego.

Q. What did you do after graduation from SUNY Oswego?
A. I went right back into the touring world. I started with some kids’ shows—“Dora the Explorer,” “Thomas the Train.” I worked my way up to the more Broadway (style) shows—“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Les Mis.” Before I took the job here, I worked on the 25th anniversary tour of “Les Miserables.”

Q. What was your favorite production?
A. I would honestly say “Les Mis.” As classic as that show is and everyone knows it, we played to sold-out houses every night. We had 14 trucks and it took us two full days to load in. But the excitement when the overture starts supersedes the exhaustion from working so hard, and to hear the audience erupt into thunderous applause at the end of the show is a thrilling experience. We sat in cities seven, eight, 10 weeks at a time, and to be part of that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To be able to share that experience with students is really, really special. The connections—you network all over the country, you know stagehands in every city. Just to have that support system where you can call someone up who knows more about something, and the friendships—it’s just unbelievable.

Q. Can you give us an example?
A. I put students in touch with alums in New York all the time. Danny Walker is at Radio City as a lighting designer, and he called up last year and said, “Do you have any students who want to come down and work on the Rockettes show over Christmas break?” Oh, yeah! It’s just really great the connections we make with our alumni.

Q. What brought you back to work in Central New York?
A. My wife and I have family here. The position here opened up and I figured I would give it a shot. Education wasn’t something I had ever thought I would find myself in. But then you start to think about ... family. The road life is not ideal for that. I love the school, I love everything about the program, I wanted to give back.

Q. And did you start your own family?
A. Our daughter Eliot was born 9 months ago. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to be a dad. If there’s a show, I’m here for production, of course, and that is time away from home. They are my world and since this is a 12-month position it’s hard to be gone lots of the time. It’s long days during the semester. Every moment I can get off and spend with them is great.

Q. Are you excited by the renovation of Tyler Hall and Waterman Theatre?
A. We’re really looking forward to it. I’m currently putting together the equipment package for Waterman Theatre for all new sound and lighting equipment. Everything that’s in there is state of the art and will be such a great tool for our students. We are going to be ahead by leaps and bounds. Moving lights (for example)—swooping, panning, major color-changing lights—have really given us a whole new realm of possibilities. It’s an exciting time to be at Oswego. This will really give our students an edge.

Q. What do you think marks Oswego’s students?
A. I think they’re go-getters. They take the initiative. They really want to be involved. It’s hard because you have all the production work and all the classes and it’s tough to manage your time, but they never say no. I have actors come to me and say, “Can you train me on the light board?” I have technicians who are always in the office and trying to make a connection. You are always thinking, whom can I put them in touch with? They’re driven. They’re very talented. They’re passionate. They’re amazing.

Q. What do you think of your colleagues?
A. I really enjoy being on this campus. We have a great department. Broadcasting, music—really everyone on the campus has been fantastic. The students here are so lucky to have the faculty and staff they have. We work closely with Media Summit, Del Sarte, ALANA, Vocal Effect, Torchlight and many other organizations. I’m the adviser for Vocal Effect, financial adviser for Blackfriars and try to be as involved as I can. I’m the emcee of the drama festival here two weeks from now.

Q. You’re so passionate about this. What are your off-the-job passions?
A. My big passion—which people will laugh at—is I love to do up the whole house for Christmas. It’s one of those with thousands of lights, all LEDs, all set to music and you pull up and tune your car radio and the whole house dances to music. That’s a full year of planning and building props ... and my wife wants to wring my neck. (Laughs.) We’ve got a pool and a really nice space in back, and I’ve got this Christmas stuff set up pretty much all year ‘round. I just counted up: This past Christmas—I try to keep track when I can look out the window—we had about 1,000 cars pull up over the month it’s running. It’s fun. It’s crazy. And I love every minute of it.