By Iman Ahsan
Williamsville East is best known for its phenomenal plays, musicals, and concerts. The world of theater and music has left its mark on East, but the spectacular, memorable performances like Winterfest and the musical wouldn’t be possible without the help of Stage Crew.
Senior Jackson Heim has been a member of Stage Crew since his freshman year. In a light-hearted yet brutally honest interview, he said he joined the club after going to see the fall play because he not only found it really cool, but also because his guidance counselor told him that he “needs some clubs”. He shared that with Stage Crew, each member is assigned to different jobs where someone is responsible for the curtains and someone else would be responsible for the sound. Jackson said that he’s worked backstage before when he was younger, but he’s now the light director in which he operates with the lights as well as giving cues for them. When asked if part of his responsibilities include doing the spotlights, he quickly shook his head in denial and said, “I was spotlight once, and spotlight is the worst. You don’t want the spotlight. It’s awful.”
Jackson’s favorite part about being in Stage Crew is how lenient the club is as it doesn’t meet every week since there’s only a few events during the school year. However, during the week of those events, the club sometimes has to stay at school until midnight because they have to clean up after the event.
If you’re hoping for optimistic, encouraging advice on balancing stage crew on top of academic classes during Winterfest and the musical week (the most stressful times of the year), then you’ve come to the right yet simultaneously wrong place. Jackson plainly said, “I don’t. My classes suffer.” However, he did mention that sometimes the crew will be doing their homework during the rehearsals and performances whenever it’s not their time to do anything.
When asked about what was the most memorable part about being in Stage Crew, Jackson enthusiastically shared an ingrained memory from his sophomore year that involved the previous orchestra director, Mr. Moose.
“In Winterfest, there was a time when I turned off the lights when it wasn’t supposed to be off because he [Mr. Moose] had this seven minute long song, and I was like, ‘ok, it has to end’. And… like, he stopped, and I was like, ‘oh, that’s the end?’, so I turned them off, but no, it was just a break between like– you know how they have these breaks? You’d know, you’re a music student. And he gave me no indication there was going to be a break, so I turned them off, and he was like [sharply exhales]… he looked so angry, and after, I got yelled at for that. So that’s my most memorable memory.”
While that was initially a terrifying experience, Jackson now looks back on that memory with humor and recalls the uplifting support he received from his crew members after that incident. The stage crew sometimes got berated by teachers and cast members if they messed up on their cues, but more often than not, many of the teachers and cast members are often lenient and understanding with the crew. For example, during Winterfest 2021, there was a moment during a performance where the lights randomly turned on. Jackson shared that although it wasn’t him who made that mistake, he was worried about the music teachers getting upset at him for this. However, when he went to apologize to the band director Mr. Lanighan about the mistake, he said that Mr. Lanighan was very kind and understanding about it and didn’t hold the mistake against him at all. Furthermore, Stage Crew’s new club advisor is Mr. McCluskey, who also happens to be the band director for the concert band. Mr. McCluskey is notably very kind and understanding as well, and during the week of the Seussical, he was a huge help with the stage crew as well as the pit band where he played various percussion parts.
Since Jackson will be graduating this year, he gave some advice to future stage crew members, “Basically, good luck. If it doesn’t go that well then eh, it is what it is. You do your best; you’re irreplaceable. That’s the thing, it doesn’t matter whether you do good or bad, nobody can replace you because no one understands how to run the thing. I’ve seen people up there struggling with the board during concerts, so just know that you’re irreplaceable.”
Apart from Stage Crew, Jackson shared that he’s an avid video game fan and enjoys playing games like “Ace Attorney” because he’s always been a huge fan of murder mystery and likes it when games incorporate humorous elements into the dark genre by having “goofy characters”. His favorite character from “Ace Attorney” is Miles Edgeworth. Other than video games, Jackson likes to do art in his spare time, and he’s currently in AP Art where he has to create a portfolio with a focused concentration. He decided to base his art concentration on murder mystery and storytelling; his art focuses on the “balance between the dark themes of murder and the fun of what makes that genre mystery.”
Given his passion for video games and art, Jackson shared that he does sometimes consider making his own video game in the future. He said that he doesn’t envision himself working for a big company in the foreseeable future, but he can see himself becoming an independent game developer. Though, he did say that he’d be fine with working for a company like Nintendo. However, he emphasized that he’d never work for Disney as he has a “vendetta” against it.
While he can see himself becoming an indie game developer, Jackson is going to major in new media design, a mix between technology and art, at college instead. Since he was young, he’s always enjoyed watching cartoons, and he’d watch them specifically for the animation. He’s always liked cartoons because it’s something that just makes people happy, and it “keeps my [his] childish sense of wonder”.
Now that it’s the fourth marking period, many seniors are now relaxed and know their plans for the future. However, it’s commonly known that the college application process is perhaps one of the most stressful periods for seniors. The college application process was especially stressful for Jackson. Since he planned to pursue a major in the art field, many of the colleges he applied to required him to send in an art portfolio. He mentioned that he had to scrounge pieces together and had to use some old artwork as well when he was building his art portfolio.
Applying to colleges while also building an art portfolio is a highly demanding process, and having to balance schoolwork on top of that makes it even more stressful. Jackson truthfully said that the balance wasn’t too good for him as his grades did suffer a bit and he unfortunately did procrastinate until the last minute. Being able to finally submit the last college application was a huge moment of relief for him but also a little bit stressful as he was now anticipating the college’s decision.
In the end, he says it all worked out as he got into the college he wanted, and he’s doing a major in a field that he’s passionate about. According to him, his favorite part about being a senior is not having to care too much about anything since he’s all set with his post-graduation plans. As a freshman, there’s more pressure and stress to do well, but now that he’s in his final year, he can relax and take it easy as he’s close to finishing the academic year. However, he does describe being a senior as a weird period in his life where he’s legally an adult, but he doesn’t feel like one, but he also doesn’t feel like a child anymore.
While he’s always been here at East, Jackson hasn’t always lived in Williamsville; he actually moved here when he was thirteen-years-old. He said that he was born in Boston but moved to Virginia at a very young age. He used to live in northern Virginia, which he describes to be “pretty city-like” as it’s relatively close to Washington, D.C. Given the urban-like region, he had to live in a townhouse where the houses were all close to each other and had connected yards. However, when asked about whether he missed his hometown or not, Jackson flatly said, “No.”
He went on to explain that he attended middle school in Virginia, and he was in the prime year of 7th grade before moving to Williamsville, and it’s commonly known that 7th grade is the one of the worst years in middle school, so that could play a factor in why he doesn’t miss his hometown at all. Furthermore, not only was the weather very warm, but there was a huge issue with bugs over there in which there’d be swarms of mosquitoes and even locusts at times. There were also a lot of ticks since he lived near a forest, so the issue revolving around bugs was pretty bad.
Regarding the comparison between school in his hometown versus school here, Jackson said that his old school was much harder and competitive. The classes would be extremely challenging due to the highly competitive nature of the school, and the school was also very crowded with almost 2000 students attending despite the school only consisting of 7th and 8th graders. Jackson describes his experience in Williamsville to be much better as the school environment here is less stressful and the teachers are kind, and there are fewer students.
However, as with many schools, there’s an immense pressure on students to know exactly what they want to do in the future the minute they step foot into high school. Not every student knows what they want to be in the future, which creates a lot of pressure and stress among them.
As a senior, Jackson has been through that stress, and he offers some final advice to those facing that situation right now:
“You don’t have to figure it out right away. I still don’t really know where I’m going; I could end up working for a big company right after. I mean, I could end up doing something completely different like technology or something instead of art. I could end up dropping out of high school and becoming a streamer– no, not high school. Don’t drop out of high school! I could end up dropping out of college and becoming a streamer or something. Like, who knows where my life is going to take me, right? So, I say don’t stress about it so much. If you have a specific hobby, look into that and look into a lot of the jobs that are in that. Like, kind of like decide what you want through that, but if it doesn’t work out– like, I didn’t get my first choice in animation– it’s just, sometimes life takes you in weird places, and like, it works out.”