How many nerds does it take to change a light bulb?
By Cathy Mentzer
On campus, if you needed professional lighting to enhance a performance or wanted someone to set up and fine-tune a sound system, there used be no one to help you. Enter the Nerd Crew, a self-named band of students who provide audiovisual support on a volunteer basis.
Demand for the crew’s services has grown steadily since it helped Orchesis with lighting for the dance ensemble’s fall 2018 performance. Since then, the group has helped with lighting and/or sound design for a variety of events, including the annual Muhibbah Club performance, Common Hour events, Poetry Night, concerts, dances and other performances on campus. One crew member even designed the lighting for last year’s Cumberland Valley School of Music performance of the play Annie Jr.
“They have filled a niche that no one knew needed to be filled and they’ve claimed it as their own,” said Wilson Chaplain Derek Wadlington, who was instrumental in forming the Nerd Crew. Wadlington, who has a background in theatrical lighting and sound design, encouraged a few students to take on audiovisual support for campus events. It grew from there.
The group’s work has added a professional touch and flair to campus events. “They’re a tremendous help and really enhance the performing arts here at Wilson,” said Assistant Professor of Dance Megan Mizanty. “Since the Nerd Crew started collaborating with Orchesis, they’ve transformed the appearance of the stage. Having lighting design incorporated into each dance creates much more nuance and changes the way the dance appears completely.”
The Nerd Crew has fun with its name, which its members proudly chose for themselves. “I identify as a nerd,” said crew member James Pasaribu ’22. “It really is like a badge of honor. We’ve been thinking about getting T-shirts.”
“We didn’t want to be called the Wilson College AV Club,” added Sarah Schaffner, one of the two original crew members, along with Adrianna Broome ’21. “I think part of the fun of being called Nerd Crew is that Derek has to go to meetings and actually say the words ‘nerd crew.’”
Schaffner and Pasaribu are Curran Scholars, for whom helping others is part of a volunteer requirement for their scholarship. But the students say that’s not why they do it.
“I really like it as something different from what I usually do,” said Schaffner, who is majoring in animal studies and enjoys being part of the creative process behind the shows she’s worked on. “Since my major is science-based, it’s an opportunity for me to experience the humanities side of Wilson College.”
An international student from Indonesia, Pasaribu happened to be in Wadlington’s office when the chaplain had to rush off to meet with Schaffner and Broome to set up lights for Orchesis. “Derek said, ‘Do you have the next two hours free?’ He asked if I could help him bring cables over,” Pasaribu said. “I learned to set up lighting that day. It was all spontaneous and that’s what I like about it.”
Pasaribu is most attracted to the technical aspects of the work, but also likes collaborating with fellow students and others to add a new dimension to their projects. “It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time,” said Pasaribu, who is majoring in psychology.
Broome, a graphic design major, says being in the Nerd Crew lets her keep a low profile while still being an active participant in campus life. “I like the idea of stage crew more than being a performer,” she said. “It allows me to be involved in these events, which I really like, and it’s another creative outlet, which I also enjoy.”
The Nerd Crew’s projects require considerable commitment because of the time it takes to plan, set up and then operate lights during an event. When the crew lights an Orchesis performance, for example, members meet with student choreographers to talk about their vision for the piece and then work together to develop a lighting scheme.
“The first question we ask the choreographers is if they have any ideas for the lights. We always ask them for suggestions first,” said Broome, who this year is helping an Orchesis member whose senior capstone project involves taking photographs of dancers. Broome is contributing by working with the student to creatively light the photos.
This year, the Nerd Crew has become part of Wilson’s drama club, the Kittochtinny Players—a move that makes it eligible for funding from the Wilson College Government Association, according to Wadlington, who advises the club.
Crew members, as well as Wadlington, say although new lighting was purchased for the recently renovated Sarah’s Coffeehouse, the College’s biggest performance space—Laird Hall—is in need of new equipment and they hope to get the College or a donor to invest in upgrades.
“It’s not like my legacy, per se, but I would really like to see Laird’s lights upgraded before I leave,” said Parasibu, adding with a grin, “That means I have two and a half years.”