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Art teacher becomes new tech director for Theatre West

Christian Aanestad has been hard at work as Theatre West’s new tech director this fall, in addition to his longtime role as West’s art teacher.

Jillian Prescott

Lucy Polyak, Opinion editor

At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, Theatre West was left in a difficult position. Longtime technical director Jeff Smith moved to New York City and his replacement, Beth Halverson, had just gotten a new teaching position which required her to move away from Iowa City as well. This left Theatre West directors Katy Nahra and Ann Rocarek unsure of what the technical side of West’s theater department was going to look like in the following year. When school began in late August, it was announced that art teacher Christian Aanestad would be the one to fill the open position.

Throughout his fifteen years at West, Aanestad has found himself helping out with Theatre West productions quite a few times, so it felt like a natural fit for him to take on the role.

“We’ve been trying to get Christian more involved with the theater program every year … he’s always been part of our program. We were just waiting for a chance like this to get him to do more and now we’ve finally convinced him to work with us,” Rocarek said.

We’ve been trying to get Christian more involved with the theater program every year … he’s always been part of our program. We were just waiting for a chance like this to get him to do more.”

— Ann Rocarek

While he’s done a number of things for Theatre West in the past, none of them were quite the job of a tech director. He’s had his students create posters, murals and other artwork for shows, but the real experiences that have prepared him for this job have been ones involving his family.

“I love to build things. My dad owned a construction company from the time I was about ten. Framing and constructional things make sense to me and from an art standpoint, you have to learn how to stretch canvases. Building set panels is basically like building a canvas stretcher,” Aanestad said.

Carpentry isn’t the only part of his art background that Aanestad is bringing to his new job. His years looking at life through an artistic lens have him well prepared to work on the technology aspects of Theatre West.

“My little brother is a professional musician currently with a big band so he tours all over and has sound guys, but when he was touring on his own I did a lot of [his] sound things and lighting with him. I had to learn some of that stuff that way,” Aanestad said. “The lighting I understand because that comes with the art background: how you properly light something to either highlight or eliminate shadows and also to bring out the colors of things.”

Since he has such a large artistic background, Aanestad is hoping to teach the crews that he runs to look at their jobs more as works of art, as opposed to just a necessary part of the shows.

“I think of everything as a piece of artwork. I can already see it in my brain and I’m hoping I can get [the set crew] to see [set building] like you’re painting a picture. I want to help the students think of things from an artistic end and not just, ‘Ok we need to get things to look like this.’ I look forward to talking Nahra and Ro into some crazy ideas if I stick with all of this,” Aanestad said.

I think of everything as a piece of artwork. I can already see it in my brain and I’m hoping I can get [the set crew] to see [set building] like you’re painting a picture.”

— Christian Aanestad

The students Aanestad has worked with thus far have really begun to jump on board with his ideas. One of the two set crew chiefs, Kaushik Raghavan ’20, feels as though Aanestad has been great at creating a positive environment in the set workshop.

“Honestly he’s been a fresh new breeze [for] set. He’s really focused the first couple of weeks on cleaning the shop, something that hasn’t been done in a while. I like how he explains what he wants to do everyone, [that’s] something that makes life easier for everyone,” Raghavan said.

Rocarek agrees that hiring Aanestad was a step in the right direction for Theatre West. She believes that he promotes the values of Theatre West, in addition to being incredibly good at what he does.

“The best part about working with Christian is that, yes, he’s creative and good at building things but he’s also a teacher. That really goes along with our philosophy that we’re teachers first,” Rocarek said. “We really want kids to not only enjoy their experience but also learn how to do theater, like learning the craft of stage design. It’s nice to have him not only be so good at what he does, but also to be so willing to teach the kids his knowledge.”

While Aanestad is plenty prepared for the work ahead of him, the tradition of West High excellence is something that intimidates him a bit.

“Meeting expectations that have already been set [is nerve-racking]. Theatre West’s level of production has been phenomenal, the sets have been phenomenal … I don’t want to come out with something and have everyone go ‘ugh, that’s sub-par.’ I think if you’re an artist or any kind of performer then that’s where you’re always at,” Aanestad said. “That’s the pressure of West High. The wonderful thing and the horrible thing about West High is that the expectations are always high.”

Although Theatre West’s reputation of excellence sets quite a high bar, Aanestad isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, the most difficult tasks are some of the most enjoyable ones to him.

“I get most excited about the things that seem impossible– the things that Katy [Nahra] and Ann [Rocarek] say that I can’t really do. I love the idea of wowing someone with something we did from a set or lighting standpoint … I think creating a realistic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade experience [for a scene in “Miracle on 34th Street”] is the biggest challenge,” Aanestad said. “It takes the stage beyond the stage and maybe or maybe not that including a gigantic balloon is the goal, or at least the illusion of a gigantic balloon. Those kinds of things will be the thing that should make that experience even more [great].”

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About the Contributors
Lucy Polyak, Columns Editor

Lucy Polyak is a senior at West High and this is her second year on staff. She is a reporter and the columns editor for both web and print publications. Lucy spends most of her time onstage in choir, show choir, and theatre but also loves to sit in her room watching classic movie musicals.

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Jillian Prescott, Videographer

Jillian Prescott is a sophomore at West High School. This is her first year on staff, and she is a videographer. In Jillian’s free time she enjoys spending time with her dog, and doing art.

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Alyssa Skala, Photographer

Alyssa Skala is a sophomore at West High and she is a first year photographer on staff. In her free time she likes to play volleyball and is involved in a lot of clubs.

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Art teacher becomes new tech director for Theatre West