Recently I sat down with one of the people that work behind the scenes for our school’s theater productions and help to make the shows run smoothly.
Zach Townsend was born in Passaic, New Jersey but moved to Richmond a short few months after birth and has been here ever since. Mr. Townsend attended Landmark Christian School in Richmond, a K-12 private school much like Collegiate. He played soccer all throughout his childhood and high school. Currently, in his free time Mr. Townsend enjoys working on his cars and truck, a hobby he claims “costs him all his extra money, but it’s fine” because it is something he is passionate about. He has worked on cars and trucks since he was ten years old; he began when the old school bus his father had needed to have the engine fixed. His father’s vehicles that he did work on were older models, thus leading to his passion for more vintage cars. One of his several cars is his 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle vehicle; currently, he is in the process of slowly but surely restoring a 1976 Beetle. His current cars both run on diesel, a feature he appreciates, considering his fairly long commute to work. Outside of restoring his old cars and trucks, he also spends much of his free time with his younger brother.
Growing up, Mr. Townsend’s set design experience was instilled in him by his father, who owned a construction company, so he grew up knowing many of the fundamentals of construction from a young age: “You know, I grew up in a family with a construction business, so that’s the other thing that I sort of learned and knew how to do, as far as for a profession. Theater just kind of became the natural thing when I started deciding about colleges and what I wanted to do in the future.” Mr. Townsend has always had an interest and a knack for construction and handiwork, as they were hobbies he grew up practicing due to his father’s influence over him and his brother and the interests they developed from watching him. Mr. Townsend got involved in carpentry, planning, assembling, etc. This prepared him for future work he would do as a crew member on the sets of shows, or rather “Crüe,” as Collegiate likes to call it.
Mr. Townsend did not always know that he wanted to be affiliated with or involved in theater. In fact, he first discovered an interest in theater around the age of fourteen or fifteen, when he saw several productions at various theaters within his community. He saw shows at his school, local repertory theaters in town, and through his church. “I think it started when I went to a couple of [little] shows and I was just kind of impressed with what I had seen because I had never been to anything like that before” Mr. Townsend explained when discussing how theater became an area of interest and the age when he first decided to consider it as a future career. He began by seeing what he could do at his church at the time with the sound, and he was able to work the soundboard and learned a basic knowledge of how sound engineering worked, and from there he slowly became more and more involved in various ways for various shows doing technical theater for the productions. “Throughout the rest of high school, I worked on various productions. I ended up working with some of the local professional theaters. You know, assisting in lighting design, and things like that, and set building. And then it was sort of a natural progression into college for me, because there was no other thing that I wanted to do necessarily.”
After high school Mr. Townsend attended Virginia Commonwealth University’s theater department in the School of Arts, so he truly has been in Richmond ever since he moved here. Before his time at VCU, he had not had any experience with the acting side of theater. However, once he got to VCU he had to spend time in all areas of the theater program: “Once you get into a program like, that you’re sort of forced to go through and take all the different elements that have to do with theater”. He took classes such as acting, sounds, makeup, costumes, scene design, and lighting, which was his goal and main area of focus that he wanted to pursue. Though he enjoyed the acting side of theater and appreciated the experience, he claims that there is good reason why he is not an actor.
I asked Mr. Townsend what it was about Collegiate that drew him to it in his decision to work here, and oddly enough he told me that he had originally had no idea that there was even an opening for the job. He had happened to be at Collegiate with a different company for construction in the theater the summer before he came to work at Collegiate; he was doing the lighting for the upcoming fall production, which happened to be the same summer that Keith Saine, the previous technical director, left. Mr. Townsend said that Mr. Shelley approached him and said that if he knew of anyone looking for a job as a T.D. that there was an opening. After struggling to think of anyone who might need the job, he decided to apply for the job himself. “It was just a matter of right time and right place, really for me to even hear about it, because otherwise I would never have known if I hadn’t been here that week” he explained.
Teachers, students, anyone else involved in the program, and even those with an affinity for the theater are thankful that he did happen to be here that week a few summers ago; he has done an amazing job not only maintaining our program’s impressive technical design, but also raising the bar for all of the productions he has worked on since he came here.
All photos by Grace Hourigan.