Heather Layman, ’00, arrived at Simpson expecting to become an engineer. She now travels the country, living out of a suitcase, helping to load and unload the lighting equipment for touring musicals, then making sure everything works as it should.
That’s quite a career switch. Her story serves as a good example of how young people who show up on the Simpson campus expecting to pursue a chosen field find something else that interests them even more.
When Layman was enrolling, someone noticed on her transcript that she had been involved in theatre at Corning (Iowa) High School, where she graduated. “So they asked me if I wanted to see about a theatre scholarship,” Layman says. “I said, ‘More money? Sure.’ And that’s how I got involved.”
During her freshman year, she worked on a lighting crew and liked it. She also found faculty members who
“When I started in the theatre, the idea of a career never went through my head,” she says. “It wasn’t something that you thought about growing up in rural Iowa. My professors showed me it was possible to make a career of it.”
She says her advisor, Jennifer Ross Nostrala ’85, “encouraged me to see the possibilities,” while Steve McLean, professor of theatre arts design and technical direction, “gave me responsibilities early on, which allowed me to grow and understand what technical theatre is all about.”
Says McLean, “As far as Heather being a math major and ending up with a career in theatre, the explanation goes to the very definition of a liberal arts institution such as Simpson. Because of our size and the character of a liberal arts degree, students with a passion in more than one discipline are encouraged to explore both, or discover others.”
Layman has worked on several productions, including “9 to 5,” “Legally Blonde,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Light in the Piazza,” “The Full Monty,” and “Annie.” She’s currently working as the deck electrician and moving light technician for the musical “Memphis,” which opened in October in, of all places, Memphis, and is scheduled to be performed in 31 cities through 2012.
She’s also responsible for loading and unloading the musical’s lighting equipment in every town.
“Living out of a suitcase does get a little old sometimes, but I get to see so many different places,” Layman says. “I’ve seen a lot more of the country than I ever thought I would growing up.”
She describes her job this way: “When things break, I’m the one who fixes them.” This, she says, is where her Simpson math background proves valuable.
“I do a lot of problem-solving in my job,” she says, “and I work with numbers a lot. My problem-solving experience with math helps me with problem-solving here.”
What sorts of problems?
“There have been a few experiences where we’ve lost control of the lights and the stage has gone dark,” Layman says. “And there have been a couple of sparking, flame issues. You just sort of go into fix-it mode and do what you need to get it done and fixed.”
Based in Altoona, Iowa, Layman says she may be able to visit the Simpson campus when “Memphis” stops in Des Moines next year. Then it will be off to another adventure in a new city.
“I’ll just hop from show to show until there comes a point in my life where I decide I don’t want to hop from show to show anymore,” she says.