Many people go through life never discovering their passion; even more regrettable are the ones who know their passion, yet don’t act on it. Thom Weaver is one of those rare souls who uncovered theirs early in life and has created a successful career doing what he loves—and has obvious expertise. At 34, he has already spent half his life becoming not only one of America’s top lighting designers, but quite possibly the busiest theater artist working in Philadelphia today.
Whether it was the dawn rising over an isolated shack in A Moon for the Misbegotten, or the dreary winter sky that we glimpsed through a grimy window of a Dublin apartment in Shining City, Weaver has shown a unique ability to capture the ephemeral nature of light in a moment that is disappearing as quickly as it emerges. “Light is part of my life; it’s not just my medium,” he says. “I am constantly aware of light. Night or day, there’s always some part of my mind seeing and storing the light around me.”
Weaver contributed to an astounding 24 separate productions last season; for the 2012-13 season, he’s actually cutting back a little, to 15. That’s pretty remarkable in an industry notorious for its stratospheric unemployment rates.
Weaver has received an amazing 14 Barrymore Award nominations and has won twice—his first for the Wilma Theater’s production of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. Set in two adjoining spaces, the lighting not only was instrumental in directing the audience’s attention, but exquisitely captured the particular color and texture of early electrical lighting devices. His second Barrymore came just last month for his work on Theatre Exile’s mysterious drama Knives in Hens. Doubling as the production’s scenic designer, Weaver’s atmospheric shading immersed the audience in a strange, bewitching world that was as memorable as it was vivid.
This year, he’s already designed the lights for two productions at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, and, at this moment, he is simultaneously working on five productions. Last week, Weaver was in technical rehearsals for Next to Normal, which opens Wednesday at the Arden Theatre; preparing to begin tech on UArts’ A Free Man of Color; in meetings for both A Christmas Carol at Milwaukee Rep and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Syracuse Stage; drafting Drexel University’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; and preparing for his third season as the artistic director at Flashpoint Theatre Company, where he will work on the company’s three productions as both the scenic and lighting designer.
At 17, Weaver began writing letters to lighting designers in search of career advice. One of those who responded was John Hoey, the famed dean of Philadelphia lighting designers. Hoey invited Weaver to drop by a show he was working on “to see what we do.” With Hoey serving as his mentor, Weaver spent the spring of 1995 working as an intern on the Arden Theatre Company’s staging of A Little Night Music. Eighteen years later, he’ll serve as the lighting designer when the Arden revisits A Little Night Music next spring, concluding the company’s 2012-13 season.
He considers only two key questions, he says, when creating his designs: “What do I want everyone to look at, and how do I want them to look at it?”