Staff Q&A: Rowan Winterwood

Honour Lackey, Creative Content & PR Intern

Apr 29, 2024

A womanb with short brown hair is captured from the shoulders up against a black background.

Get to know the new staff member illuminating the dance, theater and music programs at the Wex.

Any stage performance aims to immerse the viewer in a unique, enveloping atmosphere. The efforts to create that environment go beyond what’s on stage—which is why the Wexner Center for the Arts is always looking to spotlight those working behind the scenes.

This April, the Wex welcomed Rowan Winterwood to the Wex’s Tech Operations team as a Lighting Supervisor. With extensive experience in stage management as well as lighting operations—and having performed on stage herself—Winterwood’s perspective goes far beyond the switchboard.

Recently, Winterwood joined us at the Heirloom Café to discuss her past work, what she loves about lighting design and her path to the Wex.


Where are you from, and how did you get involved in lighting design?

I’m from Columbus, I grew up in Clintonville. I went to Wellesley College, right outside of Boston. I moved back here in 2018 and started working freelance in theater. It’s what I studied in school, but I didn’t know it was possible to go into as a career.

I fell into lighting accidentally when I moved back to Columbus—I thought, ‘Okay, I’m just going to find something helping in backstage while I look for other employment’—but it ended up snowballing into a lot of freelance work. I got to make a lot of connections and hone my skills in a short period of time.

From fall of 2021 up until now, I’ve been full-time freelancing, working on a whole hodgepodge of things. I work with the Actors’ Theatre of Columbus—I’m the co-artistic director, and I’m co-directing Twelfth Night this summer, which will be my third show with them. I was also the Master Electrician for The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio.

I saw this position open up, and I hadn't really considered like that sort of path for myself—working all in one place, more of a 9-to-5 thing. This is really the only position that I would have considered making that change for. The team that I'm working with is so incredible, and that was such an influence on my decision to come here.

What made you pursue work at the Wex?

I think the things that were really important to me were having some flexibility with my schedule and being able to do really exciting creative work. There’s not a lot of full-time positions where that's possible.

There are so many people that were like, ‘Oh, I've been here for 20 years,’ and the fact that people still love working here, it’s not something you get a lot. I've worked a lot of places where there's a lot more burnout. To see people still being excited about work makes a big difference.

The opportunity to learn and grow is important to me. A lot of what I have done in the past has been very self-motivated—I can definitely learn things on my own. But I haven’t had someone I’ve been working with that I’ve been learning from, so that was a huge factor for me—being able to learn from Sonia [Baidya, the Wex's programming production manager].

For those of us who don’t know—what exactly is lighting design?

When groups come through the performance space, sometimes they'll send a light plot ahead of time, saying, ‘This is how I want the lights to be when they arrive, hanging these lights in these places,’ and so it'll be my job to make that happen. I’ll work with them to make sure it's within our resources, within in our budget, renting things if necessary.

Sometimes there'll be groups with a less clear idea of what they want in terms of lights, so I’ll work with those groups to figure out their lighting needs together. That I think, is where there's an opportunity to be more creative—to hear what it is that they're visualizing, and then be able to make that happen.

I know you have onstage experience, as well. How does that factor into your work?

I was very much a backstage person, first and foremost. I started in middle school theater with stage managing and I did that all through high school. I really was like reluctant to go on stage at all, but I was curious about it.

I didn't really do it much until college. I was in the Wellesley College Shakespeare Society, and we were required to act in the show our first semester. My first role with them was in Taming of the Shrew, and then I acted and like a lot of Shakespeare scenes for various events for that group.

I think it all relates together and informs everything else that I do. Having a strong sense of what every other department is doing helps me do my job better. When I'm doing lights, I know how the actors feel, and I know how stressful it is to be on stage. So, I can also talk with actors directly and be like, ‘Here's how you find your light on stage. Here's what it should feel like.’ I know that both as an actor and a lighting person.

What’s your favorite show you’ve done lighting for?

Lately, it would have to be Ghost Quartet, which is a musical by Dave Malloy that Available Light Theatre did this past October.

It was a cool show to do because it was in Studio One of the Riffe Center Theatre Complex, and I'd worked in that space before, and I had also just learned how to busk for the first time for music shows at the Columbus Commons last summer. I was able to pull some of those skills and combine what I learned out in the Commons with what I knew about theatrical stage cueing. I had such a blast working on it. 

It was set in a grungy bar, and part of the actual set included these pendant lights. One of the lights the set designer had found and brought it in, and I was like, ‘This is gorgeous.’ She was envisioning that there'd be more around the stage, and I said, ‘Yes, I'm so with you there,’ but I went to thrift stores and could not find anything. I knew that I had the perfect lamp at home, but it's my living room light! I ended up taking it down and bringing it in and putting it up for the show.

What about the Wex space excites you the most?

Being able to see all the really interesting stuff that comes through here. I got to see The Nosebleed—at that point I did not even know about this job, I just came to see it because a friend of mine had posted about it on Instagram. It was so incredible. I was like, ‘Wow, cool. This is like one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen.’

I'm really excited to be more involved in those things and to work on something that's that exciting, every show.

Why, after so much experience stage managing, did you pursue the avenue of as backstage work?

When I showed up in college, I really wanted to stage manage a production. I was asking the student group, ‘Do you need a stage manager for the show? Do you need an assistant stage manager?’ And they were like, ‘No, we've got those positions filled, but we really need a lighting designer.’

I learned very quickly, and then the next semester, people were like, ‘Oh, you did lights on that last show—will you do lights for our show?’ It kind of snowballed that way.

I stayed with it because I love that every show is different. I love that every show ends—that there’s a very hard deadline works well in my brain. And it's this combination of something that's so beautiful, but also very technical. I get to do things that are very hands on, but also get to create things that are beautiful.

You’ve mentioned how excited you are to work with the Wex team—how is that going, so far?

In my initial phone screen with Sonia, I was sold, because she's just so delightful.

Sonia and the team have been very, like, accommodating, and everyone at the Wex has just been so nice.

It’s an unexpected kind of turn in my career, but it feels absolutely right.


Top of page: Rowan Winterwood, photo: Kyle Long Photography

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