Senior Simpson explores woodworking passion


Meredith Bell

Senior Nolan Simpson screws wood planks together with a drill to build a plywood rack.

Meredith Bell

After discovering a passion for working with wood to build sets for tech theater, senior Nolan Simpson spends most of his time creating and organizing in the scene shop. 

“I find that building things is the most enjoyable part of tech,” Simpson said. “The scene shop helped me realize how bad of a state I was in; I didn’t have many friends, and most of the time, I’d just come home and play video games; so, the start of junior year was an opportunity for me to change.”

When Simpson attended classes online during the Covid-19 pandemic, he spent much of his free time playing video games. After returning to school in person, he wanted to spend as little time on electronics as he could.

“During online school, I used to play a lot more video games than I do now,” Simpson said. “I have a vendetta against them because they’re a massive time-waster. Technology has its uses, but I try not to spend more time on it than I need to.”

Instead, Simpson tries to use technology to learn creative skills.

“When I’m working, I like to turn on YouTube videos, like ‘how engines are assembled’ or whatnot,” Simpson said. “I just like learning, and I spend a lot of my time doing that.”

At the beginning of his junior year, Simpson discovered his interest in working in the scene shop, a room near the auditorium that provides students with the space and materials to create art. Since then, he has repaired boxes, organized tools and cleaned up after theater classes. 

“I’m on very good terms with Mr. Brandhorst (art teacher John Brandhorst) because I come here a lot after school, clean up the scene shop, organize stuff and whatnot,” Simpson said. “I put all the labels in the toolshed and made two boxes because the old hammer box was not sufficient. A lot of [students] don’t have the time to clean up, and they spend more time in the theater than in here.”

Simpson and senior Dylan Kooby are currently building a new plywood rack for the scene shop because the previous rack was becoming unstable.

“Dylan and I tore that out, and we’re working on building a new one,” Simpson said. “I’m doing a fair amount of it at home with 3D modeling, and I’m working on a design that should be fairly strong and fairly simple to build.”

Kooby hopes the new plywood rack is strong enough to last for many years.

“We thought through some designs, and he planned that out through CAD modeling and sent that to me, so we have measurements, and we cleared out the space for it,” Kooby said. “We’re just hoping we can have a cohesive design, and hopefully it doesn’t get ruined within a week because we care about it, and we want kids in 20 years to care about it.”

For the winter play “Our Town,” directed by English teacher Lisa Willoughby, Simpson was awarded for his position as the tech director. He also had the ability to construct parts of the set without the help of other students.

“Ms. Willoughby gave me the Journeyman Award,” Simpson said. “There were some platforms and staircases I built myself; so, sometimes, I get that opportunity.”

Simpson received the Journeyman Award for his devotion to directing backstage and his ability to build sets quickly and efficiently. Sophomore Kate Berg worked on lighting for “Our Town,” and she thinks Simpson’s efforts to help the show go smoothly paid off.

“He was in charge of making sure that all the techies were doing their job and everything tech-related was set up for the show,” Berg said. “He did very well; we were on time, all the lights, set and sound were done, and I just think he did a good job managing everyone.”

Berg appreciates Simpson’s dedication to cleaning up the scene shop because it is often left in disarray. 

“If he were not cleaning up the scene shop, it would be a mess, and we would not be able to get anything done,” Berg said. 

Simpson thinks his passion for maintaining the shop and using it as a creative space is an opportunity any student can take advantage of.

“You have to put your own foot forward and want to do things,” Simpson said. “I could’ve come to the scene shop since freshman year, but I didn’t realize that opportunity was there until I decided to go after school one day.”