Life as a behind-the-scenes artist

Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Kevin Scott Cutler | Daily News TURNAGE TECH: Stuart Lannon is technical director and facilities manager at the historic Turnage Theater in downtown Washington.

Kevin Scott Cutler | Daily News
TURNAGE TECH: Stuart Lannon is technical director and facilities manager at the historic Turnage Theater in downtown Washington.

Stuart Lannon is an artist, but instead of oil paints and watercolors he uses sound and lighting to help create masterpieces.

His role as technical director and facilities manager at the Turnage Theater in downtown Washington makes him a bit of a Renaissance man, as well.

“I work with all the different touring groups that come here and make sure they have the equipment they want,” he said during a break in setting up for an upcoming show. “I also do all the sound and lighting for all the shows; if it’s something where I do need help, I’m responsible for hiring extra help.”

Audience members of any Turnage show can appreciate Lannon’s work, even if they have never seen him face to face.

“If it happens on stage, I’m responsible for all the things that go on on stage … moving scenery, lighting, sound, curtain, the works,” he noted.

As facilities manager, his job takes him in another direction. He’s responsible for the upkeep of the historic, circa 1930 theater; that entails construction, roofing and plumbing.

“If it breaks here, I fix it,” he said with a laugh. “If it’s out of my experience range, I contract for work things I can’t legally touch.”

Lannon joined the Turnage team Dec. 1, 2013 in anticipation of the theater’s most recent Jan. 14, 2014 reopening. But his experience there actually goes back a little further; he worked under former theater director Scotty Henley a few years ago when the theater opened its doors for the first time after an extensive overhaul that restored the beautiful building to its former glory. At that time, Lannon did some contract work for Henley for some of the Turnage shows.

“I did quite a lot of work here because  ECU was doing some of its children’s theater and summer theater here,” he said. “It kind of really made me familiar with the building.”

Born and raised in Camden County, Lannon got his start in the theater arts as an actor in high school and working as an intern at the College of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. A knee injury sidelined him, so he began working on the backstage crew. It’s then when he found he had a passion for sound and lighting.

Fast forward a few years and Lannon found himself at East Carolina University pursuing degrees in lighting and sound engineering and theater education. His teaching internship was at Washington High School, he added. His professional life also included freelance touring, serving as a consultant and training other tech professionals.

Upon his return to eastern North Carolina, he re enrolled at ECU and met his future wife, Mandy.

“Our plan was to marry and move to a bigger city,” Lannon recalled. “One month before Mandy graduated, I saw the posting for this job.”

The Lannons were actually married on the Turnage stage. The theater has become a popular venue for couples looking for a non-traditional wedding setting; in fact, the Turnage hosted three weddings in September.

Lannon said he doesn’t regret not pursing work in a more metropolitan area; Washington and the Turnage have become home.

“Every single day it’s something new,” he said. “I’ve done a plethora of events here, from birthday parties with circus performers to weddings and wakes, films, galas and live theater and concerts. It keeps you on your toes.”

Lannon has a positive outlook on the future of the theater in a struggling economy. But there are a few hurdles to overcome, he added.

“We have major roof repairs that are needed, so we’re looking for funding options to foot the bill,” he said. “But we’ve doubled attendance in one year’s time. The theater continues to grow and thrive.”

For more information on the Turnage Theatre and events hosted by Arts of the Pamlico, call 252-946-2504 or