Andy Catron, ’95, is no stranger to show business.
For the past 20 years, he’s found steady work as a lighting technician, most recently at New York City’s New Amsterdam Theatre, current home of Disney’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Aladdin.”
“My main job here at the theater is to maintain all the lights,” Catron said. “To make sure they’re working every day exactly as the lighting designer hoped they would.”
Before joining the stage crew for “Aladdin,” Catron worked on Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” which also ran at the New Amsterdam, a historic theater on 42nd Street renovated by Disney in the mid-1990s.
“You’d think with my job, things would get repetitive,” said Catron, who was there for more than 2,500 performances of “Mary Poppins.” “But the great thing about live theater is there’s always something that can change.”
Catron oversees maintenance of the theatre’s 125 moving lights and maintains the 200-plus color scrollers, mechanical devices that change the color of the lights illuminating the stage.
“I also enjoy interacting with all the other people in this industry. I’m back stage for the show, so I get to talk to the actors, the dressers, the hair stylists, the makeup artists, the stage managers,” he explained. “I get a lot of interaction because our art form is so collaborative.
“I think that’s what I enjoy about my job the most.”
Passion — key to career success
Growing up in the small town of Frankfort, Indiana, Catron said, “Nobody, including my family, would have ever thought I’d have enjoyed theater as much as I do.”
But Catron’s commitment to the arts carried through from a young age into his academic career at Ball State, where he majored in technical theater.
“When you have the passion to do what you want to do, you can be anything you want to be, even if you’re from a small town. It’s not just big-town people who get into this business, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise because you can be as successful as you want to be as long as you try hard, work hard and are nice.”
During his years at Ball State, Catron did it all — set design, lighting, costumes, acting, directing, even playwriting.
After graduating from Ball State, Catron attended graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before moving to New York City. There he got his start working on off-Broadway productions. “I was knocking on doors, getting to know electricians that worked in each of those theaters and finding some work through them. Eventually I started doing national tours, and with that I got my union card with the stagehands’ union. After that, I started doing Broadway shows.”
His first experience helping light a Broadway production was “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which debuted on The Great White Way in 2002 starring Sutton Foster, now a guest instructor at Ball State. He’s also worked on “Movin’ Out,” based on Billy Joel’s songs, and Disney’s “The Lion King,” still running as one of Broadway’s highest-grossing productions. “I’ve been very blessed to do many different shows.”
New York notices Ball State
Catron is amazed by how Ball State’s Department of Theatre and Dance has grown in size and prestige since his days there as a student.
“People in New York are noticing Ball State students. When you mention the university now to a technician, casting agent or producer, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know somebody from Ball State,” Catron said.
He credits its chair, Bill Jenkins, for helping develop the department to a point where it’s nationally recognized. “Ball State is on track to become one of the top undergrad theater programs in the country, certainly in the Midwest,” Catron said.
Faculty and administrators say they’re grateful Catron gives back to Ball State in myriad ways. In 2016, he was recognized with an award for his service to the theater department, which includes visits to campus to meet with students or help light a university production.
“We love bringing him back,” said David “Kip” Shawger, associate professor emeritus of theater. “We want to show our current students how to be not only great artists but great human beings, and Andy is a perfect example.”
Catron’s wish for Ball State’s theater program is that it continues to grow, “but I also want it to feel like a home like it did when I was there.
“It still does. I know those kids are so happy to go to class and do productions there because it’s such an intimate environment.”
Jenkins appreciates that Catron is always available to help Ball State students take those first steps toward finding their own industry success.
“He’s been personally responsible for several of our students acquiring employment and is always available for advice and mentorship. He is, without a doubt, one of our strongest advocates, and we can’t thank him enough for the support.”