Despite the fact that he's one of the most ubiquitous figures in Philadelphia theater, you would be lucky to spot Thom Weaver in his home city. On this particular April day, he has just arrived in Austin, Texas, from New Brunswick, N.J., and within a few days, he'll be heading to Baltimore.
It might be tiring, but the 35-year-old lighting designer - who is also artistic director of Flashpoint Theatre Company in Philadelphia - has spent more than half his life working to become a behind-the-scenes renaissance man, so he's not complaining.
"There are a lot of people right now who can't be doing what they love," he said in a recent phone interview from Austin. He doesn't take anything for granted. "I happen to be lucky in that I work extremely hard on doing something I love."
An affinity for theater runs in Weaver's family, dating back to his vaudevillian great-grandparents. Both his parents were high school drama teachers, and his two sisters are actresses. So, growing up in Cherry Hill, theater was part of his daily life. He was so accustomed to it that he couldn't recall the spark that ignited his interest in lighting design. Having tried his hand at other aspects of production, it just felt right.
"There's something about the ephemeral language of light that I just kind of innately understood," he says. "I'm still not entirely sure why."
The knack came as a surprise. He wasn't an artist - he couldn't draw or paint. But he was glad to have found his niche in a legacy of craftsmen and performers.
"I think everyone is looking for their voice as a means of expressing themselves," he says. "And [lighting] design just turned out to be mine."
He wasted no time getting his feet wet. At 17, he wrote letters to lighting designers asking for career advice. John Hoey, a legendary local lighting designer, responded with an invitation to assist in the Arden Theatre Company's 1995 production of A Little Night Music.
This month, 18 years later, Weaver is overseeing lighting for the same show, at the same theater, one of more than a dozen productions he's involved with this season, here and elsewhere. (One of them, Theatre Exile's well-received North of the Boulevard, ends its run Sunday.)
After college at Carnegie Mellon University and graduate school at Yale Univesity, Weaver decided to give New York a shot. He lived and worked there for eight years, rising above many other hopefuls and establishing his professional credentials. But despite his success, he missed the sense of community he had felt in Philadelphia.
"I wouldn't call it cut-throat, but everyone kind of looks out for themselves," he says of his New York theater colleagues. "Even the nature of the work is more, 'Who's going to see me do this and put me in something bigger?' It's never about the work you are actually doing."
Coming back to Philadelphia was "the best decision I ever made," Weaver says. When he returned, his work, relationships, and life improved dramatically. He has racked up 14 Barrymore Award nominations for lighting and taken home two.
Several years ago, he realized that contentment wasn't enough. Confident of his abilities as a lighting designer, he was looking for other outlets. When he spotted an ad seeking candidates for artistic director of the Flashpoint Theater Company, he regarded it as something to think about - a potential career path somewhere down the line. But, to familiarize himself with the job pool, he applied on a whim.
Three months later, the post was his.
He hardly knew what the job entailed when he began the 2010-2011 season, so, he says, he surrounded himself with the best talent he could find - high-caliber young playwrights like Jacqueline Pardue Goldfinger and Terell Alvin McCraney, directors Rebecca Wright and Matt Pfeiffer, and an array of local acting talent including Keith Conallen, Kevin Meehan, Corinna Burns, and Cathy Simpson - and that has been the company's "operating agenda" ever since.
With three successful seasons under his belt, Weaver is satisfied with what he has produced at Flashpoint and excited about the direction the company is taking. Beyond that, he has no desire to predict the future. With a new project beginning every two weeks, he just doesn't have the time.
"I generally don't have long-term goals, because it's different every day," he says. "I just do whatever the next show is." Despite acknowledging that his 401(k) and retirement will have to be addressed eventually, he couldn't be happier to be living an "of-the-moment" lifestyle in this "kinetic space."
In the world of theater, there's no place for passivity, and if he were on the receiving end of a letter similar to those he wrote as a 16-year-old, Weaver says, he would advise the sender to be as aggressive as possible.
"Pound on as many doors as you have to, write as many letters as you need to, call as many people as you can," he says. "It's a 3,000-year-old profession. It's not going to come to you."
He has taken his own advice to heart.