Finding a passion in the After School Tech Program
Zack Laabs has found his niche working behind the scenes.
As a high school freshman he heard about the After School Tech Program with the Park City Performing Arts Foundation and decided to give it a try.
In four years he has worked with top people in the industry, met renowned artists, including B.B. King, and discovered a passion to pursue in college.
"Not only is his progress great, but he is irreplaceable," said Technical Director for the Performing Arts Foundation Jim Craig. "We all just think he’s the greatest, he’s there for everything we do."
Through the program Laabs gained enough experience to earn a tuition waiver from Weber State University where he will study theatrical arts. Craig is also a graduate from WSU and nudged Laabs in that direction.
"He was thinking about the military and a little bit about college, but I was pushing for college," Craig said.
Laabs credits Craig as a mentor and friend.
"Jim I can pretty much ask about anything and he’ll tell me," Laabs said.
Laabs not only has the backing of those he works with but the entire board of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation. They had decided to give him a $500 scholarship when somebody came up with a different idea.
"We had our major donor, Mark Fox of Ideasphere, who said ‘I will match every donation the board makes,’" Executive Director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation Teri Orr said.
In the end they raised $8,000 for him to apply towards college expenses.
"When Zack first joined us he was unsure of what direction he wanted to go. He was like a lot of freshman boys, he was quiet and a bit withdrawn, certainly always interested though," Orr said.
She added that now she sees a young man with a great sense of humor and impressive work ethic.
"We’re tickled to have him as part of our crew," Orr said. "I’ve seen a tremendous blossoming of a young person. I’ve seen someone get extraordinary experiences at a young age."
Laabs said the program has taught him a great deal about self reliance and responsibility. From working the Sundance Film Festival and handling million-dollar sound equipment he has learned about professionalism in the industry.
"I’m very strict about backstage protocol, I don’t care what age you are, you don’t get to go backstage and ask band members for an autograph. We’ve very, very respectful of our artists backstage," Orr said.
During his experience Laabs said he has also gained a love for setting up shows, with sound being his favorite.
"I just remember getting my first opportunity to mix," he said it was a huge responsibility listening to how the show sounded and tweaking it for the optimum experience for the audience.
Laabs hopes to work for a major band, and the After School Tech Program helped plant the seeds for a dream of owning his own recording studio.
The program, started by former Technical Director, Alan Tucker, aims to do the same for other high school students.
"Alan just noticed that there were some high school students that were just hanging around the Eccles Center that were very interested in the technical side of the theatre," Craig said.
With the realization that a program could be beneficial for students, the After School Tech Program was put in place during the late 1990’s. Some of the original students have since graduated from high school but remain involved with the Park City Performing Arts Center.
"Mainly it’s about teamwork, collaboration and problem solving," Craig said. "What it does is train you to be a problem solver and a self-starter."
Orr added that another advantage to the program is that while students do not earn school credit they do finish the program with the equivalent of a journeyman’s degree and it is the only way for students to become involved in shows hosted by the Park City Performing Arts Center.
It is open to high school students in grades 9 through 12 and the center is currently recruiting for next year. The program is free to students, while the Park City Performing Arts Center underwrites it for about $25,000 a year. Orr said donations are always welcome.
The best part of the program from Laabs’ perspective is, "Honestly the people I work with, they’re some of the best in the state."
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In an intriguing sidebar to the overall Park City Planning Commission talks about a proposed project at Park City Mountain Resort, the developer recently mentioned a future Winter Olympics in the context of the project.