The performance is spectacular. One by one, Deerfield students enter the stage immaculately dressed and shining with confidence. Their pieces, whether dance or song, are illuminated by colorful, bright lights and speakers that amplify their actions and showcase their talent. The audience smiles, cheers, and, finally, as the curtains come to a close for the last time, the whole auditorium stands on its feet in a roar of applause.
Just a few days later, students peer into the same auditorium on their way to class. The stage is dark. The speakers and microphones have been safely put away, and the curtains have been carefully folded up for their next use. The transition is seamless, but behind the scenes Production Services Coordinator John Laprade is working hard for the next event.
Born in central Massachusetts, Laprade has lived in the Pioneer Valley for the last 35 years, although he’s only been working at Deerfield for a little over three. The youngest of ten children, Laprade says, “We always had a lot of love and activity in our house…but we always felt that we shared an abundance of the essentials in life.”
After a childhood spent playing in the woods and among the hills of the Valley, Laprade went to University of Massachusetts, Amherst to study Plant and Soil Sciences. However, he quickly shifted towards English and Education and began studying to be a high school English teacher.
Mr. Laprade also began working in the theater department during college. This new interest led to being part of big touring acts in which Laprade built rock stages and continued to develop his technical skills in a range of areas including lighting, audio, production management, and stage rigging.
After spending twenty years helping to build a community at Mount Holyoke College as Director of Student Programs, Laprade came to Deerfield to find a different atmosphere: “I found a wonderful community already built, healthy, and growing.”
However, Laprade’s skills and wealth of knowledge would be vital in continuing to develop this growing community.
Visual and Performing Arts teacher Jennifer Whitcomb expressed that she was excited for Mr. Laprade to be part of Deerfield Academy as soon as she saw his résumé. Having known Laprade previously, Whitcomb knew he would be an excellent addition to the school: “He’s an incredible kind, helpful, and empathetic person. He’s a really wonderful human being.”
At Deerfield, Mr. Whitcomb has worked closely with Laprade on various projects, especially the many dance performances throughout the year. During an interview, Whitcomb stated that Mr. Laprade has “revolutionized” the dance showcases by tightening up transitions and putting in countless hours to prepare lighting cues and program the technical skeleton for each dance in advance so the dancers and choreographers experience less wear and tear.
Not only is Mr. Laprade mindful of the performers, he also takes care of the students running tech, or “techies,” by empowering them with knowledge and skill while also letting them be independent, and even making sure that they’ve eaten dinner.
“He’s a total wizard!” Ms. Whitcomb said. “One of the nicest perfectionists I have ever met in my life. He will go the extra distance to make any event perfect. It’s very rare we come across someone like him.”
As a dancer who has performed and choreographed multiple numbers in previous dance showcases, Quinn Soucy ’19 has also experienced Laprade’s incredible worth ethic and his willingness to share his knowledge with students, particularly in the arts.
In an interview, Mr. Laprade himself spoke about the exceptional caliber of performances at Deerfield, and his constant awe at the effort students put into their pieces. To showcase this talent, Mr. Laprade works to enhance the student’s vision, a mark of professionalism and understanding which Soucy greatly respects.
“He understands artist and what they need in their relationship with him as far as the input that he can give without disrupting an artistic vision,” Soucy remarked. “He finds a way to give helpful input and be respectful of the arts.”
But Mr. Laprade’s understanding of an artist’s vision goes well beyond being helpful. Soucy observes that he also has an incredible ability to make an abstract vision a reality.
“I came into the dance department not knowing anything about lights, or curtains, or what a cyc was.” Soucy remembered, “So, for my very first piece, I just wrote things down, and somehow, I don’t know how he does it, he can just make anything you want come to life.”
The secret to Mr. Laprade’s inspiration is simple: the people around him including the Deerfield students and faculty: “…their energy, earnestness, and brilliance…I’m moved by people of conviction everywhere, like the folks who sit in trees to stop old growth logging or take a stand against unjust politics, practices or policies. And by all those people who are portraits in courage as they triumph over adversity and challenges in their lives. There are so many sources of inspiration in the people all around us.”
Production Services Technician Samuel Watson, who began working with Mr. Laprade in August of this year, also marveled at Laprade’s abilities saying, “He can do about anything…he built his own house! He’s incredibly capable.”
Watson remarks that he has learned so much from Laprade, and, when listing some of the jobs they do on a daily basis, Watson also expressed how incredible it is that Laprade did it it all on his own: “He was one guy running the starship enterprise!”
It’s obvious that Laprade has made a great mark on the Deerfield community and beyond. Whether it be a task like sorting out, moving equipment, communicating with people for events, organizing schedules, or even manning the confetti cannons at Cardi B and Skrillex concerts, Mr. Laprade does it all with sincerity, professionalism, and kindness.
However, while these jobs encompass his title as Production Services Coordinator, Mr. Laprade’s additional abilities to understand students and faculty alike and turn dreams into realities seems more like a magical gift than anything else.
“He’s running this school in a way that enhances all of our experiences here quietly behind the scenes with very little acknowledgement.” Ms. Whitcomb added.
Mr. Laprade may be a “total wizard,” a superhero, and the commander of a spaceship working in the lighting booth which Soucy described as a “mysterious place.” But the only way to find out is to step behind the curtain and meet him in yourself! Artist or not, Mr. Laprade changes the way each and every student sees Deerfield. Remember, as Soucy remarked right at the beginning of her interview: “Not all heroes wear capes.”