Interview: Nathan Waywell – An Instrumental Influence, Or A Culture Of Entertainment

March 26, 2022

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Nathan Waywell, a member of well-known bands including Amersham and Cassette and an alumnus of Parktown Boys High School, has drawn on both of these aspects of his personal history to create, or help develop, two innovative projects – an educational musical and, opening on 7 April, Studio 91 – a multimedia creative studio at the school. The facility will have an Apple Computers Creative Network and green screen capability, to not only do audio and video recordings, hold interviews and set up podcasts, but also enable students to explore animation, sound design, editing and music production. Studio ’91 is named after the class of that year, who donated all the funds for its construction.

“A few years back, I was looking to do something with meaning, so I wrote a solo album and shopped it around. I only really got one good review, which asked the question: what would this project be like onstage?” recalls Waywell.

“I thought about that and felt maybe it could be an educational thing – maybe  a van going out into the sticks with some sponsored gear; putting up a projector and teaching about positive innovation for the future, plus some music and dancing.”

And so a seed was sown, though it took time to mature.

“With Parktown Boys celebrating their centenary in 2023, I was asked to get involved with one of my old bands,” explains Waywell. “It was difficult to explain the concept I had: the future, STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics], textbooks – all of that coming to life and all performed in a style suitable for high school learners. Not in the style of a 50-year-old who likes Creedence Clearwater Revival…

“The idea here is to create a production in which the music can be refreshed according to the popular style of the day. So Beyonce this year, then The Weeknd, say. And then we can also change the content as science progresses – take in what’s is happening with the latest space telescope or whatever.

“As the school started to understand what I was talking about, a need was identified; a need to create a space where the boys can write and record. Money was raised via the Parktonian Foundation. My year, the class of ’91, came in with R300,000, plus some other input, such as expertise from an architect friend.”

The impact of this studio on the cultural offering at Parktown will be considerable.

“It grows the school’s reputation in the right areas,” notes Waywell. “Respect will be given to those who are creative, allowing the boys to learn valuable lessons. That said, we don’t want to create that sort of ‘do it for the school’ pressure. The boys must get involved for themselves. It’s so important to focus on each individual – if the school gets a good reputation, it should be because the people who come out of the place are capable.”

Closing in on that goal has been a challenging process.

“It’s been push and pull; people not understanding the vision and then later getting on board,” admits Waywell. “It’s great, though, for public schools to be as progressive as their private counterparts. Usually, we don’t offer awards for art as an extra-curricular activity. These guys will be going the extra mile, so there will need to be criteria that allow them to be given appropriate recognition.”

There will be other positive outcomes, too.

“Hopefully, the studio will be the antidote to the everyone’s-an-expert, superficial input on music that is so common as the boys see what’s behind it,” says Waywell.

And the musical that was the original driver behind the infrastructure will have a space in which to be expanded and updated.

“It has to always have the same basic structure,” explains Waywell, “using the STEM subjects and the songs I’ve written. I’ve written seven; they’ll only need to use four each year, depending on their preferred focus at the time. There plot is open-ended, allowing each year’s students to come up with their own thing. And if theirs is better than mine, great! The essential story is built around a young boy and girl who are into superheroes. They then learn that many of those heroes’ powers are grounded in science, and by the end, as doctors of science, they’re able to replicate all of those powers. But nothing is set in stone – the kids have to fill in all the spaces.”

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