My father is a lighting designer in the Boston area, primarily working in Dance. I began helping him out when I was about 14, and fell into the role of Master Electrician/Assistant Designer/Co-Designer very quickly. I loved learning how to re-wire an instrument, color theory, how to work with clients, and especially how to create gorgeous lights that supported the work that other people had done on the production.
I studied theatre in high school and college, and began designing professionally while I was in college. Once, my Assistant Designer took home a set of gels during tech and forgot to bring them back the next day. I got so mad that I knew the process was incredibly important to me. I also made him go home to get the gels. That moment taught me that I wanted to be involved in theatre design as long as I live, and that I needed to be choosey.
I am not only a designer, though - my Masters is in Applied Theatre, and I specialize in creating original theatre work with non-theatrical populations. I have gotten to do projects in Nepal, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Qatar, and the USA, and each project reminds me of the power of theatre to open up dialogue. Theatre will always be an integral part of my life, but may not always take a traditional form.
Why New York? How did you make your way to the city?
My first job out of college - working with incarcerated youth in Washington DC - fell through because the organization lost their grant. I had gone to college in New Jersey, so I had a group of folks in NYC. On my way to JFK to do Birthright, I stayed with a college friend who needed a new roommate. So I signed the lease and have been living in Brooklyn ever since.
How do you negotiate artistic need and limited resources? Is there an artistic difference between how you approach an indie show versus a show with plenty of time, money etc?
The great thing about lights is that you can make magic with very little money. It's all about the infrastructure that is in place in a space, the angles and depth of the space, and the time that I have to work. That's what is most valuable to me - time. You can create as much beauty with a few par cans as you can with a state-of-the-art system. That's a slight exaggeration, of course, but not by much.
When I have a bigger budget, it opens up options for what I can create of course. It also expands the amount of paperwork, which is useful for directors and set designers. It's a more controlled process with a larger budget, but of course nothing in the theatre is fully under anyone's control. There are still unforeseen things with any production, venue, and process. But even with a small budget, you can create a lot with color, texture, and movement. One nice thing is that even a lot of smaller venues have a pretty good rep plot.
What's exciting for you about doing an indie (or festival) show? What makes you cringe?
I love doing indie work because I get to work on projects that are artistically fulfilling. The shows tend to be challenging and surprising, which makes the process a lot of fun.
What I don't like to see, which sometimes happens at festival shows, is unrealized potential. The limitations of space, time, and money can create a vessel for extreme creativity. It is not a constant by any means, but it is disappointing when it seems that the limitations overwhelm the creative potential.
What could the indie community do to make things easier for designers all around? What could other designers/directors/producers do to make your job easier on a specific production?
I think more time is really what makes it easier. The longer we have to work on a project, the more that we can accomplish. I think that ultimately what makes the whole process easier is clear communication. The projects that have been really successful are the ones where the SMs, ASMs, Directors, Producers, and Designers are working hard to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Tell me about something you achieved recently that makes you feel really good:
Well, I just passed my Masters thesis defense. That felt pretty good.
What's coming up?
I am doing an outdoor project this summer (WHAT?), and then who knows! I may have an opportunity to go back to Afghanistan, which would be incredible.