“I never thought this would happen. It's humbling in many ways yet invigorating and exciting in others,” says lighting designer Sean Savoie, winner of the 2009 USITT Rising Star Award, sponsored by LDI2009 and Live Design—with support from Nemetschek North America, who will present Savoie with a Vectorworks software package. The award is presented at the USITT banquet in Cincinnati on March 21. “It's incredibly energizing,” he says.

Originally from New Orleans, Savoie first studied to be an actor, but his undergrad advisor at the University of Southern Mississippi, George Crook, encouraged him to go into design. “He convinced me to pursue lighting design,” says Savoie, who, in his senior year, lit The Rimers of Eldritch by Lanford Wilson, a production that went all the way to the American College Theatre Festival Kennedy Center. “My second show was A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was the opening production in the school's new three-million dollar theatre. I felt like I had the golden touch from the beginning,” he adds.

Since those heady undergraduate days, Savoie went on to earn his MFA at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in 2005 and has had a busy career in freelance lighting design and production management, which he currently does at both The Muny summer festival and Washington University in St. Louis. “The two dove-tail perfectly,” he says.

After grad school, Savoie worked in Cincinnati for a few years, where two of his notable productions were Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story by Stephen Dolginoff and In The Blood by Suzan Lori Parks, both at the Know Theatre of Cincinnati. For Thrill Me, Savoie notes, “My design for this piece was based on a symphony of specials. The play is a flashback of the relationship between Leopold and Loeb as told by Leopold 34 years later in a parole hearing. I chose to light those 13 moments with a single narrow spotlight with R53 Pale Lavender. These moments were left hollow and void of any feelings. His memories, however, such as the moment of burning down an old building, were very much alive with bold and saturated color.”

Concerning In The Blood, Parks' updated version of The Scarlet Letter, Savoie says, “We find Hester alone with her five children, homeless and hungry. Throughout the play, people who are part of her life confess their roles to the audience. This one, in particular, is the preacher [photo, top left], who also fathered Hester's youngest child. I lit this very simply but effectively. I wanted to emphasize the dual life of this preacher. I chose a sharp downlight, evoking a heavenly source but countered that by maintaining the deep shadows of his sinister side and disgracefulness. I provided a dim dusting to the set to maintain an awareness of Hester while allowing the video design to complete the moment.”

So lighting design or production management? Savoie is happy doing both. “I've been very lucky and have always been able to work in the theatre since I started my career,” he says. ”This award will help me push myself in new ways as a lighting designer.”