One of the more familiar faces at LDI is Rich Rose, the genial UCLA faculty member whose specialty is computer-assisted design and whose workshops are regular sellouts at the trade show. At UCLA, Rose was a real pioneer in design education, bringing the computer into the classroom before almost anyone else. Now, in his new position as associate dean at UCLA's School of Theatre, & Film and Television, he's taking on a new set of challenges.
David Barbour: How long have you been at UCLA?
Rich Rose: About 47 years. [laughs] About 20 years.
DB: How did you get into all this business?
Rose: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect. So when I went to high school, I got into filmmaking. They had a filmmaking program.
DB: This was in California?
Rose: Yeah. And when I went to my community college--Ohlone College, in Fremont, in the San Francisco Bay area--there was no filmmaking program, so I took a theatre lighting course, thinking that would help me--and I was in the theatre from then on. Theatre combined storytelling with architecture, which made it a perfect fit for me.
DB: So you worked as a designer?
Rose: I used to. I worked a lot with Back Alley Theatre, where I won several awards. After teaching for many years, I was asked to get into administration in the theatre department at UCLA, and it's really become a full-time job. I was department chair for the last five years. I co-chaired for part of that time with the scenic designer Robert Israel. And the last year of that, I did it full time. Now that I've become associate dean, it's so time-consuming--and I teach as well--that I don't design anymore.
DB: What courses do you teach?
Rose: I teach Introduction to Design, for freshmen. I also teach graduate students and upper division students in computer design, from AutoCAD to TV Studio. I love teaching both courses, for different reasons. It's exhilarating to teach the freshmen, to whom so much of this is new. They are eager to learn it all--and the students we get are so smart. We constantly challenge each other in the classroom.
DB: It seems like UCLA is more tuned into computer design than any other school.
Rose: I think so. It's because we started so long ago, about 10-11 years ago. I was teaching drafting and was fearful of the day when some student was going to come into my class, fresh out of high school, and say, 'Well, we used computers in my school.' It was about to happen. So I decided that we had to get into it. The Autodesk Company gave us a big software grant and a bunch of computers and IBM gave us a big hardware grant, and so we got into it and we've been doing it ever since.
DB: A lot of designers are phobic about computers.
Rose: Absolutely. A lot. The older designers, mostly. But I'm surprised at the age range of people who take the courses at LDI--people who've obviously been teaching a long time and want to get into it. I don't know if it's student pressure that they're feeling, which I feared but never really felt, since we were ahead of the game. But I am so in awe of these people who are obviously in the later stages of their careers, and who choose to learn about computers.
DB: It seems to me that when it comes to using computers, lighting designers are much less fearful than set designers, who are better than costume designers.
Rose: It's true that costume designers have been the slowest to get on board the computer train. And of course, for lighting designers, computers really do make their job so much easier, because they automate their paperwork. I'm not even talking about the design, but about all that other stuff.
DB: The UCLA program seems to be one of the few that recognizes that most students will eventually work in many media. There are many schools where you learn to design for theatre with no indication that there are other possibilities.
Rose: We want our students to have a core area, but we also encourage them to branch out. You don't know where you're going to be designing. It could be theatre, film, television--a lot of our students are even working for Walt Disney Imagineering. We try to make the programs as broad-based as we can. We also encourage students to take as many other kinds of classes as possible--not just theatre classes, but architectural history, art history, dance lighting, to name three.
DB: Some teachers have said to me that students often don't have enough knowledge of world culture to be able to draw on different art styles, or a sophisticated knowledge of literature to interpret a script.
Rose: And that's where we come from. When we interview students, we try to make sure they're interested in the kind of education that they're going to get with us. We don't want the student whose only goal is to do show after show after show. We want them to get a solid universal education. So they get a broad background--a lot of art history, for example--when they come to UCLA. It throws a lot of them--they say, this isn't what I came to school for. I want to be onstage, hanging lights. But that's the kind of person we try to discourage from coming to our department. The theatre students, for example, must devote fully half of their units to non-theatre classes: science, math, literature, history, philosophy, etc.
DB: In terms of design job opportunities, you are uniquely placed in Los Angeles. You're in the center of the film and television industries, with major theme parks nearby.
Rose: Absolutely. But also look at some of our design faculty, [scenery and lighting designer] Neil Jampolis, Robert Israel, and [costume designer] Dunya Ramicova--their primary work is in opera, so students get exposed to that world as well.
DB: Dunya and Bob have done a lot of very avant-garde work.
Rose: Right. And that's the focus of the graduate design program: to get students to think. Not necessarily to be avant-garde; let's say unconventional. The goal is to break students of the formulas that they've learned. As Bob Israel says, it takes the students almost a year to realize that their teachers don't want conventional stage design, lighting design, costume design. I think sometimes that the students must get crazed, they must think they're dealing with insane people. But toward the end of the first year, they realize there are other ways of thinking about design. The second year usually seems to go much more smoothly.
DB: Now that you're associate dean, do you have new goals for the school?
Rose: My specific duty is to work on new initiatives between the departments in the school. We're sort of a mini-campus--a soundstage, three television studios--but the two departments have always been separate. Yes, our theatre students have designed student films or acted in school television productions, but there's never been a focused school initiative to make that happen. So my goal is to make the departments mesh more smoothly. For instance, for the theatre department graduate actors, the most important productions are staged in rep at the beginning of their third year. This time, one of those rep productions will instead be a television production, which John Guare has written, because he's a good friend of Mel Shapiro, who heads the acting program. That's just one of the things that we're putting together in a real good way for the first time, believe it or not. The same is happening now with design opportunities. Design students are being assigned film and television projects as part of their design requirements. And we have the Geffen Playhouse, too. It's part of the School of Theatre, Film and Television, a block away from campus. It's a major new LA theatre. The productions this season have included Hedda Gabler, starring Annette Bening, directed by Daniel Sullivan, and Collected Stories, starring Linda Lavin. We're expanding our internship program there, as well as expanding the workshops, where designers come in and work with our students. We're going to regularize the method of making these things happen.
He's married with two children: Cameron, 7, and Melissa, 9. His hobby is collecting snow globes, "the $5.00 kind from airport gift shops."