I thought, I only have a year. I'm just going to New York and I'll see what happens. I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to lose.

Like most undergrads, D.M. Wood wasn't always positive about the road that she wanted to take. In fact, the former criminology student was downright confused when she entered British Columbia's Simon Fraser University. “I guess for my situation, it was not being totally in touch with what made me happy. I had always done art and theatre in high school and was very good in both subjects. When I went into my undergrad, I wanted something completely different.” Wood quickly returned to her roots as a film major, but after just one lighting class, she was hooked. “I just took more classes, and then, I was in a position where the last year in undergrad, I think that's all I did.”

The influence of Barry Hegland, a professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser, didn't hurt either. Wood speaks fondly of her undergrad mentor, saying that he was instrumental in taking her under his wing and allowing her to express herself. He also helped Wood to discover and explore her design sensibilities. “Without having met Barry, I don't think that I would have continued in the field,” she says.

The Toronto native then embarked on lighting design as a career and never looked back. She left Toronto for the States and the University of Illinois, where she did a graduate degree in lighting design. After graduating from U of I, Wood was at a crossroads. Her student visa allowed for one year of practical training before she would have to return to Canada. “I thought, I only have a year. I'm just going to New York and I'll see what happens. I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to lose.”

Nearly six years later, she has not lost a thing — only gained experience, contacts, and a budding career in lighting design. Wood got her first big break in 1997 when Pat Collins' first assistant brought her on as the second assistant for Once Upon a Mattress. “She worked out really, really well. She had terrific skills in handling people — those are hard to find,” says Collins. “And as a designer, she has a really good eye, extraordinary technique, and she's really, really up on the technology.” Shortly thereafter, Wood began working as first assistant to Collins and often acts as an associate. “She's had significant luck,” Collins adds. “It is a really difficult field to get started in, and she has made a rather quick start. If she were a sprinter, we'd say she was off the block fast.”

And since 1997, Wood has been taking it all in stride. Her credits include a smattering of selected designs and associate designs. She was the associate designer with Collins on Proof, and she also recently wrapped up The Cider House Rules Parts I/II, directed by Oskar Eustis at the Trinity Repertory Company. “Working on The Cider House Rules was a very good experience,” says Wood. “It is a considerable challenge to make one light plot work for six hours of theatre, as I was always striving to keep things new and fresh and different — being creative about changing the space and fooling the eye.” Other Trinity Rep credits include The School for Scandal, Meshugah, and The Cryptogram. Wood also lit Everybody's Ruby and Civil Sex at NYSF/The Public Theatre. Although her résumé is limited to theatre, opera, and dance, she says she's not opposed to moving into lighting other types of projects. “I'm always open to new experiences. I don't think I'm horribly tunnel-visioned about things.”

For now, Wood has no plans of going anywhere. She has been on a cultural contribution visa for three years, and is currently in the process of trying to get her green card. The self-described country mouse also recently moved to Connecticut from Manhattan “to escape the heat.” She now shares a studio with Collins and Mimi Jordan Sherin, where she is helping Collins put together the national tour of Proof. In the next few months, Wood will be keeping busy serving as an associate designer to both Collins and Sherin in a number of shows around the world. As for the future, the once confused criminology student turned film major turned lighting designer's aim is crystal clear. “To keep working. To keep growing as an artist.”

Photo: Andrew French