Describing herself as "the ultimate fence straddler," A.C. Hickox has had a fairly unorthodox career. As senior associate at the architectural lighting design firm of Domingo Gonzalez Associates (DGA), one would expect A.C. (she has never offered to decode the enigmatic initials) to do architectural lighting design. And she does, except that she designs a great deal of theatrical lighting as well, staying close to her roots.
"It is not always an easy transition between the two worlds," she says. "Each has its own vocabulary and the length of the projects varies. In architecture, the designer is held responsible differently; it's a different mind-set."
Hickox finds she is not alone in her double-edged work life. "Scratch the surface of many architectural lighting designers, and you'll find a theatre background," she believes. In her case, making a career decision was not a clear-cut choice. "In high school I studied biology and wanted to be a doctor, but also had an interest in editing film." When the drama teacher needed a lighting designer, Hickox stepped into a role in which she would soon feel comfortable.
In college, she continued her double-major track until theatre finally won out. After graduation, Hickox worked in Washington, DC, as both a lighting designer and stage manager. In 1982 she returned to her home state of Ohio, where she took courses toward a master's degree in theatre history and criticism at Kent State University.
From there she went directly on to earn her MFA in lighting design at the University of Illinois in Urbana. "This was my finishing school," she says. "I joined IATSE at this point and worked as an electrician as well. This was great training, and I learned that electricians are your partners if you can articulate what you want."
In 1986, degree in hand, she moved permanently to New York and launched A.C. Hickox Lighting Design. "I always wanted to be a New Yorker and knew I would end up here," Hickox admits.
With her deep academic background, Hickox found teaching a natural thing to do. She has been an adjunct professor at Teacher's College at Columbia University in NYC since 1987, teaching lighting to dance educators and choreographers. "I help them see light, and ask them to evaluate performance lighting," she explains. "They learn how to hang and focus lights as well, and this helps them work with lighting designers to get a show up. It takes away the fear."
Hickox has often been on the other side of this fence, designing lighting for such choreographers as Molissa Fenley and Ann Moradian, as well as dance companies ranging from Richmond Ballet to Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company and Eglevsky Ballet Company. She has also worked with a number of opera companies, including Bronx Opera Theatre, Arizona Opera Theatre, Opera Memphis, and Indianapolis Opera. Her regional theatre experience has taken her to the Barter Theatre, the Bloomsberg Theatre Ensemble, and Capital Repertory Company, among others.
But by the late 90s, Hickox was anxious to expand her firm and at the same time go out on the road less, and not design quite as many productions each year. She had begun to do architectural projects in the early 90s, as the unofficial theatrical arm to Domingo Gonzalez Design. "I handled anything that called for theatrical fixtures," she notes.
In 1999, Hickox and Gonzalez merged their firms into Domingo Gonzalez Associates, where Hickox is the senior theatrical associate/project manager. "It's really a change to sit behind a desk," says Hickox, who works on a wide range of projects for the new firm.
Hickox is currently working on the lighting for an expansion at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City. "They enclosed a courtyard between two buildings to use as a lobby with a skylight for the ceiling," she explains. Mock-ups of the proposed lighting allowed the architects and museum staff to see what the lighting would look like as it came through the glass. Fixtures would be hung on the exterior walls of the surrounding buildings. Hickox is no stranger to museum lighting; she recently wrote the Master Plan for the New York City Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
Domingo Gonzalez Associates also designed the lighting for the auditorium, lobby, and public spaces at Roundabout Theatre Company's new home in the former Selwyn Theatre (now American Airlines Theatre) in Manhattan, with Hickox as project manager. "It was interesting representing the client's long-term lighting requirements for elegance, safety, security, and ease of maintenance, as opposed to working on the more transient lighting for a production," she notes.
Last year at LDI in Orlando, Hickox moderated a panel on the transition from theatrical to architectural lighting design. She is proof that this transition does not have to be a mutually exclusive one. "I am still constantly working, and will never leave the theatre," she confirms. "I'm very lucky to have both worlds."